Richard Gentry, PhD talks about the early literacy development as a life cycle of the frog in his book, Breaking the Code; The New Science of Beginning Reading and Writing. As an example of non alphabetic writer as a tadpole, young children would add their tails and legs gradually. Though, each individual developmental time varies. Eventually, they would become aware of phonemic knowledge and being able to correspond letters and sounds in their writing. This idea sounded revolutionary in my early literacy instructions yet several instructions have been commonly used in the classrooms all over the country. The essential is to provide tadpole readers appropriate instructions at the appropriate developmental stage. For instance, providing a fly to tadpoles doesn't make sense. Tadpoles are not yet ready for flies at their dining table. Gentry suggests several appropriate literacy activities at each developmental stage that made me hopeful in my future classrooms.
Then, my own journey began. Take advantage of living in the the Information Technology era! The technology devises will change the whole game plan in the literacy education. As of the example of the Phase 0 Writers (Pre-Alphabetic), one of Gentry's suggestions is to begin teaching sounds. Read Write Phonics provides simple learning application on the touch screen devise. This type of tool helps students become more independent and accountable for their own learning. It can definitely be one of the literacy center activities. I prefer explicit instructions to "Read to Self" and "Read to Partner" while kids are still tadpole readers because they would learn "inaccuracy" by not knowing how to read. (It is necessary to experience independent exploration of different books for the purpose of being familiar of books and learn how to turn pages, etc. But that is more likely toddler and pre-school ages and settings.) With young user-friendly learning devise, a small reading group in K-2 grade classrooms can work independently while their teacher teaches another guided reading group.
Another popular instructional example is Word Sorting activities. Another book by Gentry, The Science of Spelling; The Explicit Specifics that Make Great Readers and Writers (and Spellers!), describes that word sort activities that benefit from pre-schoolers to 8th graders. Kindly, Gentry shares the grade level appropriate spelling instruction samples in the Appendix B of this book. What I found in the technology world is "Word Family Sort". This program is available in the Read Write Think site. As soon as spelling patters are introduced, kids can apply their knowledge to this activity.
Above all, there are millions and gazillions of literacy support applications out there. It is imperative for teachers to understand the children's developmental stages in literacy and its appropriate instructions in depth, to start with. Select high quality, simple, and self sufficient programs in your list. Design these programs to be available for children's convenience. Maybe original reference chart would be helpful, e.g., which students at the certain literacy phase might benefit from which program, etc.
Our potential job is to raise our youngsters from tadpoles to frogs with patience and with the best knowledge about individual abilities and needs. Once they become frogs, we have to teach them how to make higher leaps and cool tricks. We also have to teach how to catch the best types of flies, not random ones. It is not a one time job, after all. Leap steadily and strongly day by day. So, they, too, enjoy their literacy life on their lily pads.