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Incorporating Authentic Literacy Activities into Dramatic Play Centers

written by: Jessica Hamilton • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 3/3/2016

Dramatic play allows children to interact and explore creativity, from building foundational skills to complex, multi-leveled role play. Socio-dramatic play is ideal for integrating real-world literacy and language opportunities to support meaningful and engaging learning for young children.

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    Literacy Activities in Dramatic Play Centers Incorporating early literacy opportunities into the dramatic play center is fun and easy. Theme-related picture books, authentic writing opportunities, environmental print and sound (phoneme) activities can all be a natural part of the dramatic play center. Following are some examples.

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    Grocery Store

    • Prepare a pre-printed grocery list
    • Label the food bins
    • Provide real grocery store flyers
    • Add blank paper for children to write their own grocery lists

    Recommended books: Maisy Goes Shopping by Lucy Cousins, A Trip to the Grocery Store by Josie Koegh and At the Grocery Store by Carol Greene.

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    • Create a wait list for the children to write their names on when they arrive
    • Provide menus (create your own or real ones)
    • Food order pads
    • “credit cards" with the children’s names for paying for their orders
    • Environment print such as a restaurant name sign and an open/close sign

    Recommended books: Pizza at Sally’s by Monica Wellington, Working at a Restaurant by Katie Marsico, I Have a Restaurant by Ryan Afromsky.

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    • Bakery name sign
    • Open/closed sign
    • Recipe lists
    • Ordering pads
    • Aprons and hats with labels (baker, cashier, etc.)
    • Labels for cupcakes, donuts, pastries, etc.
    • Add a matching game with rhyming words such as cake/bake, cook/book

    Recommended books: Mr. Cookie Baker by Monica Wellington, The Baker's Dozen: A Counting Book by Dan Andreasen, Out and about at the Bakery by Jennifer A. Ericsson

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    Doctors’ Office

    • Sign-in sheet
    • Posters of body parts, etc.
    • Child medical history forms to “fill out"
    • Magazines for the waiting room
    • Prescription pads
    • Name bracelets
    • Get well cards
    • Doctor’s note pad
    • Eye chart
    • Appointment book
    • Waiting room and office signs

    Recommended books: My Friend the Doctor by Joanna Cole, The Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor by Stan and Jan Berenstain, A Day in the Life of a Doctor by Heather Adamson.

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    Post Office

    This is great area for authentic writing opportunities. Children can have:

    • An assortment of stationary along with letter stamps or letter stickers to aid in letter recognition
    • Envelopes and a mailbox for deliveries to friends
    • A class address book and word cards with pictures

    Recommended books: The Post Office Book: Mail and How It Moves by Gail Gibbons, A Trip to the Post Office by Josie Keogh, To the Post Office with Mama by Sue Farrell.

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    Pet Shop

    One way to spark the children’s interest in a reading and writing activity is to tap into what is important to them. Making a class book about their own pets at home is a great way to make it meaningful and applicable to their daily lives. Label the types of animals and have the children write each one a nametag. Provide information sheets on each pet and a price tag along with real or homemade containers of food with labels. Adding a cash register and pretend money helps to bring in some mathematical concepts as well.

    Recommended books: What Pet Should I Get? By Dr. Seuss, The Perfect Pet by Margie Palatini, Pet Show by Ezra Jack Keats.

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    Language Opportunities

    Asking questions, introducing new vocabulary and participating in natural think-alouds all help to advance the language skills of the children. Questions and statements such as, “I wonder what the Dalmatian likes to eat?" and “That puppy is miniature," may trigger a child to look it up on the information sheets provided and also gives them an opportunity to hear new vocabulary in a meaningful way.

    Encouraging dialogue with comments such as, “I think my tummy is hurting, Doctor, what should I do?" and facilitating discussion between the children such as, “Bobby thinks he would like to have mushrooms on his pizza, can you ask him?" are effective ways to prompt and demonstrate appropriate use of language. Modeling joint interactions helps to teach the children the importance of language as well: what they say has meaning and can illicit responses from others.

    Remember to find ways to allow for real-world application of writing, theme related storybooks, environmental print, and new vocabulary by intentionally planning and setting up the environment for maximum success.


  • Davidson, J. (1996). Emergent Literacy and Dramatic Play in Early Education. Albany, NY: Delmar Publishers.
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