Reading with young children is an important activity to support early language and literacy, and how we share books with children can magnify its impact. During shared reading, adults and children talk about and around the book, rather than focus just on the text. The adult encourages children to play an active, rather than passive role. There are different approaches to shared reading:
- Dialogic reading involves having a dialogue around the text, with the adult asking questions to help deeper understanding. There is a structured approach based on a PEER sequence (Prompt, Evaluate, Expand, Repeat) and using a range of prompts.
- Shared book reading involves an adult sharing a book and using comments, prompts and questions to engage the children and encourage them to take a more active role.
What does it mean?
Reading provides lots of opportunities for children to hear new vocabulary embedded in varied grammatical sentences and promotes joint attention and interest. There is growing research about how powerful sharing books with young children can be in supporting many aspects of early language and pre-literacy skills (Noble et al., 2018). Studies show that children who share books regularly with an adult in the preschool years (0-5 years) learn language faster, enter school with a larger vocabulary and become more successful readers in school (Mol et al., 2008).
Although reading is important in its own right, it is a shared reading style that is most effective at boosting children’s language development; it supports greater understanding, can promote inference and reasoning skills and allows children to play a more active role in the story-telling process. It models for children how good readers think and interpret what they are reading.
However, there are some caveats. Children with language impairment or children from disadvantaged backgrounds may struggle to process information quickly enough (Hoff and Ribot, 2015), have weak word knowledge or limited understanding, which dilutes the impact of shared reading. These children often need additional strategies alongside dialogic reading – see below for details.
Action points for teachers
Research evidence suggests a step-by-step approach to dialogic reading, with the following elements:
- the first read through should be without too many interruptions
- repetition of the story is important to build vocabulary
- use lots of different ways to get children involved and follow the child’s lead.
There are a number of strategies adults can use to encourage children’s engagement. For example:
- commenting on what you can see
- asking open questions
- responding to what the children say
- adding to the children’s language, either with additional information that enhances the meaning, explanation or vocabulary, or adds grammatical knowledge
- making it meaningful – relating new words or ideas to the children’s life.
Dialogic reading by its nature is a shared experience. In the classroom, this means making time to share books with small groups of children if possible, rather than the whole class.
For staff who are less confident in using a dialogic reading approach, sharing books can be a good starting point and professional development can be key, which would include examples of how to share books, modelling of shared reading in practice and details of the more structured dialogic approach.
Working with parents can also support shared reading. Research has shown positive changes in how parents shared stories with their children when given guidance on dialogic reading (Law et al., 2018).
For children with language difficulties, the following strategies used alongside shared reading are effective:
- using props or objects to encourage engagement and provide an additional visual reference
- pause reading, where the adult leaves space for the child to process information and to share their ideas
- elaborative reminiscing, where the adult makes links and references between the story and the child’s own life experiences. This makes the story and its content more meaningful for the child and therefore more likely to be remembered.
The Driver Youth Trust is a charity committed to improving the outcomes of young people who struggle with literacy.
Want to know more?
Check out the LUCID website for resources on how to support engagement with parents.
Read about the PEER sequence in dialogic reading.
Read about the link between socioeconomic status and language development.