Dialogic Reading

What is Dialogic Reading?

Dialogic reading is a more structured strategy in which educators intentionally prompt children to use their language skills during readings then provide praise and specific feedback that expands upon the children’s responses. Studies have shown that dialogic reading helps to grow children’s expressive language, particularly regarding vocabulary acquisition, making it a valuable tool for early educators.

In dialogic reading, the adult reader also assumes the dual role of an active listener— by asking questions, adding new information, and/or prompting children to respond. Traditionally, this also includes the eventual goal of switching roles entirely; for the adult to become only the active listener while the child (or children) “reads” by retelling the story from memory­– not word-for-word, of course, but the general themes, events, and characters. Such a goal is only achievable after repeated readings of the same book, though how often such repetitions occur can depend on variables like the child’s (or children’s) preferences, and your purpose for reading a book (e.g., part of a lesson vs circle time). It is often practical and beneficial to read and revisit a book multiple times in the same day, particularly if it relates to the class lesson and activities. Repeated readings of books or stories appear to facilitate emergent literacy skill development as children generally asked more questions, became more engaged in dialogue, and demonstrated improved comprehension of familiar books

Example:

This video demonstrates how this teacher revisits the same book in her class.
Notice the paper tabs she added throughout the book? Keep it in mind for later!


There are multiple evidence-based dialogic reading techniques described in the literature, all organized into mnemonic tools that you can use to help guide you while reading. We will review some of the most prominent:

*all examples in this lesson refer to Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson*

PEER & CROWD

What we now call “dialogic reading” was developed in 1988 by Dr. Grover Whitehurst and his colleagues, who created two sets of defined procedures for the task with the acronyms PEER and CROWD.

PEER

We will start with the PEER sequence, which Whitehurst called “the fundamental reading technique in dialogic reading.” The PEER sequence is a series of conversational strategies to create the structure for interactive conversations between children and adults while reading. In other words, each letter in the acronym represents a step, and following the whole sequence results in one guided interaction; a high frequency of opportunities for such interactions during readings will help fuel engaging, interactive conversations about each book. The steps to PEER are as follows:

Prompt the child to say something about the book; you can do this by asking questions, making statements, and more (see: CROWD and CAR). Prompting your child will focus their attention on the book, help them to understand the story, and help them to learn new words.

Example:

Point to an illustration of the witch, then prompt the child to identify it; you might ask “Who is wearing that silly hat?” or, simply, “what is that?”

Evaluate the child’s response to your prompt then give specific praise or corrective feedback.

If a child’s response is correct–or appropriate and relevant to the story and your prompt–then give them praise and repeat the statement.

If their response is incorrect, praise their attempt and model a more correct answer. Praising a child for each response, whether right or wrong, will encourage them to talk and volunteer to answer questions more often in the future.    

Example:

“yes, you’re right, that is a witch!”
OR
“that’s a good guess! It looks like a wizard, but we call it a witch”

Expand the child’s response by rephrasing it and adding information or more sophisticated vocabulary/grammar; some educators might call this a sentence recast or linguistic expansion. By doing so, you can facilitate literacy development and encourage children to give longer, more detailed responses.

Example:

“It’s a witch flying on a broomstick. She is so high up in the sky!”

Repeat the prompt to reinforce what the child learned from your expanded, or corrected answer; in other words, ask them the same question to see if they give a longer, or more correct answer. Alternatively, you can ask the child to repeat your expansion, allowing them to practice using the new words or information. 

Example:

While pointing back to the witch, say “tell me, what is this again?” 
OR
“your turn, say ‘a witch flying on a broomstick.’

Video Example:

This educator does an excellent job of demonstrating dialogic reading in an unstructured way, letting the children explore the book and practice their language skills. Try to identify when you hear him Prompt, Evaluate*, Expand, and Repeat (*this educator does not offer many corrections, but encourages the children to evaluate and correct their own responses while following their attentional lead)

CROWD

Unlike PEER, the second acronym developed by Whitehurst and his colleagues is not a set of steps to follow. Instead, CROWD is a guide for remembering different kinds of prompts (i.e., the P in PEER) and how to use them­. They are as follows:

Cloze/ Completion Prompts:

These are prompts in which you leave a blank, or pause, at the end of a sentence and allow the child to complete it. They’re often used in books with rhyming words or repetitive phases (Link back to what you learned about Predictable Pattern Books).

Completion prompts provide information about the structure of language that is critical to later reading. They also encourage children to listen to and use the language in the book.

Example:

“The witch had a cat and a very long ______ (hat).”

Recall Prompts:

These prompts involve asking children questions about what happened in the story, or on a page after you read it. You can also use these prompts before you start reading– if it is a book that you’ve read together already.

Recall prompts encourage children to reflect on a story and recall details, which aids in their overall comprehension. It is important to note that recall prompts place higher demands on children’s language skills, so some children might need a little extra support (i.e., scaffolding) to answer.

Example:

“What was the first animal to get on the witch’s broom?”
OR
“What was the first animal to get on the witch’s broom?” [+ scaffold] “was it the toad or the dog?”

Open-Ended Prompts:

Prompts in which you ask questions (see: Wh- questions), or make comments that spark open-ended responses about the book and illustrations/pictures. These are prompts that cannot be answered with simply “yes” or “no,” and require more critical/creative thinking skills.

Open-ended prompts provide children with opportunities to use language and practice forming their own sentences.

Example:

“Describe this page to me”
OR
“Tell me your favorite part of the book so far”

Wh-Questions

As the name suggests, these are prompts that include who, what, when, where, why, and how questions.

Answering wh- questions can help children acquire new vocabulary knowledge and practice their critical thinking skills. That said, research conducted inside daycare centers has shown a reliance on basic competence questions, which typically start with “what” or “who” and can be answered with one or two words. While these hold value, they are most appropriate for early learners so you should fade them gradually as you progress to more complex prompts (i.e., when, how, why). Remember, the goal of dialogic reading is to facilitate interactive conversations about a book, therefore you should choose prompts that will spark longer, more detailed responses. 

Example:

“How do you know that she is a witch?” 
OR
“Why do you think witches wear those pointy hats?”
OR
“Where do you think she is flying?”

Distancing Prompts

These involve questions that ask children to relate the book to outside experiences; questions that require children to distance themselves from what’s in the book (the characters, setting, outcomes, etc.) and bring in their own background knowledge and vocabulary in order to answer correctly. Like recall prompts, distancing prompts place higher demands on children’s language skills, so some children might need a little extra support (i.e., scaffolding) to answer.

Distancing prompts help children to make connections between books and real life, and create excellent opportunities for them to practice their conversation skills.

Example:

“If you could fly somewhere on a magic broomstick, where would you go?”
(to answer this question, children will activate background knowledge by thinking about places they have been, heard about, seen on TV, etc.)

The FIRST time you read a new book to children, it is best to focus on exploring the characters, new vocabulary (i.e., unfamiliar words or pictures), and the storyline (review the sections Interactive Reading, above, or Take a Book Walk, below). In subsequent readings, you should aim to include one PEER sequence per-page, though this is not a hard and fast rule. Further, you can read as much or as little of the written text on each page as you like. For books that aren’t part of instruction, you can focus less and less on the written words each time you read it; instead, start focusing more on leaving opportunities for the child to speak, or retell the story. Every time you read a book, your goal should be encouraging children to give longer, more detailed input, which helps to improve their vocabulary and language skills.


CAR

Following the pioneering work of PEER & CROWD, the research base for dialogic reading grew at lightning speed and several new techniques and strategies took shape. In 2011, authors of the publication PAVEd for Success described a method of providing children with prompts, structured around a hierarchy of three different question levels, during discussions about books. Together, they form the acronym CAR

Competence Prompts

These are questions that allow children to demonstrate concepts they already know.

As discussed above (see: Wh- questions), early educators have shown an over-reliance on basic competence questions during readings, which unintentionally diminishes the true value of these prompts. Competence questions give children an opportunity to show off what they know and take pride in answering correctly, as well an opportunity to receive praise. In turn, this creates positive experiences with reading and language that can encourage greater participation and engagement in the future.

Example:

“What color is the witch’s shirt on this page?”
OR
“Who is riding on the broom now?”

Abstract Prompts:

These are prompts that require children to infer, or predict, information that is not immediately present in the story or pictures; to take a guess based on available material and their own background knowledge.

Abstract questions require children to activate a deeper level of thinking, to analyze and reflect upon the reading with the goal of forming a conclusion. They provide superb opportunities for children to practice using figurative language and work on their discourse skills.

Example:

“What do you think it would be like to fly on a broomstick?”
OR
“How do you think the animals feel about the witch?”

Relate Prompts:

These are prompts that encourage children to relate content from the book to their own experiences; to reflect on the characters, events, and pictures, then connect them back to themselves.

Relate prompts provide children with excellent opportunities to practice their personal reflection and narrative skills, as well as to learn and use decontextualized language (i.e., speaking of things that do not relate to the immediate context/environment, such as past/future events)

Example:

“Have you ever seen a witch before?”
OR
“Is anyone planning to dress up for Halloween? will you be a witch or something different?”

Above all, remember that joint reading should be fun, so keep it light and be flexible; don’t bog children down with more prompts than they can handle, and don’t get stuck using the same prompts every time! Children will enjoy dialogic reading more than traditional reading so long as you mix up your prompts, vary what you do from reading to reading, and follow the child’s interest. We will learn more about this in an upcoming lesson, Using a Variety of Prompts.

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