Reading Aloud to Children: A Summary of Selected Research & Evidence-Based Practices to Support Language-Literacy Development
Conventional wisdom suggests that children will be “ready for school” if they are read to daily. A growing body of research tells us this is not enough; how children are read to is critical. For children with disabilities or other special needs, attention to effective evidence-based language-literacy strategies, along with adaptations and modifications to address individual needs, is essential.
Shared Reading is a strategy where “the adult involves a child or small group of children in reading a book that may (or mat not) introduce conventions of print and new vocabulary, or encourage predictions, rhyming, discussion of pictures, and other interactive experiences” (National Center for Family Literacy, 2009).
The handy acronym “CAR” helps to remember this research-based strategy for shared reading (Language is the Key, 2010). Key points to remember:
- Follow the child’s lead.
- Comment on what he seems to be most interested in on the page. Give the child time to respond (count to 5 in your head).
- Ask Questions. Open ended questions require more than a one-word answer. “Can you tell me about …?” is an example. You can use closed questions if you want a specific response, such as “what color is …?” These often can be answered with one word, a head nod, or by pointing to something named. Open-ended questions require the child to think and use more language.
- Respond. You might repeat a word the child says and then add more words to form a sentence. (“Yes, horse. It’s a big brown horse.”)
Dialogic Reading is a form of interactive, shared reading that incorporates research-based strategies to encourage dialogue between the child and adult.
The acronym PEER can be used to remember one dialogic strategy, based on the results of the National Early Literacy Panel Report (National Center for Family Literacy, 2009):
- PROMPT the child with a question about the story (“What kind of animal is this story about?”)
- EVALUATE & EXPAND on the child’s response to your questions (“Yes, it is a dog. He is a very big, red dog.”)
- REPEAT the question as a check for comprehension (“What kind of animal is this story about?”)
In addition, it is important to vary the types of questions asked. CROWD is the acronym for remembering five types of questions useful in dialogic reading:
- C - Completion questions – child says a word or phrase to complete the sentence
- (Adult: “Momma called the doctor and the doctor said…” Child: “…no more monkeys jumping on the bed!”).
- R - Recall questions – tells the reader about the child’s comprehension of the story (“What did the momma monkey do?”).
- O - Open-ended questions – cannot be answered with one word or yes/no; requires more words (“Tell me what those monkeys were doing” vs. “Did the monkeys jump on the bed?”).
- W - Wh questions – can support vocabulary development and comprehension through use of who/what/where/when/why questions (“Why did the doctor say ‘no more jumping on the bed’?”).
- D - Distancing questions - guide the child to see connections between the story and their own experiences (“Have you ever jumped on a bed? What did your mom say?”).
Introducing New Vocabulary
Prior to reading the book aloud, preview the story and make a list of words you want to teach. Consider words that might be useful to the child and/or heard frequently in conversation. When you are reading the text, stop and provide a synonym &/or explanation for the word. Have children repeat the word. To reinforce learning, intentionally use the word later in the day in context. For example: “… Corduroy decided to search for the missing button … that means he is going to look for the missing button. Search. Say it with me. Search. Corduroy is going to search or look for the missing button.” Later in the day: “That puzzle is missing a piece. Did you search under the table for it?”
Building Print Awareness
A huge cognitive achievement for young children is to understand that ‘what is said’ can also be represented with letters, words, and other symbols. Print referencing, intended to increase a child’s attention to print, incorporates these 3 strategies: 1) ask questions about the print seen on a page, 2) make a comment about the print seen on the page, and 3) track under the print with your finger or a pointer as you read the words aloud (Justice, et.al., 2010).
Further guidelines for effective read alouds:
- Read the story before reading it to the children. Be selective.
- Consider interests and abilities of the child/children when selecting the book.
- Evidence suggests “read alouds” to large groups of children is least effective; small groups of 2-3 children or one-on-one is more effective. Consider introducing the book during large group time and then offering re-read opportunities during choice time with one adult and a small group or an individual child.
- Ask yourself, “What do I want children to learn from this book experience?” Rhyming? Oral language? New vocabulary? Letter awareness? Sequence of events? Comprehension/message? Then consider what you will do/say to support that learning.
- Read the story more than one time over the course of weeks. Focus on a different aspect of literacy with each reading.
- Make the book available for children to look at and ‘pretend read’ throughout the day.
- Intentional questions can provide assessment information to the teacher; they can also be used as a transition activity (“Tell me a word that rhymes with cat, and then go to snack”).
- View videos explaining and demonstrating dialogic reading with children:
Center for Early Literacy Learning (CELL), Ready, Set, Read! Video, CELL, 2010 http://www.earlyliteracylearning.org
Dennis, L.R., Lynch, S.A., & Stockall, N. Planning Literacy Environments for Diverse Preschoolers. Young Exceptional Children, 15:3, September 2012
Justice, L.M. & Sofka, A.E. Engaging Children with Print: Building Early Literacy Skills through Quality Read-Alouds, Guilford Press, New York, 2010
Heroman, C. & Jones, C. The Creative Curriculum for Preschool – Volume 3 Literacy, Teaching Strategies, Washington, D.C., 2010
Language is the Key, Washington Learning Systems LLC, Seattle, Washington, 2010 http://www.walearning.com/resources/
National Center for Family Literacy, What Works: An Introductory Teacher Guide for Early Language & Emergent Literacy Instruction, 2009 http://www.famlit.org/NELP/pdf/What%20Works.pdf
Jen Kalis, M.S.E.
Early Childhood Director
Response to Intervention (RtI) Statewide Coordinator
(608) 786-4810; Toll Free (800) 514-3075