Shared reading boosts language

Language provides the foundation of thinking and learning and should be prioritised.

Education Endowment Foundation, 2018

The revised Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (2021) highlights the crucial role of children’s spoken language – it underpins all seven areas of learning and development.

Adults have a vital role to play in developing children’s language. The number and quality of the interactions and conversations children have with adults throughout the day in a language-rich environment is crucial. By commenting on what children are interested in or doing, and echoing back what they say with new vocabulary added, practitioners support the children’s language development.

Reading stories aloud and looking at picture books together is one of the best ways in which you can support children’s written and spoken language. Studies show that children who share books regularly with an adult in the preschool years  learn language faster, enter school with a larger vocabulary and become more successful readers in school.

Interactive shared reading (also known as dialogic reading) has been shown to be particularly effective at boosting children’s spoken language development. The aim of this approach is to hold a conversation, a dialogue, with the children about the story. We want to encourage the children to actively participate – to talk about the story and to ask and answer the questions.

Research suggests that it is important to read through the whole story initially, then in other reading sessions to use key strategies to support the shared reading approach.

The adult and child are encouraged to talk about and around the book, rather than focus solely on the text. Adults support children to engage with the story by making comments, by asking open questions or by prompting them to talk about the story. Effective pauses whilst sharing books, allowing time for processing, thinking and interaction.

There are five main types of prompts that can be used and these can be remembered using the acronym CROWD:

  • Completion – pause before the end of a sentence for the children to complete it, especially in stories rhymes or repetitive phrases
  • Recall – ask children about the story
  • Open-ended – often focusing on the illustrations
  • Wh – prompts that begin with ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘why’, and ‘when’
  • Distancing – linking the story to children’s own life experiences

However, research also shows that children with language disorder or delay, or children from disadvantaged backgrounds often need additional strategies to shared reading alone. They benefit from use of props, such as animal charcters, or objects, linked to the story to support understanding and interaction.

The Early Soundplay stories have a simple interactive storyline which makes it easy for children to anticipate what happens next and to join in when they hear the story again.

Although the first time the story is shared it is best to read it through with few interruptions. When you read it again you can focus on just a few pages, encouraging the children to talk about the story and link it to their own experiences.

These reminders of events or situations that link to the children’s own experiences are known as ‘elaborative reminiscing’. They support understanding and the linking of new learning to what children already know. These conversations reinforce, and may even introduce additional, new vocabulary and concepts.

Combining shared reading with opportunities to hear and use new words in a range of contexts, such as nursery rhymes and activities linked to the stories, gives children lots of rich language experiences.

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