PORTLAND — Reading and re-reading a favorite book to young children is crucial to helping them develop key language and emergent reading skills, as well as a love of reading.

But not just any storybook will do.

To thoroughly engage the child, the book must “have pictures that closely match what the text says on each page, (be) highly engaging, (be) memorable (and) contain rich, beautiful, literary language,” according to Holly Johnson, literacy specialist and assistant principal at Longfellow Elementary School.

For the past four years kindergarten teachers at Longfellow have been using an emergent reading curriculum to guide students as they learn critical pre-reading skills, including cogent storytelling.

The technique is based on pioneering research conducted in the 1980s by Dr. Elizabeth Sulzby, a professor of education at the University of Michigan.

Since Sulzby’s initial work, more research has been conducted in emergent literacy and it’s become clear that “children’s ability to develop (these) skills depends on their access to rich literacy experiences and expert partners from whom they can learn.”

That was the conclusion of an article entitled, “The Comprehensive Emergent Literacy Model: Early Literacy in Context,” published in 2015 by Leigh Rohde, who at that time was teaching at Salem State University in Massachusetts.

“To support emergent readers, teachers read aloud a few stories again and again. Students get to know the stories really well, and soon begin to talk about the pictures and even tell the story to go with the pages,” Johnson said.

“Some children will even point to the words. All of this fosters a love of reading along with an understanding of how reading works,” she said. Using this process, “students also grow (their) independent reading habits.”

“Within the first weeks of school, kindergarten students are developing skills and strategies as readers,” Johnson said.

What’s great is that parents can also use this technique at home to bolster what students are learning at school.

“Emergent storybook reading isn’t just for classroom teachers or researchers. Parents and caregivers can support their (young) readers at home by reading and reading and reading favorite books,” Johnson said.

“Soon, your child will know the story so well that they’ll start to chime in with you (and) start to tell the story to go with the pictures. Sometimes, (they’ll) even start recognizing some of the words.”

Choosing the right book isn’t the only important factor, however. According to Johnson, how the story is read is equally essential.

Those reading to young children should make their voice as expressive as possible, they should point to the pictures as they read and they should use gestures and act things out. But what’s paramount is having fun, she said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Kindergarten teachers at Longfellow Elementary School use a technique called emergent reading to teach key language and pre-reading skills. Students learn to tell the stories by having the books repeatedly read to them.