Cambourne's Conditions of Learning

Language and literacy skills develop within meaningful, natural contexts. Brian Cambourne proposes eight conditions that contribute to true literacy development in children.

Conditions for Literacy Development

Immersion—Children need to be surrounded by interesting, high-quality children’s books and different kinds of text (e.g., charts, labels, newspapers, magazines). Read aloud every day to children, sing to them, play word games, and use movement and dance to generate lively engagement in language, literacy, and stories.


Demonstration— Model reading and writing for children. Let them see you writing notes, letters, stories, recipes, and lists. Make sure they notice you reading to yourself, for pleasure, for information, for directions, and for other purposes. Show them how to hold a book, turn the pages, and read aloud.


Engagement—Help children become active learners who see themselves as potential readers and writers. Set up a risk-free environment so they can experiment with language and literacy. Provide easy access to paper, pencils, crayons, markers, books, and other literacy materials.


Expectation—Set realistic expectations for language and literacy development. Become familiar with the developmental stages of emergent literacy, and support children in appropriate tasks. Expect that they will become accomplished readers and writers in their own time.


Responsibility—Give children choices about books to read. Set up the environment to promote self-direction. Provide easy access to books and literacy materials on low shelves and in baskets and show children how to take care of them.


Approximation—Accept children’s mistakes when they are learning to talk, read, and write. Congratulate them on their accomplishments. Guide them gently into accuracy and soon they will begin to self-correct.


Use—Create a climate for functional and meaningful uses of oral and written language. Encourage children to read along with you; help you write notes, letters, and lists; and engage in lots of conversations.


Response—Listen to children, welcome their comments and questions, and extend their use of oral and written language. Celebrate the enormous language and literacy learning that is occurring daily!


Cambourne, B. (1988). The whole story: natural learning and the acquisition of literacy in the classroom. New York: Ashton Scholastic.

Cambourne, Brian. “Cambourne's Model of Literacy Learning.” Cambourne's Conditions of Learning, 18 Dec. 2018,