Child with picture book

Tips for interactive reading

Have you ever sat down to read a book with your child only for them to quickly lose interest?

Mother and Child reading together

When looking at books, we recommend trying interactive book reading techniques. Interactive book reading is when both the parent and the child participate equally in conversation about the book as they read. The interactive nature is not only more interesting for children but research has shown that frequent, interactive book reading is helpful for:

  • Building joint attention
  • Increasing oral language including vocabulary and sentence length 
  • Early literacy development 
  • Achieving better reading outcomes in later school years 
  • Improving emotional regulation  

This approach is effective in children at all levels of development and language levels. 

So how does it work? 

Instead of reading a book word-for-word, try these techniques.

Sit face-to-face

Sometimes it is better to sit face-to-face when reading, in a similar way that we may sit face-to-face when having a conversation. In this way, you can make sure that your child is able to pay attention to you while you speak as well as the book in front of them.


It can be easy to dominate the conversation and fill the interaction with questions, particularly when a child does not say much. However, research says that simply pausing and providing your child with the opportunity to comment first can encourage them to speak. Next time you are reading with your child, pause and wait for 5 seconds, then respond enthusiastically to what they have said.

Talk about the pictures

It is not always necessary to read all the words on the page. Talk about what is happening in the pictures to model oral language use. Use the pictures as a way to model new vocabulary such as describing words (e.g. That dinosaur is GIGANTIC!), action words (e.g. jump, leap, fly), names of unfamiliar objects and feelings (e.g. The boy is sad. He’s crying because he lost his toy). 

Commenting more than questioning is also more similar to everyday conversation. Children don’t want to be interviewed or pressured into speaking. Sometimes, saying something about the picture or the story will invite a response naturally. Say things such as “Oh, I think the crocodile is coming out of the water!” and pause to see if your child will say something in response. Sometimes saying something completely wrong (e.g. That car looks like it’s driving in the sky!) will prompt your child to respond too.

Ask open-ended questions

If you need to ask questions, avoid yes/no questions such as “Is that girl running?”

Instead, use questions that will bring out longer and more complex responses. Try questions like:

  • What happened to the bear?
  • Why do they feel happy?
  • What do you think is going to happen next?
  • What would happen if….?

Link the book to their own experiences

New words and stories will be more memorable if it can be linked to a previous experience or to something that your child already knows about. While reading, relate the story or the pictures to things in your child’s life. For example, talk about a time when they have visited a similar place like a zoo, or the beach. Talk about a time when they felt scared and what they did vs. what the characters in the book did. Use the events in the book as ways to problem-solve if a similar problem occurs at home after you have read the book.

Read a story more than once

It is okay to read a story over and over again. In fact the repetition will help a child understand a story better, allow them to talk about things they might have missed the last time it was read, and following their interests will make reading a more enjoyable experience for both the parent and the child.

So the next time you sit down with a book, use these tips to make your reading experience more interactive and watch your child’s language grow.







David K. Dickinson, Molly F. Collins, Kimberly Nesbitt, Tamara Spiewak Toub, Brenna Hassinger-Das, Elizabeth Burke Hadley, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek & Roberta Michnick Golinkoff (2019) Effects of Teacher-Delivered Book Reading and Play on Vocabulary Learning and Self-Regulation among Low-Income Preschool Children, Journal of Cognition and Development, 20:2, 136-164

Farrant, B. M., & Zubrick, S. R. (2012). Early vocabulary development: The importance of joint attention and parent-child book reading. First Language, 32(3), 343-364.

Farrant, B. M., & Zubrick, S. R. (2013). Parent–child book reading across early childhood and child vocabulary in the early school years: Findings from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. First Language, 33(3), 280-293.

Lefebvre, P., Trudeau, N., & Sutton, A. (2011). Enhancing vocabulary, print awareness and phonological awareness through shared storybook reading with low-income preschoolers. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 11(4), 453-479.

National Early Literacy Panel (2008). Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.

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