How To Read Together To Build Your Child’s Language Effectively

You can Another proven way to support your child’s language development (whether they have a language problem or not) is dialogic book reading. I’m going to cover how to do it in two blog posts as it’s too much to have it all in one go! Research shows that using the 11 principles below accelerate children’s language development. The books that work best are those with clear pictures, not a lot of writing, and an engaging story. (You’ll find a list of books used in the research at the end of the post. They’re quite old but will give you an idea of what kind of books to look out for.) You can start doing this from as young as 22 months old. The goal is for your child to become the story teller and for you to become the active listener. You’re going to assume the role of an active listener, asking questions, adding information, and prompting your child to increase the sophistication of their descriptions of what’s happening in the picture book. As your child gets used to being in the role of storyteller, you shifts more of the responsibility for telling the story to them. So, initially, you’ll be asking your child to name objects in the pictures and then later on you’ll be asking open-end questions like “What’s happening on this page?” Those kinds of questions allow your child to decide what to talk about. You’ll be encouraging your child through praise and repetition. And you’ll be encouraging more sophisticated responses by expanding upon what your child says.

Here are the 11 Principles of Dialogic Book Reading:

  1. Make sure you’re both looking at the same page or picture of the book. To help this happen, you can say Look! A cat! And point at a picture. It’s important to follow your child’s interest though and not be too directive. Waiting to see what they’re looking at before saying anything helps you do this.
  2. In dialogic book reading you can ask ‘What?’ questions like “What’s this?” (Personally, I’m not a big fan of this question as it’s not really that communicative to ask a question when you already know the answer. You could try instead saying “Look” and point to the picture and wait for your child to say something. You can use open-ended questions instead like “What’s happening here?Or you can start a sentence and let them complete it as in “Peppa’s sitting in a ……
  3. It’s also really important to wait for their turn.
  4. When they’ve taken their turn, you can add some extra information like if your child says “car” and you say “Yeah, Peppa’s in the car.” If your child doesn’t say anything in response to your question, then you say it the way they would if they could. When it’s natural to do so, you can ask them “What’s that again?” This is to encourage them to repeat the word in a natural way.
  5. Follow answers with questions. Once your child knows the name of a pictured object, you can ask another question about it. Examples are: “What colour is Peppa’s dress?” “What shape is the tree?” “What’s George doing?” “Who’s driving the car?” “What’s the frying pan for?”
  6. Repeat what your child says to encourage them and to let them know they’ve been heard.
  7. Say it the way they would if they could. This is called modelling and expanding and is an important thing that parents do to help language development. Make sure that what you say is always grammatical so “Peppa’s driving the car” and not “Peppa in car”. Expansions need only add a little information so your child has a better chance at imitating.
  8. Praise and encouragement is an important part of dialogic book reading. You can say general things about how you love reading together and so on.
  9. Shadow your child’s interests. Like I said above, it’s important to talk about the things that your child wants to talk about. When your child points at a picture or begins to talk about part of a page, you can use this interest as a chance to encourage them to talk in a natural way.
  10. Have fun. This is critical really! You can make reading fun by keeping it light and make sure turn-taking is happening. It’s important that the shared book reading doesn’t become like a teaching session so it’s best to read as you usually would and then occasionally point to a picture and ask “What’s that?” And so on. You don’t want it to end up being a Q&A session!
  11. When you do find yourself asking questions, aim for open-ended ones like “What do you see on this page?” “What do you like about this page?” “Tell me what’s happening here?” “Tell me what’s going on here”. Questions like this open up the conversation. They are harder questions for your child to answer so you mightn’t get a lot in return to start off. Be encouraging about any attempt and say it as your child would if they could. When it seems like your child has run out of things to say, you can add one more piece of information.


 Book Ideas from the research

Although these are from a 2010 study, I’ve found a lot of them on Amazon. My first choice is to go to my local library though. These are only in English. For books in a range of languages, have a look

here. Another great option is wordless picture books or silent books as they’re sometimes called. You can find lists of them here.

Book  Title                                                                                                                      




 “Fire Engines Anne Rockwell
Golden Bear Ruth Young  Rachel Isadora
Good Night, Gorilla Peggy Rathmann
Over in the Meadow Ezra Jack Keats
Peace at Last Jill Murphy
Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore! David McPhail
Rabbits and Raindrops Jim Arnosky
Road Builders B.G. Hennessy  Simms Taback
A Summery Saturday Morning Margaret Mahy

Selina Young

The Tale of Peter Rabbit Beatrix Potter
The Wolfs Chicken Stew Keiko Kasza
Animal-Go-Round Johnny Morris
See How They Grow” series Angela Royston
Bob-the-Builder” series Various authors
Clifford: the Big Red Dog” series Norman Bridwell
Dora-the-Explorer” series Various authors
The Backyardigans” series Various authors
P.B. Bear” series Lee Davis
Corduroy” series Don Freeman


This post is an extract from my book for developing all of your child’s languages. Be sure and sign up at to find out when it’s ready!

Let’s get talking!  


The Research: here’s what I’ve read so you don’t have to:

Akamoglu, Y. & Meadan, H. (2019) Parent-implemented communication strategies during story-book reading. Journal of Early Intervention 41(4): 300-320.

Lonigan, C. and Whitehurst, G.  (1998) Relative Efficacy of Parent and Teacher Involvement in a Shared-Reading Intervention for Preschool Children from Low-income Backgrounds. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 13(2): 263-290.

 Towson, J., Gallagher, P. & Bingham, G. (2016). Dialogic Reading: language & pre-literacy outcomes for young children with disabilities. Journal of Early Intervention 38(4): 230-246.

Towson, J., Green., & Abarca, D. (2019) Reading beyond the book: educating paraprofessionals to implement dialogic reading for pre-school children with language impairments. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education 1-16.

Tsybina, I. & Eriks-Brophy, A. (2010). Bilingual dialogic book reading intervention for pre-schoolers with slow expressive vocabulary development. Journal of Communication Disorders 43:538-556.

 Whitehurst, G., Arnold, D., Epstein, J., Angell, A., Smith, M., & Fischel, J. (1994) A picture book reading intervention in day care and home for children from low-income families. Developmental Psychology 30(5): 679-689.




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