Interactive Book Reading: Ten Tips for Boosting Language and Literacy

Most parents follow a consistent pattern when reading books to a child. We start on the first page, read all the words on each subsequent page, and continue in that fashion until we reach the end of the book. While there is nothing wrong with this style of reading, it limits the amount that your child can interact both with the book and with you.

When reading to young children, our goal is to spark an interaction: we want to open a dialogue with the child and stimulate their language. To do this effectively, we need to break out of the habit of reading to kids in an orderly, adult-like way. Interactive book reading, also called joint or shared book reading, is a method used to promote language and literacy skills in young children. It allows us to “break the rules” of reading and utilize strategies to keep kids engaged. Next time you sit down to read, give one (or more!) of these a try:

  1. Repeat, repeat, repeat: As we all know, kids love reading the same stories over and over again (even if you don’t). Luckily, this is good for them! In order to expand their vocabularies, kids need to hear new words several times. The same goes for learning new concepts: multiple exposures leads to concept words becoming engrained more quickly. Once kids understand these new vocabulary words and concepts, they have the knowledge base to be able to use them.
  2. Take turns: Think of reading as something to do with your child, not to your child. Ideally, you should both be communicating during book reading. This is easy to achieve with nursery rhyme books and with books that contain repetitive phrases. Implement this strategy by pausing and letting your child fill in the word. For example, in Brown Bear Brown Bear, What Do You See? pause and let your child finish “I see a red bird looking at ____”. If you’re reading a familiar book, you can start this right away (repeat, repeat, repeat!). If not, you may want to wait until the phrase has been said a few times.
  3. Read it their way: To get the most out of story time, children need to be actively involved. For some children, it’s as simple as choosing the book themselves. Other kids like to hold the book and turn the pages. Some kids like to start on a favorite page, or skip several pages, or not finish the book. All of this is fine, as long as they are engaging with the you and the book. The longer kids interact with you, the better it is for their language development. Does your child want to name every letter during Chicka Chicka Boom Boom before letting you turn the page? Fine! By reading books their way, your child will learn to love sharing books with you and will develop a lifelong love of reading.
  4. Talk about pictures: Children’s book illustrations can be beautiful, funny, or minimalist. No matter what, they’re worth talking about. Talking about the pictures gives your child a chance to hear a variety of descriptive language. Having trouble branching out from the story? Try a book with no words or with few words, such as the Carl series by Alexandra Day.
  5. Pay attention to words: While it’s important to pay attention to the pictures, it’s equally important to help your child focus on the text to help them develop print awareness. Print awareness is the understanding that the words on the page carry meaning, and that print is related to spoken words. Children with print awareness also begin to understand the rules of print, such as reading from left to right (with English text, anyway) and from top to bottom. Nurture this skill before you begin reading by taking a moment to point out the title of the book and the author and illustrators name(s). During story time, you can ask your child to show you where to start reading, or have them point out a space between two words.
  6. Expand: Expanding on your child’s utterances is a fabulous and easy way to promote your child’s language development during book reading (or any time, for that matter). If your child points at a picture and says “dog”, you can reply with “that’s a black/big/happy dog”. Remember to keep your sentences grammatically correct while expanding. Kids need to hear proper grammar to use proper grammar! “Dog are running” can be repeated back as “That’s right. The dog IS running”.
  7. Extend into play: Carry over vocabulary, concepts, and themes into play time. Not only does this make stories come alive, but it allows children to generalize things that they learned. Did you read Old MacDonald Had a Farm last night? Great! Today, make some animal noises while you play with farm animals. And remember, you do not have to have the matching toys for this to work. It’s perfectly fine to let your child use their imagination.
  8. Ask questions, make comments: Asking questions while reading can be a great way to enhance your child’s language skills. It’s also adaptable for different ages: younger children can answer yes/no questions, while older children can answer predicting and inferencing questions. Despite this, questions should be used sparingly throughout the story. Book reading should be enjoyable for your child, and they might not want to participate if they feel as though they are being interrogated. Comments, on the other hand, are always a safe choice. A variety of comments can model vocabulary, concepts, grammatical structures, and more. While commenting, you might want to talk about how a character is feeling. Or, you can point out how something similar happened in your child’s life. Remember, this isn’t a time to test your child’s language skills, but rather build them.
  9. Be dramatic: Story time is a great opportunity to be silly with your child. Try out funny voices for the characters, insert emotion, or act out your favorite parts. You can also use signs and gestures to make certain words pop. For example, use your hands to demonstrate prepositions in Rosie’s Walk. In addition, help your child focus on important story vocabulary by stressing certain words. Rosie walked “AROUND the pond”, and “OVER the haystack”. Most importantly, have fun with the story!
  10. Slow down: This is a time in which we really want to focus on quality over quantity. Instead of trying to fit in all of your child’s favorite books before bedtime, you may be better served by just choosing one or two. While reading, try to slow your pace. The benefits are twofold: your child has the time to take a conversational turn if they’d like, and they have more time to process the story, which can lead to better comprehension.

Trying a new style of reading may feel unnatural at first, but you’ll get the hang of it quickly. Soon, you’ll see how an interactive style of reading boosts your child’s enjoyment during story time, and in turn leads to longer engagement and more opportunity for language and literacy growth.

Looking for more tips on how to raise a reader? The Speech Studio has a ton of tips and tricks. Check out our website at www.thespeechstudiony.com or visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thespeechstudio