Story time? Start talking!

Ever think to yourself, “There has to be a way of reading with kids that’s more fun and engaging,” or “This book would be great, except it has too many words”?

Well, think to yourself no longer, and start talking! Dialogic reading is a great way to engage with children, and it’s all about creating a conversation using the book at hand. You don’t have to read the words, and in fact I recommend you NOT read the book word for word but rather LOOK at the pictures and TALK about what you see. Children learn more from an open-ended and interactive activity where they have control over input and direction. This could not be truer than in the emergent reader!

Since this method relies on the conversation, it switches the traditional roles we play when we think of reading with children. Typically we think of reading where the adult reads the words while the child listens; in effect the child becomes a passive listener. In dialogic reading, the adult prompts the child into conversation and, depending on the child’s response, expands on what they said. With dialogic reading, the child becomes an active participant.

Photo courtesy of Harris County Public Library.

Photo courtesy of Harris County Public Library.

Great prompting questions when you’re reading might be: “What do you see?” “What do you think is happening?” “What do you think might happen next?” Remember, there are no right or wrong answers here. You are simply talking about what the child sees and they can have pretty extravagant imaginations! You have the opportunity to build children’s vocabularies by providing them with new words, and can also expand their knowledge by offering new contexts and asking them to reflect on their own experiences.

I find this method also works very well when introducing a book for the first time. As you “walk” through the book and talk about the pictures children gain a sense of what is happening and begin to make predictions for what comes next, an important cognitive skill to develop.

When we allow a child to express themselves, whether right or wrong, accurate or incorrect, we allow them to think creatively about what they see and think about the world around them. The details and getting the answer right are not important at this time (they’ll get that later). Dialogic reading creates the freedom for a story typically presented in a formal book format to take on a new life. It allows for natural discovery and for new interpretations of what is seen.

Some great books to consider for Dialogic Reading are:

  • Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu
  • Any of the many excellent books from Books by Tara
  • And then it’s Spring by Julie Fogliano
  • The Bear and Friends series by Karma Wilson
  • Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
  • Mouse Mess by Linnea Riley
  • Not A Box by Antoinnette Portis
  • Rosies Walk by Pat Hutchins
  • The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
  • Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage

But you can use any book, anywhere!

– Josh

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