(running time: 8 min. 14 sec.)
Welcome to the overview on the use of interactive and dialogic reading in preschool.
Walk into any preschool classroom and you will see teachers reading stories to children. Though the untrained eye may not spot it—when it comes to building good literacy skills, there often is a world of difference between one reading session and another.
Here’s Mrs. Eliot reading a book during circle time. As she holds the book on her lap and reads, she doesn’t get very far because the children are talking and squirming. Before she can finish the story, she gets up, frustrated that the kids just aren’t getting it.
On the other hand, here’s Mr. Madison’s class. He, too, is reading aloud, but he spends much more time showing-off the colorful illustrations.
He’s also asking questions about the book, like: What’s happening in this picture? Who do you think will get on the bus next? Why do you think the bus gets happier when more people get on?
There’s lots of chatter as children are eager to answer his questions. What’s the difference between these two story sessions? Mrs. E is focusing on the narrative alone, and expects her children to sit quietly and pay attention. Mr. M, however, is engaging his class in interactive reading—techniques which invite his students to be active participants as they also develop early literacy skills.
Research has shown a connection between the oral language skills of preschoolers and later reading proficiency. Interactive and dialogic reading are ideal methods for developing those oral language and vocabulary skills through daily storybook reading that all children enjoy. These techniques can be especially important for children from low-income families. Such children may lack access to books, have only limited conversations with adults, or have very few stories read to them at home—all factors that can affect acquisition of early literacy skills.
During interactive reading, an adult reader uses a variety of techniques to engage a child or group of children in the text. Interactive reading engages children in a story by having them discuss the narrative and images in the book.
The reader might ask children to: point to the title, point to the words and pictures in the story; make predictions about what might happen in the book based on the cover or story so far; or retell the story in their own words.
Interactive strategies get children talking and engaged in the story. Follow-up questions encourage students to expand their responses and express their ideas.
Interactive reading techniques include: probing for responses, providing information, such as the meaning of important words, that help expand student understanding and engagement, commenting on what children have said to reinforce their confidence and acknowledge their participation, and modeling how to share ideas during a story discussion.
All of these techniques are helpful ways of engaging children and getting them to connect the story to the text, and to their own experiences.
It’s a good idea to use interactive reading techniques before, during and after the story to help children build key literacy skills.
Let’s take the example of teaching a popular story such as The Fish:
Before reading the book, the teacher asks children to point to the title and make predictions about what might happen. This helps children anticipate what’s to come, and establish a personal incentive to see what happens—to see if their predictions come to pass.
During book reading, the teacher gives explanations, prompts comments, and poses questions to gauge how well students are following and understanding the story.
The teacher might ask, “What could Fish do to make friends?”
As students share their ideas, the teacher could turn their attention back to the story to show how Fish tries to solve the problem. As she does, the teacher can also build print awareness by tracking her finger to show that text is read from top to bottom and left to right.
After reading the book, the teacher will discuss it with the children, often drawing connections between events in the story and their everyday lives.
For example, she might ask, “How did Fish feel about losing his scales? Have you lost something you loved? How did you feel?”
This final level of reflection helps children see reading as a gateway to understanding their own world, helping them establish a personal connection to literacy.
Interactive reading can be a powerful tool for helping young children get an early start on literacy skills.
Research has shown that a similar approach, known as dialogic reading, is especially effective at improving oral language development for young learners.
The main feature that distinguishes dialogic reading from other book reading techniques is the role reversal for teachers and students.
In dialogic reading, the child learns to become the storyteller with the assistance of the adult, who functions as an active listener and questioner.
Initially, the teacher begins by assessing the child’s vocabulary by using completion prompts and asking “W-h” questions—the who, what, where, when, and why questions.
Completion questions ask children to complete a sentence by filling in the missing word:
For example, a teacher might say, “In the picture, it looks like the cat is hiding from the…,” pausing for the child to fill in the missing word.
“W-h” questions ask students to reflect on key features of the story. For example, while pointing to a picture in the book of a dog digging a hole, the teacher could ask, “What is the dog doing? Who is helping him?”
As the child becomes more familiar with the book, the teacher can increase the child’s language skills by introducing new vocabulary, expanding on a child’s responses through modeling, and by asking questions that connect to a child’s experience. Teachers can increase a child’s level of language by posing questions that encourage children to use words not used in the book, or by using vocabulary that stretches their current understanding.
Teachers can also model the dialogic process through the use of open-ended questions and expansions. For example, while looking at a page in a book that the child knows, the teacher could say, “Tell me what is happening in this picture.” If the child responds simply by saying, “It’s about a truck,” the teacher could expand the child’s response by saying, “Yes, it’s about a truck. It’s a red fire truck.”
The teacher then moves on to asking questions, which require the child to relate concepts within the book or between the book and real life—sometimes called distancing questions. While looking at a book with a picture of animals on a farm, the teacher might say, “Remember when we went to the animal park last week. Which of these animals did we see there?”
As the child becomes increasingly familiar with a book, the adult reads less, listens more, and gradually uses higher level prompts to encourage the child to go beyond naming objects in the pictures to thinking more about what is happening in the pictures and how this relates to the child’s own experiences.
All children enjoy listening to stories.
But those children who are actively engaged in the narrative are doing more than listening—they are learning key literacy skills essential to their future success in reading.
To learn more about interactive and dialogic reading, please explore the additional resources on the Doing What Works website.