The Benefits of Dialogic Reading

To start simply, dialogic reading is a technique developed over time through the research of Grover Whitehurst. It encourages adults to read with children, and prompt them with questions regarding the text and the overall story – in essence, creating a dialogue around reading (and making it an experience).

While different reading approaches do work with different children, tests of language development have shown that pre-“school-aged” children whose parents/caregivers use dialogic reading are better prepared for school than children who have been read to in a more traditional way.

The fundamental idea behind dialogic reading is called “PEER,” and breaks out as such:

Prompt the child to say something about the book

Evaluate the child’s response

Expand the child’s response by rephrasing / adding new information

Repeat the prompt to make sure the child learned from expansion

The sequence can play out in numerous ways, but it usually is something like this:

  • Parent and child reading a book about dogs.
  • Picture of dog appears on a page.
  • Parent: “What is that?” (The prompt)
  • Child: “A dog!”
  • Parent: “Yes, that’s right” (evaluation). “It’s a furry white dog.” (expansion) “The dog is white, what color is your teddy bear?” (repeat)

There are different types of prompts to use – for example, rhyming books tend to be better for completion prompts, where the child can understand the flow of words and fill in the blank. There is also a value to re-reading a familiar story a few times, as that opens the door for “recall prompts,” where you ask the child “Do you remember what happened to the yellow bus in this story? [Child responds] That’s right, it got stuck!”

A handy checklist for dialogic reading process is available here, and additional academic research on the topic can be found here.

The overall key is that you want the process to be fun for the child. This is not a quiz and you’re not testing their reading comprehension skills. You’re helping them engage with books and become storytellers themselves. Encouraging, rather than correcting a child’s dialogue will help him or her become a more confident reader and writer. Children should look forward to the chance to read with their parents every night – not only will this foster a love of reading itself, but this interactive time will strengthen the personal bond you have with your child, and may give you a glimpse into how creative the developing mind can be!

Final tip: sometimes parents believe you need to use dialogic reading for every book and the entirety of the book. That is certainly one approach, but you could also alternate – a few pages you do together, and then you remain in the room and encourage them to read the next few pages themselves. No one approach is ideal; it will vary by the age of the child, by the book, and may even vary by the day. Dialogic reading, though, should be at least a partial component of your overall early literacy and vocabulary development approach – because, let’s face it, kids will love reading even more if they are a part of the story!


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