What is Dialogic reading and how does it develop language skills?

Dialogic Reading: An Effective Way to Read to Preschoolers

Dialogic reading works. Children who have been read to dialogically are substantially ahead of children who have been read to traditionally on tests of language development. Children can jump ahead by several months in just a few weeks of dialogic reading.
 Over a third of children in the U.S. enter school unprepared to learn. They lack the vocabulary, sentence structure, and other basic skills that are required to do well in school. Children who start behind generally stay behind – they drop out, they turn off. Their lives are at risk.

Why are so many children deficient in the skills that are critical to school readiness?

Children’s experience with books plays an important role. Many children enter school with thousands of hours of experience with books. Their homes contain hundreds of picture books. They see their parents and brothers and sisters reading for pleasure. Other children enter school with fewer than 25 hours of shared book reading. There are few if any children’s books in their homes. Their parents and siblings aren’t readers.

Picture book reading provides children with many of the skills that are necessary for school readiness: vocabulary, sound structure, the meaning of print, the structure of stories and language, sustained attention, the pleasure of learning, and on and on. Preschoolers need food, shelter, love; they also need the nourishment of books.

It is important to read frequently with your preschooler. Children who are read to three times per week or more do much better in later development than children who are read to less than three times per week. It is important to begin reading to your child at an early age. By nine months of age, infants can appreciate books that are interesting to touch or that make sounds.

What is dialogic reading?

How we read to preschoolers is 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 the adult. The adult:

  • Prompts the child to say something about the book,
  • Evaluates the child’s response,
  • Expands the child’s response by rephrasing and adding information to it, and
  • 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 the 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 to prompt children

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.

  • Completion promptsYou leave a blank at the end of a sentence and get the child to fill it in. These are typically used in books with rhyme or books with repetitive phases. For example, you might say, “I think I’d be a glossy cat. A little plump but not too ____,” letting the child fill in the blank with the wordfat. Completion prompts provide children with information about the structure of language that is critical to later reading.
  • Recall promptsThese are questions about what happened in a book 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 in understanding story plot and in describing 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.
  • Open-ended promptsThese 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 the 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.
  • Wh- promptsThese 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.
  • Distancing promptsThese ask children to relate the pictures or words in the book they are reading 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.

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.

Virtually all children’s books are appropriate for dialogic reading. The best books have rich detailed pictures, or are interesting to your child. Always follow your child’s interest when sharing books with your child.

A technique that works

Dialogic reading works. Children who have been read to dialogically are substantially ahead of children who have been read to traditionally on tests of language development. Children can jump ahead by several months in just a few weeks of dialogic reading. We have found these effects with hundreds of children in areas as geographically different as New York, Tennessee, and Mexico, in settings as varied as homes, preschools, and daycare centers, and with children from economic backgrounds ranging from poverty to affluence.

Dialogic reading is just children and adults having a conversation about a book. Children will enjoy dialogic reading more than traditional reading as long as you mix-up your prompts with straight reading, vary what you do from reading to reading, and follow the child’s interest. Keep it light. Don’t push children with more prompts than they can handle happily. Keep it fun.

Permission for the original article was provided by Grover J. (Russ) Whitehurst, Ph.D., Director, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education

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Get them lost in a book

Top tips for engaging pupils with literacy

By Dr Julie Wood on Monday, 07 December 2015

Children love to read, right? Because we love to read! We grew up vicariously tumbling down the rabbit hole with Alice or exploring the Chocolate Factory with Charlie. Or sampling saltier fare with Roald Dahl and his humorous worldview.

“Once pupils have learned how to read, they often opt out.”

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely you have noticed that your students are really not always that keen on reading. You might be concerned that they are falling behind as readers and writers. You might be thinking in particular about pupils who have been diagnosed with some type of learning challenge, such as ADHD or dyslexia. Or, you might have English as a second language (ESL) in your classroom who are fluent in one or more languages, but who are struggling to learn English.

To better understand why many children of average and above-average intelligence have difficulty learning to read, we need to consider how hard it is for young learners to make sense of small squiggles on a page. To be able to associate sounds with letters, to combine letters to make words, and combine words to make meaning. In other words, as researcher Paul Kropp summarises:

“Between the ages of four and nine, your child will have to master some 100 phonics rules, learn to recognise 3,000 words with just a glance, and develop a comfortable reading speed approaching 100 words a minute. He must learn to combine words on the page with a half-dozen squiggles called punctuation into something – a voice or image in his mind that gives back meaning.” (Kropp, 1996)

Today’s children are more likely to be hooked on cool apps and games than on the Jolly Postman or Lemony Snicket and colourful, if unfortunate events. While young children are often avid readers, ironically, once they have learned how to read, they often opt out, spending only a few minutes each day reading on their own.

We need to find ways to entice children to read—a lot! As Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams points out: “If we want children to learn to read well, we must find a way to induce them to read lots,” and likewise, “If we want to induce children to read lots, we must teach them to read well” (Beginning to Read, 1994).

How can we help children learn to read well and often? Here are ten classroom-tested ideas.

1. Make It a Party Every Time You Share a Book with a Child

Every time we read with children, we have an opportunity to interact in fun ways using dialogic reading techniques. Dialogic reading is a playful, interactive way of sharing a book that is hugely beneficial for children. Rather than zipping through a book, doing a “straight read,” with dialogic reading the child become the teller of the tale – or the sharer of new information in the case of nonfiction titles.

In short, dialogic reading gives you an opportunity to do things like: listen, ask questions, encourage the child to act out a scene, and “become” a character from the book.

Research indicates that children who have been read to dialogically are substantially ahead of children who have been read to traditionally on tests of language development. Studies also show that children can jump ahead (in terms of reading proficiency, including vocabulary development) by several months after just a few weeks of dialogic reading. Give it a try.

2. Partner with Parents

Parents are your best allies in helping your students learn to read. Full stop.

Parents can entice children to want to read well beyond the school day. They can encourage children to read their original stories and do dramatic readings. They can also read aloud books, that children are excited about but aren’t yet ready to read on their own, such as Harry Potter.

Invite families into your classroom to read with children. Demonstrate for them how to read dialogically (see above). Call on volunteers to share their strategies for encouraging children to enjoy books at home. Then ask whether they can commit to having their child read for enjoyment at least twenty minutes a night, four nights a week.

Make a list of ideas parents come up for reading at home with and share it via email or your class blog.

3. Expose Children to Lots of Nonfiction Books

Children like to know things. They enjoy becoming experts. Maybe it all starts with dinosaurs. Then snakes. Then volcanoes. Then the geography of the world. Next up: the universe.

Make sure to fill your bookshelves with as many nonfiction titles as you can manage on all the subjects your students are curious about.

Follow up with inquiry-based projects based on what they want to learn next, tapping into websites such as NASA, Science, the British Museum, and BBC’s History for Kids.

4. Keep a Literature Journal

Literature journals offer children a way to express themselves while they’re in the throes of a good book. Pupils can jot down their responses to character, plot, setting – and whatever strikes them as funny or interesting – while they’re reading a book they enjoy. When children respond to new ideas in writing, even in just a few sentences, it helps them deepen the sort of immersive experience that a book can provide. Extra points for noting new and challenging vocabulary words and their meaning(s).

Collect the literature journals once a week and write a few comments. Or have children swap their journals with a classmate and talk about the book they’re reading.

5. Mystery Authors

Children are often stunned to learn that authors are living, breathing, human beings. Working in teams or small groups, have children research their favourite author, using book jacket copy as well as author and publisher websites.

Culminate the project by having children dress up as their favourite author. Have them write five clues about their chosen author and see if their classmates can guess his or her identity.

6. Have Children Write their Own Books

Writing a spin-off or a sequel for a favourite book offers children a chance to develop their comprehension, creative, and analytical skills. What if Jack of Beanstalk fame had not traded his cow for magic beans? What might have happened then? Would everything have gone perfectly, or would Jack have had other misadventures?

Or, how else could the Three Little Pigs have outwitted the wolf?

Encourage pupils to write their own books, then share them with classmates—and the larger world. If possible, have them create their books using word processing software and digital art tools. Or, if you have access to iPads, show children how to use a writing app such as Book Creator.

7. Create a TV Commercial to Advertise a Favourite Book

What are the selling points of a book that a student loves? Is it exciting, scary, funny, adventurous? Thinking about questions such as these helps children develop their comprehension and analytical skills. It also helps them be able to summarise complex ideas.

Lead a discussion with pupils about the selling points of various books you’ve shared together. Then have them write an advertisement to entice classmates to read a book they think is terrific. How can they say just enough, without giving too much away? What types of readers would especially enjoy this story or information book? They need to be sure to consider their audience.

If you’re able to film students on smartphones or other devices, have them take turns filming each other as they give their pitch. Feature the videos at an evening for parents and/or a school-wide literacy event.

8. For the Love of Words

Children who have a rich vocabulary have an excellent shot at understanding and interpreting what they read. While children learn many words indirectly (eg by encountering them several times), they also benefit from direct instruction, focused on new and interesting words they’ve come across in their reading.
“What if Jack of Beanstalk fame had not traded his cow for magic beans?”
One strategy for direct instruction involves creating Word Webs. These networks of words help children process the meaning of new vocabulary on a deep level. Begin by helping children generate a network of words that are related to the target word. If the new vocabulary word is scared, for example, create a Word Web by placing scared in the center of a web, with related words – such as “frightened”, “afraid”, “shaking in his boots”, and “fearful” – radiating out from the new word.

Then have pupils zero in on a few interesting and challenging words of their choice. Working in teams, have them create Word Webs to share with the class. Extra points for adding illustrations! Post their Word Webs around the room for extra exposure to the new vocabulary words. Or, if your students love crossword puzzles, have them create their own, using Discovery Education’s Puzzlemaker (Extra cool, since to create puzzles, children will get extra practice in spelling the target words and composing a definition).

Most importantly, encourage pupils to use the new word in a sentence that demonstrates their understanding of its meaning.

9. Blog About Your Students’ Work

Get word out. Let parents know what their children have been studying so they can reinforce learning at home. If you don’t yet have your own blog, don’t worry. With so many educational bloggers willing to share their expertise, it’s relatively easy. Edech star Steven Anderson, for example, says that blogging is an important part of his practice. For today’s students, he continues, “ …the audience is global and anyone can read, and in some cases respond and comment. Kids can post their writing projects, thoughts and reflections. Teachers can provide prompts or starters and kids can pick up and run with it.”

If you’re not already blogging, check out the “getting started” sections of these two platforms: Edublogs and Kidblog. For more tips and tricks, see Steven’s blog post.

10. Go Global

When it comes to finding an authentic audience for you students’ writing projects, think big. Have students select their best story or nonfiction article and go global, showcasing their work for an international audience.

Check out Pobble, a free website created by innovative teachers in Yorkshire. As of this writing, Pobble has over 30,000 pieces of writing, with over 100 countries represented. Read more in this article in Schools Week.

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Above all, keep in mind your end goal: To create lifelong readers and writers who love books and learning, and who feel connected in meaningful ways well beyond classroom walls.

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Understanding distraction and using Maslow to aid effective teaching


A few basic ideas about helping students (or indeed teachers) learn based on how the mind works.


Taken from David Westons blog;

Learning that works (part 1) – some ideas from psychology