Dialogic reading

Dialogic reading involves interactive, shared book reading and conversation about the book using a set of prompts to explicitly develop and extend a student’s oral vocabulary and listening comprehension skills (Justice and Pullen 2003; Whitehurst et al. 1988).

The importance of dialogic reading

Children need strong oral vocabulary skills to become proficient readers (Hart and Risley 1999; National Institute of Child and Human Development 2000). This is because a well-developed oral vocabulary helps a child recognise and understand words in print. Frequent shared book reading is known to support vocabulary growth and, in turn, later success in reading and other academic areas (Senechal et al. 1996; Whitehurst et al. 1999). Research by Whitehurst et al. (1988) revealed that reading dialogically with students at risk for literacy learning difficulties can improve both expressive and receptive language.

Theory to practice

Al Otaiba et al. (2018) conducted a comprehensive review of the research on direct vocabulary instruction. Findings from this review suggest that dialogic reading can support improved vocabulary skills for students at risk of reading difficulties. Dialogic reading also supports reading comprehension skills. Smith et al. (2021) recommend explicitly teaching background content relevant to a text, a practice widely reported to increase reading comprehension through engagement (Duke and Cartwright 2021; Ahmed et al. 2022; Kim et al. 2021; Snow 2002). Research studies indicate that teachers should choose texts that match a student’s area of interest to improve their engagement with reading (Smith et al. 2021).

Overall, the research literature indicates that the most effective interventions for vocabulary difficulties include dialogic reading approaches using focused, explicit, vocabulary teaching, and include supportive activities to facilitate generalisation of acquired vocabulary.

Implementing dialogic reading in the classroom

Dialogic reading often follows 2 procedures known by their acronyms PEER (Prompt, Evaluate, Expand and Repeat) and CROWD (Completion questions, Recall questions, Open-ended questions, Wh- questions and Distancing). These procedures help develop a student's oral language and listening comprehension skills, however, do not specifically focus on vocabulary.

The PEER (Prompt, Evaluate, Expand and Repeat) sequence of procedures includes:

  1. The teacher prompts or asks the group or a particular student something about the book.
  2. The teacher evaluates the accuracy of the response.
  3. If it is incorrect, the teacher expands on the response, steering it towards the correct answer.
  4. The teacher asks that the correct response be repeated.

It is important to carefully observe the student when using these procedures as non-engagement may indicate a language difficulty rather than a reading difficulty. For further guidance on supporting students with language difficulties visit: Supporting students with language difficulties.

Below is the sequence of prompting and responding techniques used in dialogic reading (Morgan and Meier 2008). It explains what to do, provides examples of how to do it and then explains how this procedure improves reading.

Prompt the student to name an object on the page OR ask them about characters in the story. For example, the teacher asks, “What is this?” and the student says, “A ball.”

This improves reading by engaging students in the story, increases comprehension of the plot, increases attention and expands vocabulary.

Evaluate whether the student was correct. If not, think about what additional information you can add to expand the student’s vocabulary. For example, the teacher thinks about the student’s response and information to add to it.

This improves reading by giving the student individual feedback on their response and it encourages them to add more information.

Expand on the student’s response by adding a few more words. For example, the teacher asks, “Yes, it’s a bright yellow, bouncy ball. Can you repeat that?”

This improves reading by encouraging the student to speak more than they otherwise might, and it expands their vocabulary.

Repeat and ask the student to repeat the (correct) response. For example, the student says, “A bright, yellow bouncy ball.”

This improves reading by encouraging the student to use language in expanded ways.

The CROWD acronym focuses on the types of prompts teachers can use while reading dialogically, to fully engage a student in the reading of the book. Unlike the PEER acronym, CROWD does not follow a structured sequence.

Below is the CROWD set of procedures and prompts (Morgan and Meier 2008). This format explains what to do, provides examples of how to do it and then explains how this procedure improves reading.

Completion Ask the student to complete a word or phrase (often used in rhyming stories). For example, the teacher asks: “Let’s finish this page together. Hairy Maclary from ________.”

This improves reading by increasing students’ listening comprehension and use of language.

Recall Ask the student for details about characters and events in the story. For example, the teacher asks, “Who is following Hairy Maclary?” and the student says, “Hercules Morse.”

This improves reading by engaging students in the story and it increases their recall of details.

Open-ended – Ask the student to describe what is happening in the picture. For example, the teacher asks, “What is happening in this picture?” or “What are the dogs doing?”

This improves reading by providing opportunities for the student to use language in context.

Wh- questions Point to something in a picture and ask the student to name the object or action. For example, the teachers asks, “What’s this called?” and the student says, “A bin!” The teacher responds, “That’s right. It’s a rubbish bin, where you put your rubbish. Where else could Hairy Maclary put rubbish?”

This improves reading by helping to build a student’s vocabulary.

Distancing Ask questions that relate the story to something in the student’s life. For example, the teacher asks: “Have you ever been on an adventure like Hairy Maclary? What did you do?”

This improves reading by helping the student to make connections between stories and their own lives.


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