Did you know that oral language skills and vocabulary development are better predictors of reading success than a child’s IQ? This is good news for parents, because we have so much influence on these critical areas of child development.

In this post you’ll learn a powerful strategy for dramatically improving your child’s oral language and vocabulary development that you can start implementing TODAY.

How Oral Language Development Leads to Reading Readinessoral language development in babies

Humans begin to develop oral language skills in the womb before birth, when they hear and process the sounds of language in their environment.

Babies begin to develop language skills when they hear adults and older children talk to them, and they babble in return. When their efforts are celebrated, babies are encouraged to continue using sound to communicate. They memorize the sounds and patterns of sounds they hear, laying the groundwork for understanding and speaking later. Babies with parents who frequently interact with them develop better language skills by ages two and three, and better reading skills at ages five and six.

Babies begin to develop an expressive vocabulary of words that are important to them – for example, “mama,” “daddy” or “cookie.” Their receptive vocabularies are much, much bigger.

As toddlers hear words and spoken language around them, they begin to use words, phrases and sentences. When the people around them provide encouragement, toddlers rapidly improve their oral language skills. They begin to respond purposefully to what people say to them. A toddler’s vocabulary can often increase by several words each day.

Preschoolers can talk for longer periods of time, and begin to take turns in conversation. When they are encouraged and supported, they begin to use a wider variety of words and more sophisticated sentences. They often show an intense interest in learning new words.

Preschoolers begin to develop the ability to recount experiences to adults, and to talk in a coherent way about what is happening around them. They are able to listen to and understand books and stories, and they enjoy talking about them with others.

When this begins to happen, it is a sign of reading readiness.

The Easy Way to Explode Your Child’s Oral Language Skills and Vocabulary Developmentvocabulary development in babies

The easiest, best and most enjoyable way to explode your child’s oral language skills and vocabulary development at every stage is to read books aloud. Any time spent listening to stories read aloud is valuable for children. However, with a just little bit of planning, you can level up your read alouds and maximize the benefits for your child.

Do this by making sure that for at least some books, you and your child spend time talking purposefully about the story. Of course, many read alouds are just you reading the book and your child enjoying the story. This is wonderful, especially at bedtime when you are both trying to wind down from a busy day.

However, each day pick a book to approach in a more deliberate manner. A popular, effective way to do this is to use “Dialogic Reading,” which was developed by Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst.

The Dialogic Reading approach gives you a structure to use to make sure that when you read aloud, your little ones are getting the most oral language benefit and vocabulary development possible. Tons of studies have shown that dialogic reading dramatically increases the benefits of reading aloud.

How to Use Dialogic Reading to Level Up Your Read Alouds

To use Dialogic Reading, parents can use the PEER interaction with their child.

  • Prompt your child to say something about the book. (see specific prompts below)
  • Evaluate how your child responds.
  • Expand on your child’s response by rephrasing it and adding information
  • Repeat the prompt to double check for learning

Here is an example. When you are reading a book with your child, you might point to a character and ask (prompt) “who is this?” Your child might say “that’s Piggie,” and you would say “Yes!” (evaluation) “Piggie and his friend Elephant are getting in the car.” (expansion) Then you might ask “can you point to Piggie and Elephant getting in the car? (repetition)

You can use the PEER interaction model with books that are new or books that are familiar. The sample prompts below will work with almost any book you and your child enjoy together.dialogic reading

There are many ways to prompt children to respond to books. Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst suggests using the CROWD acronym to guide your prompting.

The CROWD model includes five types of prompts to use in Dialogic Reading.

  • Completion prompts: create a “fill-in-the-blank” sentence for your child. This works well with rhyming books and books with lots of repetition.  For example, you might say “I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, ________” and help your child chime in with “Sam I am!” This type of prompt lets children experience the structure of language in a fun, natural way.
  • Recall prompts: ask literal questions with concrete answers that come directly from the book. You can use them at any time with books you have already read, or at the end of a new book. For example, you might say, “What did he finally eat?” Recall prompts are great for developing sequencing skills and comprehension.
  • Open-ended prompts: the very best open-ended prompt is “tell me what is happening in this picture.” This prompt provides endless opportunities for improving your child’s expressive language. Be sure to choose books that have engaging, detailed illustrations.
  • Wh- prompts: this category of questions expands on recall prompts.  Questions that begin with “what,” “where,” and “when,” are literal and usually have definite answers. Questions that begin with “why” and “how” encourage kids to make inferences, draw conclusions and describe at greater length. Easier Wh-prompts focus on the illustrations in a book. More difficult Wh-prompts focus on the story itself.
  • Distancing prompts: these are wonderful for helping kids see that books can be connected to every aspect of our life. A distancing prompt asks children to relate something in the story to experiences they have had in real life. For example, when reading a book about visiting grandparents, you might say, “Amanda and Oliver are visiting their grandma. Remember when we visited Grandma last week? What did you do at Grandma’s house?” Distancing prompts teach children to make text-to-self connections, text-to-word connections and text-to-text connections.

After using any of these CROWD prompts, be sure to follow up with the remaining steps of the PEER process: evaluate, expand, repeat.

oral language developmentDialogic Reading Works!

Kids who have regularly enjoyed Dialogic Reading with their parents are typically miles ahead in oral language skills and vocabulary development. In fact, if a child is behind in oral language development, Dialogic Reading is a powerful technique for helping them catch up.

Be sure to mix up the prompts, and keep the whole experience light and fun. And remember, you should never do Dialogic Reading with every book you read. Sometimes, just snuggle up and enjoy the soothing rhythm of an uninterrupted story with your little ones.

Oral language skills and vocabulary development have a monumental impact on reading readiness. Isn’t it great to know that adults can have a monumental impact on oral language skills and vocabulary development?

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