Dialogic Reading

Techniques for Parents and Professionals
By Adrienne Russell, M.DEHS, LSLS Cert. AVEd

As a parent, grandparent and parent-infant advisor at the Sunshine Cottage School in San Antonio, Texas, I have seen firsthand the importance of interactive dialogic reading to toddlers with hearing loss to encourage vocabulary growth and plant the seeds of future academic success.

How children behave during book sharing with their parents, caregivers and listening and spoken language professionals depends on their experience with books in general. One toddler can sit through interactive readings of multiple books, often requesting a favorite book over and over again, while another toddler squirms and runs away and seems to exhibit no interest in the book sharing experience. Language development Resources Tertiary Page Image

The importance of reading aloud during the first three years of a child’s life cannot be overstated. During this time, parents are their child’s first and most important teachers providing the sound code or phonology for language development. Parents imprint their baby’s brain with the sound code of language using a technique called motherese/parentese to capture their child’s attention during the shared daily routines of life. Help and support from the adults in a child’s life build vocabulary skills (Mol, Bus, De Jong, & Smeets, 2008).

How Reading Becomes Dialogic
By using motherese/parentese when reading a book to their child, parents effectively capture the toddler’s attention and cultivate his/her future desire for reading, learning and exploring. In addition, by using props such as toys and recycled (or easily obtained) materials from around the house, parents and caregivers can make reading an inexpensive and highly rewarding stay-and-play activity with their toddler with hearing loss. Dialogic reading is a shared interactive conversation between a toddler and his/her parent/caregiver/listening and spoken language professional that should be fun (Lonigan, 2011).

This technique changes passive, adult-directed reading into an active, dynamic and interactional framework with the toddler as a partner. When adults share books with toddlers, the child may be focused on looking at the book and not necessarily listening to the story. Dialogic reading builds a listening foundation for the toddler to eventually become a storyteller (Whitehurst, 1992) through gestures, single words, two-word combinations and phrases. This underscores the power of learning through listening, especially for children with hearing loss.

The PEER Sequence
Families coached with the use of the PEER sequence when sharing books with their child are often pleased by the toddler’s increased attention span with the book. The increased attention span helps the toddler to absorb the language through listening. The reading technique using the PEER sequence encourages the adult to:
o Prompt the child to vocalize or gesture (use wait time 8-10 seconds)
o Evaluate the toddler’s response
o Expand the toddler’s response with rephrasing using parentese/motherese
o Repeat the prompt
Books with props help the toddler and adult stay and play in a meaningful and fun listening interaction. The behavior change modeled by the parent (Mol, Bus, De Jong, & Smeets, 2008) complements a behavior change in the toddler as they participate together in the shared book reading.

The Humpty Dumpty Routine: Dialogic Reading in Action
Pairing props with actions is an effective way to cultivate listening and language development. I created the “Humpty Dumpty” kit, which consisted of a hard-boiled egg, Play-Doh, feathers, building bricks, markers and a tiny book.

I use it in listening and spoken language sessions to teach parents dialogic reading techniques by facilitating turn-taking strategies with the family to keep everyone engaged with creating Humpty Dumpty out of the hard-boiled egg and the other materials. The experience takes parents through the dialogic process by acoustically highlighting the selected language targets. It is important that professionals pace the activity according to the needs of the toddler. Below is an example of one of these sessions:

VV_21.2.DialogicReading.2Professional: “Uh-oh, Humpty has no eyes…let’s draw some eyes on Humpty.”
Parent: “Where are your ears? (looking at the toddler) Where are Humpty’s ears?”
Professional: “Uh-oh, Humpty has no legs. Let’s make Humpty legs. Roll the Play-Doh. “
Parent: “Where are your arms? (talking to the toddler) Where are Humpty’s arms?” “He has no arms. Let’s roll the Play-Doh. Put one arm here. Where’s the other arm?”
Professional: “Humpty needs a hat. Let’s make a hat. Put the hat on Humpty’s head.”
Parent: “Humpty needs a feather for his hat.”

Once Humpty Dumpty is complete, professionals can proceed with the story by rocking Humpty Dumpty back and forth with their finger behind his hat as they sing the story while the parent turns the pages of the story.

The professional can then hand over Humpty Dumpty—already cracked from his first fall—to the parent for another round of the song.

Finally, the toddler can have his/her turn controlling Humpty and letting him fall and crack.

Collectively creating Humpty during an auditory-verbal session is part of the rich language process before sharing the book and song. Playing with props captures the toddler’s attention and turns the book reading into many shared conversational turns (dialogic reading). It engages the toddler into a storytelling role by asking him to repeat the story after having heard it from both the professional and the parent.

This is a strategy for expanding auditory memory from one critical item to two and beyond. For example, I always ended the reading dramatically with a different twist, by saying, “Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty-Dumpty had a great faaaaaaall, uh-oh, he’s cracked…so we ate him!”  

Run, Mouse, Run!
The board book, Run, Mouse, Run! by Petr Horacek is great for exposing toddlers to actions and prepositions.

The story required the following materials: a mouse toy, a chair, a table, a cup, a shoe, a cat toy and a tissue box. Sitting at the kitchen table, the professional, the mother and then the child take turns acting out the story with the props, page by page, making the mouse run over the chair, across the table, up and into a cup, down the table leg and into the tissue box. Next, the mouse runs out of the box and into the shoe and, finally, into a hole provided by the book away from the cat. The turn-taking strategy allows the toddler to listen and see each phrase twice before it is his/her turn.

This format provides an early interactional framework encompassing joint attention, turn-taking techniques and communicative intent. An added benefit of this technique is helping the toddler to learn self-regulation by waiting his/her turn.

Depending on the toddler's age and language development, his/her speech may vary from matching syllables with vocalizations all the way to matching the words of the professional and the parent or caregiver. Some pre-verbal toddlers may only match the movements before coupling their vocalizations with the action. Be patient and repeat the experience.

If toddlers are older, an added activity is to allow them to find the props for a story. Finding each prop is an opportunity to engage the toddler in a meaningful way, spark his/her interest and invest them in reading.

For example, while I was playing with my grandchildren ages 28 months and 3 ½ years, they brought me a book to read. I opened the book and asked them to go find a frog toy in their room that matched the one in the story. Off they ran to search for a frog and a minute later returned with one. Now they needed to find a mouse, so off they ran back to the bedroom to hunt for a mouse. This activity continued for every page of the story until we accumulated the full cast of characters. Such activities extend the time for book reading through play and make toddlers eager to participate in the actual reading of the book.

Reading aloud to toddlers with hearing loss improves their ability to listen and imitate the sound code of spoken language. Remember, listening comes before talking. Dialogic reading promotes language development and helps with literacy development preparing toddlers for the wonderful world of reading. In order for this time to be meaningful to the toddler, it must be fun!  

Resources for Parents and Professionals to Encourage Dialogic Reading

Cole, E. B., & Flexer C. (2011). Children with Hearing Loss Developing Listening and Talking. San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing.

Cullinan, B. E. (1992). Read to Me: Raising Kids Who Love to Read. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2003). Einstein Never Used Flash Cards.
How Our Children Really Learn – and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Inc.

Horacek, P. (2005). Run, Mouse, Run! London, United Kingdom: Walker Books Ltd.

Karp, H. (2004). The Happiest Toddler on the Block. New York, NY: Bantam Dell.

Mol, S. E., Bus, A. G., De Jong, M. T., & Smeets, D. J. H. (2008). Added Value of Dialogic Parent-Child Book Readings: A Meta-Analysis. Retrieved from https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/handle/1887/16211/Chapter3.pdf?sequence=8

Singer, D., Golinkoff, R. M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (Eds.) (2006). Play=Learning: How Play Motivates and Enhances Children’s Cognitive and Social-Emotional Growth. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Humpty Dumpty (1996). Montreal, Canada: The Five Mile Press Pty Ltd.

Lonigan, C. (2011). Research on Dialogic Reading. [Video File] Retrieved from http://community.fpg.unc.edu/connect-modules/resources/videos/video-6-2

Whitehurst, G. (1992). Dialogic Reading: An Effective Way to Read to Preschoolers.
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