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Reading with children (interacting with others)

The benefits of engaging children in reading experiences and ​the infinite opportunities this presents for developing language and emergent literary experiences.

This section explores the benefits of engaging children in reading experiences and the infinite opportunities this presents for developing language and emergent literary experiences.


When we read with children we work to co-create understandings of texts and how they relate to our world.

For an exploration of how emergent literacy learning foci (e.g. concepts of print, phonological awareness and phonics) can be embedded within this teaching practice, refer to: Reading with children (emergent literacy)

The benefits of reading with children for language development

The benefits of reading with children of all ages for their language (and general) development cannot be overstated. Reading with children allows for engaging, authentic and language-rich interactions. When they are read to by educators, children are supported to:

  • learn new concepts and vocabulary
  • learn new grammar in an authentic way
  • hear clearly articulated sounds and words
  • hear about new ideas, concepts, places, people, cultures and situations
  • learn about how texts work, and how we use language to communicate in more
  • sophisticated ways.

Children engage with a range of texts and get meaning from these texts:

[they] view and listen to printed, visual and multimedia texts and respond with relevant gestures, actions, comments and/or questions. - VEYLDF (2016)

Reading experiences allow for small group and individual interactions, supporting and strengthening relationships between educators and children, having fun, and enriching children’s learning and their lives.

Texts for different ages

When choosing a book, think about:

  • the age, interests, understanding and language skills of children
  • what language (sounds, vocabulary, grammar) you would like to highlight and embed
  • within the book reading experience
  • how the characters, events, and messages within the story will appeal to children
  • the length of the book.

For an overview of types of children’s literature (including ICT texts) in the learning focus, refer to exploring and creating texts.

All children’s literature should:

  • engage children emotionally
  • invite involvement
  • provide opportunities for interaction by educators to increase children’s understanding of the book
  • be aesthetically pleasing and use interesting illustrations/photographs.

Other suggested features of children’s literature suitable for different ages and levels of learning and development include:

Early communicators (birth - 18 months)

  • light and sturdy so they can be held by the infant
  • colourful bright pictures that are clear and identifiable
  • textures/flaps/cut-outs/puppets/mirrors/sound makers to make reading more interactive
  • nursery rhymes and songs with repetition and rhythm
  • stories that are relatable
  • stories that have repetition.

Early language users (12 - 36 months)

  • simple stories with a beginning, middle and end
  • a few characters – people, animals, toys
  • not too long, but interesting storyline
  • repetition and catchy phrases children can join in with
  • opportunities to predict what will happen next
  • non-fiction texts introducing concepts like colours, numbers, shapes, categories
  • rhymes, poems or songs (longer than for early communicators)
  • engaging pictures or photographs.

Language and emergent literacy learners (30 - 60 months)

  • longer and more intricate stories
  • non-fiction texts about everyday routines, feelings, or introducing new concepts
  • rhymes, poems or songs (longer than for early language users).

Adapted from: Birckmayer, Kennedy and Stonehouse (2008); Campbell (2009)

Pedagogies for developing language during reading experiences

In this section, we will discuss how reading experiences can be opportunities to embed interacting with other foci (e.g. sounds, vocabulary, grammar, stories and narratives, and higher order language).

During this kind of reading experience, the role of the educator is to use the text as a stimulus for exploration, description, discussion, and storytelling.

Dialogic reading (Whitehurst et al., 1988) or interactive read alouds (Barrentine, 1996) are approaches to reading with children which allow for dynamic and active engagement with the text to develop children’s language.

Key features of dialogic reading and interactive read alouds include:

  • not expecting children to sit and listen to an educator reading a book from beginning to end
  • asking questions and making comments
  • following children’s interests in parts of the book, encouraging them to point, label
  • comment and describe what they are seeing
  • encouraging children to answer questions, comment, and share their reactions and feelings during the reading
  • facilitating active meaning making throughout the reading experience by engaging children using comments, descriptions, invitations to interact, and questions
  • building children’s background knowledge of the words used and the context of the book before reading the text, and consolidating it after reading
  • discussing the text before, during, and after reading.

These reading pedagogies allow educators to interact with children during reading experiences in a child-centred, responsive, and intentional way.

Key questions to engage children

Asking open and inviting questions is an effective strategy for engaging children in the reading experience.

Here are some key question types to ask during book reading (or storytelling) (Sipe, 2008):

  1. Factual questions:
    • check which facts from the story the children remember, for example: ‘Where does the Lion live?’ or ‘Who ate the bears’ porridge?
    • check whether children are understanding the story, for example: ‘How do you know that?’, ‘But who was it this time?’
  2. Invitations:
    • invite children to reflect or interpret
    • For example: ‘What do you think is happening here?’, ‘How do you think the Lion is feeling?’, or ‘Oh no! What’s happening now?’
  3. Encouragements:
    • use open questions to encourage children to share their ideas
    • For example: ‘What else could she do?’ or ‘What do we think about that?’
  4. Predicting questions:
    • encourage children to consider what might happen next
    • ‘What will the Lion do now?’ ‘What do you think is going to happen?’

Bring the book to life

Spoken words:

  • clearly pronounce the words of the story
  • include all the parts of the narrative (setting, characters, plot, resolution)
  • create emotional suspense by emphasising certain words and phrases, and by using pauses.


  • use your voice to support children to make meaning
  • use changes in your pitch (voice highs and lows), tempo (speed), and rhythm
  • show changes in the emotions of characters
  • use pitch and speed to build suspense and enhance the story meaning.

Gestures, body language and facial expressions:

  • point to the book and use gestures to emphasise ideas in the text
  • use animated facial expressions that match with the emotions within the book.


  • enhance the reading experience by using different-sounding voices, movements and gestures to voice different characters.

(Fellowes & Oakley, 2014, p. 91)

Highlighting oral language during reading experiences

While reading with children, educators can take the opportunity to highlight various aspects of language, in order to develop children’s ability to interact with others.

Educators can choose any text that:

  • appeals to children
  • facilitates interaction and engagement
  • provides opportunities for embedding vocabulary, concepts, grammar, and text understandings (fiction and nonfiction).

Examples of ways of highlighting learning foci for interacting with others are listed below.

Making meaning and expressing ideas

Choose books with engaging pictures and print, to allow for multiple opportunities to:

  • engage nonverbally (e.g. eye contact, gesture, joint attention (Patterns of Australia by Bronwyn Bancroft).

Some books you choose may have only a small amount of print and more illustrations making it easy for younger children to identify pictures and concepts:

  • An Australian ABC of Animals by Bronwyn Bancroft.

Read books based on familiar stories to allow children opportunities to closely comprehend the text, and re-enact the story in play afterwards:

  • e.g. Goldilocks and the Three Bears illustrated by Anna Walker.

Speech sounds

  • Encourage children to say sounds from the book along with you
  • Emphasise the sounds of animals, vehicles, or nature from the books, and encourage children to imitate these sounds
  • Clearly pronounce the words you are reading at an even and steady pace, allowing time for children to hear and process each word
  • Allow pauses between some words to allow children to join in and attempt “reading” some words.

Concept development and vocabulary

Use concept books to work on concept development:

  • Colours of Australia by Bronwyn Bancroft

Books that explore different concepts in detail can spark discussion and introduce new vocabulary:

  • highlight new vocabulary and concepts in picture books, and encourage children to find objects, actions, people, and animals they know
  • use open questions like: ‘Tell me what you can see…’

Books with engaging and detailed illustrations allow children to explore and describe what they see.

Educators can facilitate children’s engagement with new vocabulary and concepts.

  • Read books which provide multiple descriptions or qualities of characters, objects or events
  • Where is the green sheep? by Mem Fox has a range of different kinds of sheep (including blue, red, bath, bed sheep etc.)
  • Daddy Kiss by Margaret Allum lists different kinds of kisses:


Introduce prepositions (location words) using books like, We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, and Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers.

We went snorkelling at Turquoise Bay. At Tunnel Creek we waded through an underground river. We stood in the shallows at Monkey Mia to see the dolphins. We flew over the Bungle Bungles in a helicopter without any doors. We hiked between the round red domes of Kata Tjuta. We floated down Katherine Gorge, below towering ochre cliffs.

From Are We There Yet? By Alison Lester. Text and illustrations © Alison Lester, 2004. Published by Viking

For example: There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly by Pam Adams.

  • Read books with longer and more complex sentences
  • Use books that play with numbers and plurals, like One Sheep, Two Sheep by Patricia Byers.

Stories and narratives

Use books with relatable characters and storyline, to help children make meaning from the story.


  • setting
  • characters
  • events
  • reactions
  • plans and attempts
  • resolutions within stories

Ask children:

  • what the story was about
  • what happened in the end. eg. Go To Sleep, Jessie! By Libby Gleeson Jessie is screaming.

Every night she does this. Ever since she moved into my room. ‘Be quiet,’ I say. ‘Go to sleep.’ Jessie keeps screaming. ‘If you stop screaming,’ I say, ‘I’ll let you hold T-Bear.’ I climb out of my bed and pass him to her.

Text copyright © Libby Gleeson 2014, Illustrations copyright © Freya Blackwood 2014 Published by Little Hare, an imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont

Explanations and sharing information

Use concept books to introduce topics for discussion.

For older children, use non-fiction texts to explore ideas and concepts on any topic:

  • Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman
  • Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea by Steve Jenkins
  • Island: A Story of the Galápagosby Jason Chin
  • Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca.

Higher order language

Read books with similes and metaphors, like Growl Like a Tiger by Alison Lester:

  • I can quack like a duck, on a bright sunny day
  • and cluck like a hen, that’s ready to lay.
  • I can rumble like a lion if I’m tired and grumpy
  • or growl like a tiger when I’m wide awake and jumpy.

Growl Like a Tiger by Alison Lester, first published by Allen & Unwin, Australia in 2012

Use books that are humorous and discuss what makes them funny, e.g. from Ivy Loves To Give by Freya Blackwood:

  • Ivy loves to give.
  • Sometimes her presents are the wrong size,
  • don’t sit properly,
  • taste funny,
  • or feel strange.

Theory to Practice

Bruner’s (Bruner; see Wood, Bruner and Ross, 1976)concept of “scaffolding” is an important idea underpinning how reading with children works. This means that children learn new language from more capable peers or adults, by engaging in shared reading experiences (Vygotsky, 1967).

The two pedagogies included in this section are dialogic reading (Whitehurst et al., 1988) and interactive read alouds (Barrentine, 1996), which are supported by theories of language learning. Both approaches to reading with children allow for dynamic and active engagement with the text to develop children’s language.

Reading with children is also an opportunity for telling stories, which allows us to use language to “create possible and imaginary worlds through words” (Bruner, 1986, p. 156).

When children engage in reading experiences with adults, the ‘magic’ (or literary response) comes from the interaction between:

  • the written word (text) - genre, content, and structure
  • additional media - visual, physical, auditory (e.g. props, costumes, sound effects)
  • the storyteller - their interpretation and performance of the text
  • the audience - their prior experience, knowledge and values.

The storyteller and the additional media they use play a big role in bringing a story to life.

We can think about how these four factors can affect children’s meaning making when engaging in book reading experiences. We can also change these elements to embed language strategically into the experience.

Evidence base

Numerous studies demonstrate the importance of reading with children for their current and later oral language development (Curenton & Craig, 2011; van Druten-Frietman et al., 2016; Mol et al., 2008, 2009; Zevenbergen & Whitehurst, 2003; Wasik, Hindman & Snell, 2016).

Fisher, Flood and Lappand Frey(2004) found that clear learning intentions, selecting engaging books, and encouraging independent exploration and discussion of books before and after reading experiences are effective strategies.

Piasta et al. (2016) reviewed literature that supports that educators' use of language stimulation strategies during dialogic reading and found it particularly beneficial to their language-learning.

For narrative books, educators should choose texts that:

  1. have believable characters but should not be stereotyped
  2.  [are] straightforward to help preschool children understand the story; and (3) use the characters’ language, conversations, and ideas that reflect the situation.

- Saracho (2017, p. 561) citing Galda, Sipe, Liang, and Cullinan (2014).

For information books, educators should choose texts that:

  1. [are] accurate and readable
  2. have a simple format with attractive illustrations
  3. present information that represents scientific knowledge.

- Saracho (2017, p. 561) citing Galda, Sipe, Liang, and Cullinan (2014).

refer to Language stimulation for further information.

Outcome 1: identity

Children develop knowledgeable and confident self-identities:

  • use their home language to construct meaning
  • develop strong foundations in both the culture and language/s of their family
  • the broader community without compromising their cultural identities.

Outcome 2: community

Children become aware of fairness and begin to understand and evaluate ways in which texts construct identities and create stereotypes.

Outcome 5: communication

Children engage with a range of texts and get meaning from these:

  • texts
  • view and listen to printed
  • visual and multimedia texts
  • respond with relevant gestures
  • actions, comments and/or questions
  • sing chant rhymes, jingles and songs
  • take on roles of literacy and numeracy users in their play
  • begin to understand key literacy and numeracy concepts and processes, such as the sounds of language, letter–sound relationships, concepts of print and the ways that texts are structured
  • explore texts from a range of different perspectives and begin to analyse the meanings actively use, engage with and share the enjoyment of language and texts in a range of ways
  • recognise and engage with written and oral culturally constructed texts.

Children express ideas and make meaning using a range of media to share the stories and symbols of their own cultures and re-enact well-known stories.

Children begin to understand how symbols and pattern systems work and begin to make connections between, and see patterns in, their feelings, ideas, words and actions, and those of others:

  • develop an understanding that symbols are a powerful means of communication and that ideas, thoughts and concepts can be represented through them
  • begin to be aware of the relationships between oral, written and visual representations
  • begin to recognise patterns and relationships and the connections between them
  • listen and respond to sounds and patterns in speech, stories and rhyme.

Children use information and communication technologies to access information, investigate ideas and represent their thinking:

  • use information and communication technologies to access images and information,
  • explore diverse perspectives and make sense of their world
  • engage with technology for fun and to make meaning.

Experience plans and videos

Early communicators (birth - 18 months)

Early language users (12 - 36 months)

Language and emergent literacy learners (30 - 60 months)

Learning foci and teaching practices