What is Dialogic reading?

 Dialogic reading is essentially a reading practice using picture books to enhance and improve literacy and language skills.  The basis for this is asking simple questions and following up with expanded questions.   There are numerous studies that show the improvements from using this method.
Essentially the practice involves reading interactively with children, even very young children, to help them develop strong comprehension and language skills. Practicing this type of active reading with children from a very young age sets the foundation for strong readers later.
Many parents naturally practice dialogic reading with their babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. If a parent and child are observed reading a book together and the parent asks the child "Where is the Duck?" This is dialogic reading. It is the discourse that takes place about the story and images.
While there are many elements in the complicated process of learning to read, dialogic reading is the activity that will help emergent readers develop strong comprehension skills. It's also a positive effect on oral language development.
Dialogic Reading was pioneered by Dr. Russ Whitehurst. Language is the Key uses a dialogic reading approach. It is also infused with research findings in the areas early language, literacy, and play development; family involvement; language facilitation; bilingual language development; cultural relevance, and adult learning.

Dialogic Reading and Emergent Literacy

Emergent literacy refers to speech and language development in young children. This stage begins at birth and continues through the preschool years and is most successful with consistent parental interaction. Studies show it is the quantity and quality of the interaction children receive which develops literacy skills and good attitudes toward reading. Research also confirms language development is a key factor in academic achievement, thus increasing the importance of sound literacy skills in young children.

The process of Dialogical Reading is a technique that has transformed the acquisition of emergent literacy skills because it is a technique that transcends learning disabilities, socio-economic status and family structure due to its ease of use and minimal resource requirement. In essence Dialogic Reading is a conversation about print materials between a parent or caregiver and a child; therefore the only essential resources are time, motivation and a book. The technique is the basis of the American Library Association’s “Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library” campaign and is used throughout the world.

The definition of Dialogic reading

According to a compliation of studies, dialogic reading is essentially a reading practice using picture books to enhance and improve literacy and language skills.  The basis for this is asking simple questions and following up with expanded questions.   There are numerous studies that show the improvements from using this method.

Using dialogic reading with infants and toddlers

Reading to your child should start soon after birth. Listening to the sound of a voice while trying to focus on pictures can help increase brain waves in the infant and is a pleasant experience for everyone.

Just keep in mind that all children, even infants have good times and bad times so be prepared to postpone reading if your child is grumpy, crying,etc.

To help achieve success, here are some helpful tips to consider:
  • Develop a langauge rich environment in your home with age appropriate resources
  • Make time everyday to read together preferably when there is enough time to allow for a relaxed interaction 
  • Create a cozy space in your home specifically for the interaction

Practicing Dialogic Reading

There are two acronyms that help guide parents and caregivers when practicing dailogic reading with young children. They are PEER and CROWD.

  • P
    Prompt the child to say something about the book. For children under two this may be just a child pointing at an object but this action should be positively reinforced with statements such "oh, that's a flower.". Later at the age of 2 to 4 a child may be asked "What's this book about?" and a response might be "cats" as the child's language and comprehension skills develops they will give a more detailed response.
  • E
    Evaluate the response. This is important when reading with very young children because it helps guide them in their understanding of the world. When a child points to a picture of a pig and says "dog" an adult can say "no that's a pig. Look at it's has a curly tail." The evaluation gives the child feedback.
  • E
    Extend the response. To extend the response an adult may develop the detail of a child's response. If a Child responded to a prompt about an image of elephant, saying that it was an elephant, an adult might extend the response by demonstrating an elephant noise.
  • R
    Repeat. It is important to review what has been read. With very young children this might mean going back to pictures in the book and asking questions about what things are or what noises do things make. repeating also means re-reading. Children love to read their favorite books again and again and this is important for them as they develop their language and comprehension skills.

The Crowd acronym is about the kinds of questions and prompts that an adult can give a child to encourage grater interaction with a text.
  • Crowd prompts.
    You leave a blank at the end of a sentence and get the child to fill it in. These are typically used in books with rhyme or books with repetitive phases. For example, you might say, "I think I'd be a glossy cat. A little plump but not too ____," letting the child fill in the blank with the word fat. Completion prompts provide children with information about the structure of language that is critical to later reading.
  • Recall prompts.
    These are questions about what happened in a book a child has already read. Recall prompts work for nearly everything except alphabet books. For example, you might say, "Can you tell me what happened to the little blue engine in this story?" Recall prompts help children in understanding story plot and in describing sequences of events. Recall prompts can be used not only at the end of a book, but also at the beginning of a book when a child has been read that book before.
  • Open-ended prompts.
    These prompts focus on the pictures in books. They work best for books that have rich, detailed illustrations. For example, while looking at a page in a book that the child is familiar with, you might say, "Tell me what's happening in this picture." Open-ended prompts help children increase their expressive fluency and attend to detail.
  • Wh-prompts.
    These prompts usually begin with what, where, when, why, and how questions. Like open-ended prompts, wh- prompts focus on the pictures in books. For example, you might say, "What's the name of this?" while pointing to an object in the book. Wh- questions teach children new vocabulary.
  • Distancing prompts.
  • These ask children to relate the pictures or words in the book they are reading to experiences outside the book. For example, while looking at a book with a picture of animals on a farm, you might say something like, "Remember when we went to the animal park last week. Which of these animals did we see there?" Distancing prompts help children form a bridge between books and the real world, as well as helping with verbal fluency, conversational abilities, and narrative skills. 


CAR Method according to (walearning.com) website from language is the key: Early language is critical for academic success CAR method uses the overarching teaching approach of follow the child’s lead.  

  • C –comment and wait.
  • A – ask a question and wait.
  • R – respond by adding more.

Dialogic Reading in Action (videos)

Reading with Children
A demonstration on how to generate discussion about a book with young children. Watch how the children set the pace for reading. The adult allows the children to hold the book and set the pace

Machines at work
A mother reads a book with her son. Watch how she asks questions about pictures. She also puts some of the images in context of her child's experience.

Books for Dialogic Reading with 1 to 2 Year Olds.

If you're looking for a book to practice dialogic reading with a young child consider the following questions and points.

  1. Are the pictures clear and simple? It is important that a dog looks like a dog for these very young readers if you are going to  interact successively with the story.
  2. Is it a subject that interests the child? Choose a book based on the child's current areas of curiosity.
  3. Don't forget that if the child isn't interested don't push. Try another time or a different book.
This is a list of books that provide lots of opportunity for rich dialogic reading.
Of course dialogic reading can be practiced with any books. Choose a book and enjoy the adventure.

1. Same Same
by Marthe Jocelyn and illustrated by  Tom slaughter.
This book would invite be a great starting place for  introducing shapes,
and opposites to a toddler.

2. In the Garden (a lift the flap book)
  published by Barrons (any of the books in this series are
wonderful for sharing with curious toddlers)
Anticipating what is behind the flap encourages dialogic reading between toddler and parent.

3. Brown bear, Brown Bear, What do You See?
by Eric Carle
Each page ends with the question, what do you see? Parent and child can enjoy guessing what animal comes next. Toddlers love trying to make the animal noises. The rich vocabulary helps develop the beginning of a strong vocabulary.

4. Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? 
 by Eric Carle
More fun with Eric Carle and a whole new set of animals to explore.

5. Baby Giggles 
By Rachael Hale

Happy babies, grumpy babies and sleeping babies depicted
in this attractive photographic board book introduce the conversation of facial expressions and moods.
(also other books in the Beautiful Baby series by Rachael Hale;  Baby Colors)

6. Uh-Oh
by Rachel Isadora
Uh oh! I've spilled my cereal on my head, and I've put my shirt
on upside down, uh oh!
The expressive illustrations show the mischievous activities of a toddler. Parent and child can explore the details in the illustrations and talk about the everyday actions of the toddler in the illustrations.

(also look for other titles by Rachel Isadora; Peek-a-Boo Bedtime, Peek-a-Boo Morning)

7. Hello Baby
by Mem Fox
 Illustrated by Steve Jenkins

"Are you a monkey with clever toes?." Who is baby? A monkey? A leopard? A crocodile? No each animal is different and special. Reading together parent and child can explore the uniqueness of each animal. The amazing collages clearly depict each animal.

8. Where is Baby's Beach Ball?
by Karen Katz
 Lift the flaps to help baby find her beach ball. Lots of things to explore on the beach. Toddlers will love helping baby to find her precious ball.
(also explore other lift the flap books by Karen Katz; Where is Babies Birthday cake, and What Does Baby Say )

9. Peek-a Choo-Choo!
by Marie Torres Cimarusto
Illustrated by Stephanie Peterson 

From fire engines to space rockets. Guess who is hiding behind each flap. Toddlers will love making noises for the different machines with their parents. 


10. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes 
 by Mem Fox
Illustated by Helen Oxenbury. 

Every baby has ten little fingers and ten little toes no matter 
where they were born.  Explore the joyful illustrations of babies 
from all around the world.