Active Reading

Reading with your child helps build their vocabulary and students with a more developed vocabulary perform better in school. Reading together is arguably the single most effective method to help your child’s academic achievement. In our busy lives we don’t always have the ability to sit down nightly and read with each other. However, a few strategies can help us get the most out of our opportunities. 

Not all reading is created equal. Simply sitting with your child and reading is great. It is a bonding experience and will build positive perceptions around reading which will be important to later motivations for reading. But there are some strategies that will focus more directly on your child’s vocabulary and comprehension. These strategies come from a technique called dialogic reading (DR). I used to call it Active Reading. But don’t let the unnecessarily obscure name deter you. It just means talking. Or more specifically, asking questions and restating answers. The techniques are memorized easily by the acronyms, PEER and CROWD

PEER stands for Prompt, Evaluate, Expand, and Repeat. You ask a question about the book (Prompt), see if they produce the correct answer (Evaluate), restate or add something to the answer (Expand), and have the child say the answer again (Repeat). For example:

Adult: What is the dog doing? (Prompt)

Child: Eating

Adult: Yes, he’s eating. (Evaluate)

He is eating a big white bone. (Expand)

Can you say that?

Child: The dog is eating a big white bone. (Repeat). 

It is a simple interaction but it encourages the use, and therefore the acquisition, of more and more words. 

CROWD: This acronym denotes some other strategies but the order in which you employ them is not important. They are Completion questions, Recall questions, Open-ended questions, Wh questions, and Distancing questions. Completion questions give the child the chance to finish a sentence that the adult starts (‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you ____’). Recall questions elicit some details about the story (‘What kind of pet did they get?’). Open-ended questions ask the child to describe something or otherwise answer without just yes or no (‘Why do you think she was sad?’). Wh-questions get the children to name things or describe other features of the story (‘Where did they go? What did he do?’). Finally, distancing questions ask the child to relate the things in the story to their own life in some way (‘Does the story remind you of anything? Did you ever meet a friend in the park?’). See this summary and this explanation for another description. 

You know your reader the best. You should enjoy reading together as well. There are plenty of benefits of simply sitting together and sharing a story. These techniques don’t need to consume every minute of your reading time together. But keeping the strategies and the purpose (building comprehension and vocabulary) in mind can help you get just a little more out of an already wonderful activity.

  • Layne, Steven L. In Defense of Read-Aloud : Sustaining Best Practice. Stenhouse Publishers, 2015.
  • Morgan, Paul L., and Catherine R. Meier. “Dialogic Reading’s Potential to Improve Children’s Emergent Literacy Skills and Behavior.” Preventing School Failure, vol. 52, no. 4, Summer 2008, pp. 11–16.

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