From Conversation to Comprehension

By Suzanne Gainsley with Tara Baliat

Reading aloud with young children and providing opportunities for them to actively engage with text is an important part of a comprehensive language and literacy curriculum. Simply inviting children to talk during a book-reading experience is not enough to promote growth in literacy development. It’s the type of talk that matters.

Research shows, the most effective read-aloud experiences are those in which children actively participate in discussions about the book before, during, and after reading the book. The types of questions and comments you make while reading aloud can build children’s comprehension, helping them to understand the details, structure, and plot of the story. As children ask and answer questions, make predictions, and connect the text to their own experiences, they engage in analytical thinking, which supports their overall literacy development.

Check out these effective ways to support the development of children’s comprehension skills.

Teacher Planning

Careful planning and preparation are keys to a successful interactive reading experience. Before introducing a book to children, read it thoroughly for your own understanding. As you read through the book, identify and flag vocabulary words you plan to introduce to children using small sticky notes or highlighter tape for easy identification during the read-aloud activity. Before reading with children, choose stopping points in the text to ask children open-ended questions and prompt them to make predictions about the text and/or connections to their own lives and experiences.

Getting Ready to Read

Before opening the book, you might invite children to predict what it might be about by looking at the front and back covers or a few illustrations throughout the book to build children’s anticipation.

  • Introduce the title, author, and illustrator (often the author is also the illustrator, and you can bring that to the children’s attention).
  • Talk about why you chose the book. This models for children that they can be thoughtful about choosing books for different reasons and purposes (e.g., it features a favorite character, a topic of interest, or an intriguing cover illustration).
  • Prepare children for listening to a new book by building on their background knowledge (e.g., make appropriate connections to children’s work in the classroom, their interests, and what you know about their personal experiences) and providing additional context if necessary (introduce an unfamiliar setting or briefly discuss a concept that will be explored in the book).

Reading the Book

Position the book so children can easily see the text and illustrations and you can comfortably read the text. As you read, stop and engage children by asking them questions that prompt critical thinking about the text.

After Reading the Book

After reading the book, encourage children to reflect upon and discuss what was read. This helps children make connections between the text and their own experiences, summarizing story events, and uncovering themes or messages presented in the book. This also allows time to review literacy concepts (e.g., rhyming, print features, vocabulary) explored during specific readings.

What’s Next?

Now you’re prepared to put your preschoolers on the path to becoming lifelong readers! Active, engaging, and frequent interactions with diverse texts throughout thoughtfully planned read-aloud experiences increase young children’s comprehension, vocabulary, and other critical skills that get early learners ready to read and ready for school.

Interactive read-alouds are most effective when you use the following strategies:

  • Make interactive read-alouds a part of the daily routine.
  • Carefully plan the read-aloud experience.
  • Select high-quality books representing a variety of genres.
  • Include multiple readings of the same book.
  • Identify a literacy focus for each reading.
  • Plan opportunities for children’s active engagement.
  • Pay close attention to children’s developmental levels.
  • Use scaffolding strategies designed to support and extend children’s learning.

Beck & McKeown, 2001; Dickinson & Smith, 1994; Laminack, 2009; Shedd & Duke, 2008; Wasik & Bond, 2001.


Let's Read It Again! Interactive Read-Alouds

Looking to add read alouds to your classroom? Let’s Read It Again! includes lessons plans for mulitple readings of 20 high-quality children’s books.

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