A New Way To Read: Dialogic Reading for a Richer Language Experience

Does your little one love looking at books cuddled up next to you at bedtime? You probably know that this is a wonderful way to spend quality time while teaching valuable skills that promote literacy. You might also know that reading with your child is a good way to foster language development. But did you know that there is a specific way to read with your child that will enhance these language benefits? It’s called dialogic book reading.

The traditional way in which story time is spent involves the adult reading the words printed on the page while the child listens and follows along. Dialogic book reading improves vocabulary, grammar, and narrative abilities in children by encouraging them to tell the story. The adult’s role is to ask plenty of questions to promote their storytelling. This style shifts the focus from literacy abilities to language, which can be much more valuable for a young child that is not yet decoding or gaining from the written words on the page.

During the next story-time with your child, start off by asking a few simple WH-questions . You can gradually begin asking more questions and increasing the expectations by involving your child more and more into the story-telling. Here are some examples of ways to engage your child in shared story-telling:

  • Ask them to recall what happens next in a familiar book
  • Instead of asking close-ended questions requiring a yes or no response or asking them to label what they see, ask open-ended questions such as “what’s happening in this picture?”
  • Ask WH-questions (where, when, why, who, what) pertaining to the pages. Try asking several different WH-questions in sequence relating to the same page (e.g., “where is Thomas the Train in this picture?” and “who is he with?”)
  • Get your child to fill in the blanks (e.g., “the elephant is big and the mouse is _____”)
  • Compare images and experiences in the book with real life events in the child’s life (e.g. “The little boy is at school. What is your favourite toy at school?”)

After your child responds, evaluate their response by providing them with a confirmation (e.g. “yes the girl is picking flowers”) or by gently correcting or expanding on what they have said (e.g. “the girl is picking flowers in the garden”). Finally, model the expanded comment back to them in full (e.g. “she is picking flowers in the garden”). Use the acronym PEER to remember how to use dialogic book reading during story time. The adult should:

  • Prompt the child to make a comment
  • Evaluate the child’s response
  • Expand the child’s response by repeating it and adding information
  • Repeat the expanded comment

Below you will find an example of a dialogue between an adult (A) and a child (C) engaging in dialogic book reading. Try to recreate this sort of interaction at home, regardless of the words on the page.

A: “What’s happening in this picture?”

C: “Looking at birds.”

A: “That’s right. They are looking at birds. Those birds are called parrots. They are looking at the parrots.”

C: “Looking at the parrots.”

D: “Yes. Where do you think they are?”

C: “Zoo.”

A; “Yes it looks like they could be at a zoo. They are at the zoo. We went to a zoo last summer! Do you remember? What kind of animals did we see at the zoo?”

C: “Lions, turtles, giraffes.”

A: “You’re right! We saw lions, we saw turtles, and we saw giraffe. We saw lots of animals. Did we see birds too?”

C: “Yes birds too!”

A: “Yes we saw birds too! We had fun looking at the animals at the zoo. Do you think the Mom and daughter in this book are having fun?”

C: “Yes!”

A: “Yes, I think so! What do you think they will see next?”

C: “A tiger!”

A: “You think they will see a tiger? Maybe they will! Let’s turn the page and see…”

So there you have it… a new way to read! Always remember to follow your child’s interest by reading books that they choose, and provide plenty of praise and encouragement. Above all, have fun!

Katelyn Sirrs, M.Sc, Speech-Language Pathologist, Reg. CASLPO