Dialogic Reading

What is dialogic reading?

How we read to preschoolers is just as important as how frequently we read to them. The Stony Brook Reading and Language Project has developed a method of reading to preschoolers that we call dialogic reading.

When most adults share a book with a preschooler, they read and the child listens. In dialogic reading, the adult helps the child become the teller of the story. The adult becomes the listener, the questioner, the audience for the child. No one can learn to play the piano just by listening to someone else play. Likewise, no one can learn to read just by listening to someone else read. Children learn most from books when they are actively involved.

The fundamental reading technique in dialogic reading is the PEER sequence. This is a short interaction between a child and an adult. The adult:

  1. Prompts the child to say something about the book,
  2. Evaluates the child's response,
  3. Expands the child's response by rephrasing and adding information to it, and
  4. Repeats the prompt to make sure the child has learned from the expansion.

Imagine that the parent and the child are looking at the page of a book that has a picture of a fire engine on it. The parent says, "What is this?" (the prompt) while pointing to the fire truck. The child says, truck, and the parent follows with "That's right (the evaluation); it's a red fire truck (the expansion); Can you say fire truck?" (the repetition).

Except for the first reading of a book to children, PEER sequences should occur on nearly every page. Sometimes you can read the written words on the page and then prompt your child to say something. For many books, you should do less and less reading of the written words in the book each time you read it. Leave more to the child.

How should I prompt my child?

There are five types of prompts that are used in dialogic reading to begin PEER sequences. You can remember these prompts with the word CROWD.

  1. Completion prompts: You leave a blank at the end of a sentence and have your child fill it in. These are typically used in books with rhyme or books with repetitive phrases. For example, you might say, "I think I'd be a glossy cat. A little plump but not too ____," letting your child fill in the blank with the word fat. Completion prompts provide children with information about the structure of language that is critical to later reading.
  2. Recall prompts: These are questions about what happened in a book that a child has already read. Recall prompts work for nearly everything except alphabet books. For example, you might say, "Can you tell me what happened to the little blue engine in this story?" Recall prompts help children to understand the story plot and describe sequences of events. Recall prompts can be used not only at the end of a book but also at the beginning of a book when a child has been read that book before.
  3. Open-ended prompts: These prompts focus on the pictures in books. They work best for books that have rich, detailed illustrations. For example, while looking at a page in a book that your child is familiar with, you might say, "Tell me what's happening in this picture." Open-ended prompts help children increase their expressive fluency and attend to detail.
  4. Wh- prompts: These prompts usually begin with what, where, when, why, and how questions. Like open-ended prompts,wh- prompts focus on the pictures in books. For example, you might say, "What's the name of this?" while pointing to an object in the book. Wh- questions teach children new vocabulary.
  5. Distancing prompts: These ask children to relate the pictures or words in the book to experiences outside the book. For example, while looking at a book with a picture of animals on a farm, you might say something like, "Remember when we went to the animal park last week? Which of these animals did we see there?" Distancing prompts help children form a bridge between books and the real world, as well as helping with verbal fluency, conversational abilities, and narrative skills.

It should be noted that distancing prompts and recall prompts are more difficult for children than completion, open-ended, and wh- prompts. Frequent use of distancing and recall prompts should be limited to four- and five-year-olds.

Now we ask… What books to use?!

Since we have covered the basics of executing dialogic reading with your child, next comes choosing the books! Choosing books to read to your child may seem like a daunting task, but if you keep a few factors in mind, it can be less overwhelming. First and foremost, consider your child’s interests! If your child is not interested in the content of the book, then this can make dialogic reading a less beneficial (and not as fun!) experience for both you and your child. One of the other big considerations for choosing the book includes the pictures on the pages. While reading to an infant, you may wish to opt for simpler pictures as to not overwhelm him/her. As the child ages, you can choose books that include rich, detailed pictures. 

Some books that you want to stray away from would be alphabet books as well as books that have only one picture per page because this limits the amount of dialogue that can be exchanged between you and your child. It limits you to labeling the letter or the single picture. There certainly is nothing wrong with incorporating these books into reading routines with your child, but they are not ideal for effectively using dialogic reading strategies. 

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  1. Amery, H. & Cartwright, S. (2004). Goldilocks and the three bears. Usborne Publishing Limited.
  2. Carle, E. (1981). The very hungry caterpillar. Philomel.
  3. Freeman, D. (1978). A pocket for Corduroy. Viking Juvenile.
  4. Mayer, M. (2001). Just me and my dad. Random House Books for Young Readers.
  5. Brown, M.W. & Hurd, C. (1991). Goodnight Moon. HarperCollins Publishers.
  6. Numeroff, L.J. & Bond, F. (1991). If you give a moose a muffin. Laura Geringer.
  7. Rathmann, P. (1995). Officer Buckle and Gloria. Penguin Young Readers Group.
  8. Eastman, P.D. (1960). Are you my mother? Random House Books for Young Readers.
  9. Eastman, P.D. (1961). Go, dog. Go!  Random House/Beginner Books.
  10. Tryon, L. (1994). Albert’s alphabet. Aladdin.

-Emily Hamm, M.A.,CCC-SLP

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