Storybook Conversation (5)

Have you heard of storybook walk? Read the article and find out!

Katherine Mansfield's headshot

By Katherine Mansfield

About the author: 

Katherine Mansfield is a second-year speech-language pathology student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has been a part of the STEMIE Storybook Team since October 2021. Her professional experience includes graduate internships where she works with children of all abilities to diagnose and treat communication and feeding disorders. Katherine is always eager to learn more about how to make a child’s therapy goals functional for them at home, given their family and home situation, preferences, skills, and current areas of need. She enjoys brainstorming ways to incorporate literacy into the speech therapy sessions she provides. She received her undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies at North Carolina State University in May 2020.

Reading books about a variety of topics not only stimulates a child’s language development, but it also exposes them to basic concepts that are useful and meaningful in their day-to-day lives and future. For example, when reading or listening to a book about the solar system, a child can learn new vocabulary (e.g., the name of planets, the sun) which is beneficial for their language development and for their emerging interest and knowledge about science. They may become curious when they see the Sun and share what they know about it when they see it in the sky. This combination of learning about different topics, like space, and developing language skills while reading is exciting for children and overall, manageable for you to implement as their parent, teacher, caregiver, or another person in the child’s life. While exploring this variety of books, you will likely discover a new book to read at either a library, bookstore, or online resource. Here, you and your child have the opportunity to take typical book-reading to the next level. How? By engaging the child in a “storybook walk” before reading the new book together.

First, what is a storybook walk? A storybook walk is a strategy used to introduce new concepts, make creative associations and inferences, and increase interest in a new book that a child is preparing to read (Briggs & Forbes, 2011). During this storybook walk, you would “walk” the child through the book by reading the title, looking and flipping through the pages, introducing characters, making inferences about what might happen in the book, reviewing or teaching new vocabulary words, and assessing which concepts are already familiar to the child. The key to the storybook walk is increasing exposure and interest without reading the book cover to cover! appropriate adaptations, these pre-reading opportunities can be useful for children of all ages, skill levels, and who might benefit from additional support.

Using objects and visual pictures to introduce new vocabulary

Introducing vocabulary words before reading can be modified to meet the child’s current skill level and needs. For example, a child with blindness or visual impairment may require alternative means to access the information presented in a book. As part of your storybook walk for this book, you can provide a story box, a box of physical objects that are related to the story at hand. This offers a multisensory experience for the child as they learn about the book. For example, for the book  , you might include fur in the storybox to represent the fox character, so the child is able to engage with the materials using their sense of touch rather than sight. You can also pair the book with other visual adaptations such as enlarged symbols that represent the pictures, characters, and concepts presented in the book. The STEMIE Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers visual adaptations and storybox ideas for a variety of STEM books for your reference as you begin thinking about how to adapt different books to meet your child’s needs.

Offering these physical objects or picture symbols, when appropriate for the child increases not only the child’s exposure to new vocabulary words, but it increases their interest in the content at hand and their ability to engage with the book. As you do so, reinforce the new concepts and important vocabulary words. You can always revisit, revise, and verify the inferences you all made together as you pre-read the book.

Provide seating choices

If a child requires additional support to access the information presented in a storybook walk, consider strategies like flexible seating options, giving the child hands-on access to the book and materials to independently explore the content during the storybook walk, and simplifying your language to increase their motivation and confidence when learning newer concepts. Each child has a unique set of needs. The good news is that you can help meet these needs during storybook walks by using your creativity and individual expertise; you are one of the people in the child’s life that knows them best!

As you and the child(ren) in your life begin incorporating storybook walks into your reading routines, enjoy the process! It may feel awkward, at first, to talk about the book without reading it first, but it becomes more natural the more you all engage in these reading preparation exercises. An overarching strategy to remember when leading these storybook walks is flexibility. Be flexible with how you meet your child’s needs (i.e., when choosing picture symbols or physical objects to engage a child with a visual impairment) and when your plan may not go as you expected it to. Your child will see you model creativity and open-mindedness, which can encourage them to be open-minded and curious during these pre-reading and reading activities as well.

You can find a video example here. (This video was developed in collaboration with the Kansas Deaf-Blind Project and Kansas State School for the Blind.


Briggs, C., & Forbes, S. (2009). Orientation to a new book: More than a picture walk. The Reading Teacher62(8), 706-709.

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The home is an exciting place for children to learn and grow. Many parents enjoy engaging in learning experiences with their children such as shared book reading and game playing. However, when it comes to making math a part of the learning experience, many parents are unsure where to begin. This blog post provides fun, practical math experiences that can be done at home to help children develop critical math skills.

Michele Stites' headshot

Dr. Michele Stites Susan Sonnenschein's headshot

Dr. Susan Sonnenschein

About the authors:

Dr. Michele Stites is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). She received her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction/Special Education from the George Washington University and her M.Ed. in special education from the University of Maryland College Park. Prior to her appointment at UMBC, she was the early childhood intervention specialist for a large school system in Maryland. Dr. Stites was an early childhood classroom teacher for 10 years working in both general and special education settings. Dr. Stites’ research interests focus on inclusive mathematics teaching practices and young children’s mathematics learning. As an assistant professor at UMBC she also works closely with teacher candidates. Dr. Stites has been widely published in both scholarly and practitioner-focused journals.

Dr. Susan Sonnenschein is a Professor in the Psychology Department at UMBC and the Graduate Program Director of the Applied Developmental Psychology Doctoral program. She received an M.S. degree from Penn State University in Educational Psychology, a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from Stony Brook University, and is a certified (state of Maryland) school psychologist. Her research interests focus on factors that promote children’s educational success. She conducts research on family and school-based factors and how they affect children from different demographic backgrounds. In addition to having several hundred scholarly publications and presentations, she has written blogs and summaries of her research for nonprofessional audiences. One focusing on math activities to do with young children was published in the Conversation in 2018,

The learning activities young children engage in at home lead to better academic skills. We know that children who read different types of books at home are more likely to develop foundational literacy skills (Sénéchal & LeFevre, 2002; Serpell et al., 2005). And, many parents are confident that they know how to help their children learn to read (Sonnenschein,, 2021). But what about math? How comfortable are parents with fostering their children’s math skills at home?

We recently asked 236 parents of preschoolers how confident they were assisting their children with reading and math skills at home. And, what we found was not surprising. Most parents thought it was very important for their children to read (86%) and do math activities at home (68%). However, they viewed reading as more important than math. Why do they view reading as more important? It may have to do with confidence. Only 32% of parents in our study reported that they were very confident in their ability to support their child’s math learning.

Given what we know about the importance of reading to children, and the need for more math exposure in the home, we should  link the two together! Making learning fun for young children and engaging their interest in such learning is positively associated with better academic skills (Sonnenschein et al., 2016).  Drilling children on skills is not (Serpell et al., 2005).

Many parents are confident engaging in dialogic reading experiences with their children and with minimal effort we can easily add math into the experience. Many parents also shared with us that they want fun, play-based ways to foster math skills at home (e.g. NO worksheets!). Here are some practical ideas:

Linking Storybook Reading to Math

  1. Expose their children to a variety of reading genres (e.g., storybooks, informational text) and find the math in the story. You do not need math themed books to do this! Count the number of bunnies, talk about shapes, find patterns, etc. Be sure to use mathematical language (e.g. “more”, “equal”, etc.) when talking about a math topic because it increases skill development (Akinci-Coşgun,, 2020; Stites & Brown, 2019).
  2. Use a math themed book. Books like Anno’s Counting book and Ten Magic Butterflies are mathematically themed. Take the time to explore the math content. Questions like, “How many in all?” and “what comes next?” are great with counting books. If the book focuses on a skill like addition work on additional equations. “Wow, we just answered 2 + 1=3. Do you know what 2+2 equals?”
  3. Make use of digital and adapted books. If a child has a disability, adapted books are a great way to remove some of the barriers in traditional print books. In fact, all children, not just those with disabilities, often respond to the  different formats provided in these books.

Play-Based Math Learning

  1. Play board games. Games have been shown to be an effective way to engage with numbers and patterns. Take the time to question the child about numbers, shapes, and patterns.
  2. Take a nature walk. Notice the shapes in the leave. Count the clouds. The world is your oyster here!
  3. Build with blocks or Legos. Count the items and make patterns. Ask the child what comes next and how many there are altogether. Take some away and ask how many are left. Make shapes!
  4. Draw and create art. As the child is drawing ask her to make three more flowers. Use playdough and make shapes and patterns. And talk about the shapes the child and you create. The language used matters!


  1. Akinci-Coşgun, A, Stites, M.L., & Sonnenschein, S. (2020). Using storybooks to support young children’s mathematics learning at school and home. In Bekir, H., Bayraktar, V., & Karaçelik, S.N. (Eds.), Development in Education. Istanbul, Turkey: Hiperlink.
  2. Sénéchal, M., & LeFevre, J. A. (2002). Parental involvement in the development of children’s reading skill: A five-year longitudinal study. Child Development, 73 , 445–461.
  3. Serpell, R., Baker, L. & Sonnenschein, S. (2005). Becoming literate in the city: The Baltimore Early Childhood Project. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Sonnenschein, S., Metzger, S. R., & Thompson, J. A. (2016). Low-income parents’ socialization of their preschoolers’ early reading and math skills. Research in Human Development, 13, 207-224. doi: 10.1080/15427609.2016.1194707
  5. Sonnenschein, S., Stites, M.L., & Dowling, R. (2021).  Learning at home: What preschool parents do and what they want to learn from their children’s teachers? Journal of Early Childhood Research. doi:10.1177/1476718X20971321
  6. Stites, M.L. & Brown, E.T. (2019). Observing mathematical learning experiences in preschool.  Early Child Development and Care. doi:10.1080/03004430.2019.1601089.
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In previous blog posts, we have talked about how storybooks can be used to support children's STEM learning. In this blog post, we will share how to adapt storybooks to support STEM access for young children with disabilities. 

About the author: Sarah Pedonti, M.Ed., is a Ph.D. candidate in Applied Developmental Psychology and Special Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Education. Her research focuses on early reading and language interventions for young children with or at risk for developmental language disorders. She has worked in varied settings serving young children with disabilities, including Early Head Start, Head Start, North Carolina Pre-K (co-located within a Title I Engineering Magnet Elementary School), NC State’s Engineering Place Summer Programs, and the Office of Head Start’s National Center on Early Childhood, Development, Teaching, & Learning (NCECDTL)

Sarah Pedonti's headshot
By Sarah Pedonti

Ph.D. candidate in Applied Developmental Psychology and Special Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Education

Adapted storybooks are an easy and inexpensive way to help children with sensory, visual, motor, and linguistic differences to access STEM learning through reading. While dialogic (DR) and shared interactive book reading (SIBR) strategies have been shown to support children with and without disabilities in engaging with books (Lonigan et al., 2008; Mendez et al., 2015; Fleury & Schwartz, 2017; Towson et al., 2017), many children may also benefit from tangible adaptations and modifications to the book itself.

Adapted books can be categorized as a form of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Some readers may be familiar with adapted books from seeing their efficacy with children with visual impairment (Brennan,,2009; Lewis & Tolla,2003), significant intellectual impairment (Erickson et al., 2010) significant motor or communication impairment (Light et al. , 1994; Light &  Kent-Walsh, 2003), or autism spectrum disorders (ASD, Carnahan et al., 2009).

However, adapted storybooks can promote access and engagement for all children in DR (Justice, 2006), and DR may provide an important scaffold for children’s understanding of more abstract content (Gonzalez et al., 2011). Abstract content in STEM may include more complex “academic” words featured in many informational and expository science books (“evaporation”, “reptile”), and that don’t appear in every-day conversation. Families that read expository books together are more likely to have longer, more complex conversations about the books afterward, and those conversations feature more diverse vocabulary (Price et al., 2009). Moreover, diverse academic vocabulary is essential to later reading success (Beck et al., 2008), yet many children with disabilities may struggle to access and comprehend it.

Storybook props and adaptations are therefore an important means of supporting STEM access for young children with disabilities. Many “high-tech” resources are now easily accessible for augmenting STEM storybooks, through tablets that support picture software such as Picture exchange communications (PECS) systems (Frost & Bondy, 1998), Boardmaker (Mayer-Johnson, 2002) and electronic storybook apps such as Tar Heel Reader ( However, “low-tech” resources are often more easily reproducible at home, and may be more durable and feasible for families to implement than expensive software.

The chart below outlines 7 easy at-home storybook adaptations, categorized by the type of support they may provide (motor, sensory, communicative/linguistic, visual, or auditory).Download PDF here.




Beck, I. L. McKeown, M. G., & Kucan, L. (2008). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction (2nd Ed). New York: The Guilford Press.

Brennan, S. A., Luze, G. J., & Peterson, C. (2009). Parents’ perceptions of professional support for the emergent literacy of young children with visual impairments. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 103, 694–704

Carnahan, C., Basham, J., & Musti-Rao, S. (2009). A Low-technology strategy for increasing engagement of students with autism and significant learning needs. Exceptionality, 17(2), 76–87.

Erickson, K. A., Hatch, P., & Clendon, S. (2010). Literacy, Assistive Technology, and Students with Significant Disabilities (Vol. 42).

Fleury, V. P., & Schwartz, I. S. (2017). A modified dialogic reading intervention for preschool children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 37, 16–28.

Frost, L. &  Bondy, A. (2002) The picture exchange communication system training manual. Newark, DE: Pyramid Educational Products.

Gonzalez, J. E., Pollard-Durodola, S., Simmons, D. C., Taylor, A. B., Davis, M. J., Kim, M., & Simmons, L. (2011). Developing low-income preschoolers’ social studies and science vocabulary knowledge through content-focused shared book reading. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 4, 25–52.

Justice, L. M. (2006). Clinical approaches to emergent literacy intervention. Plural Publishing.

Lewis, S., & Tolla, J. (2003). Creating and using tactile experience books for young children with visual impairments. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 35, 22–29.

Light, J., Binger, C., & Smith, A. K. (1994). Story reading interactions between preschoolers who use AAC and their mothers. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 10, 255–268.

Light, J. C., & Kent-Walsh, J. (2003). Fostering Emergent Literacy for Children Who Require AAC. The ASHA Leader, 8, 4–29.

Lonigan, C. J., Shanahan, T., Cunningham, A., & The National Early Literacy Panel (2008). Impact of shared-reading interventions on young children’s early literacy skills. In National Early Literacy Panel (Ed.), Developing early literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel: A scientific synthesis of early literacy development and implications for intervention (pp. 153– 171). Jessup, MD: National Institute for Literacy. Retrieved from

Mayer-Johnson, I. (2002). Boardmaker. Windows version 5.1.1. Solana Beach, Calif. : Mayer-Johnson, Inc.

Mendez, L. I., Crais, E. R., Castro, D. C., & Kainz, K. (2015). A culturally and linguistically responsive vocabulary approach for young Latino dual language learners. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 58, 93-106.

PACER Simons Center on Technology. (2017). Young Children, AT, and Accessible Materials - YouTube.

Price, L. H., Kleeck, A., & Huberty, C. J. (2009). Talk during book sharing between parents and preschool children: A comparison between storybook and expository book conditions. Reading Research Quarterly, 44, 171–194.

Towson, J. A., Fettig, A., Fleury, V. P., & Abarca, D. L. (2017). Dialogic reading in early childhood settings: A summary of the evidence base. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 37, 132–146.

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Why is shared storybook reading so important?  How can we support children's STEM learning through storybook reading? This week, we invited Dr. Towson to talk about how to incorporate dialogic reading strategies into your storybook reading. Dr. Towson is an Assistant Professor and Graduate Program Director in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders with a joint appointment in the School of Teacher Education at University of Central Florida. She completed her doctorate in at Georgia State University in 2015 following 14 years of work as a speech-language pathologist and early childhood special educator in public schools. Her research broadly concerns building the capacity of individuals who work with young children with language impairments and those considered at-risk.   
Jacqueline Towson's headshot By Jacqueline A. Towson, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Assistant Professor and Graduate Program Director in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders with a joint appointment in the School of Teacher Education at University of Central Florida

Shared storybook reading is an excellent activity to engage in with your young child. Simply reading books with children exposes them to many emergent literacy skills, including print awareness (knowing top to bottom, right to left progression; front of book, back of book) (Mol, Bus & De Jong, 2009). Making the book reading experience interactive has added benefits for children’s oral language skills, key precursors to developing a strong foundation for later literacy skills (WWC, 2015).

Shared interactive book reading (SIBR) is an evidence-based practice that includes the intentional use of strategies such as child-centeredness, elaborations of children’s utterances, active responding, wait time, and evaluation of children’s response all while directing the child to the text, illustrations or concepts within a storybook (Hemmeter & Kaiser, 1994). There is also promising evidence for children with disabilities when implemented by researchers, parents, paraprofessionals and childcare providers (e.g., Fleury & Schwartz, 2017; Towson, Fettig, Fleury, & Abarca, 2017; Towson, Gallagher, & Bingham, 2016; Towson, Green, & Abarca, 2019). By engaging your child in dialogue around a storybook, you can guide your child’s learning of specific words or concepts.

Dialogic reading provides a framework with easy to remember acronyms, PEER and CROWD.

1. Prompt, Evaluate, Expand, Repeat (PEER)


2. Completion, Recall, Open-ended, Wh-questions, Distance (CROWD) Prompts

CROWD stands for the types of prompts you can provide for your child.

  • Completion prompts are ones that allow you child to fill in information at the end of a phrase; repetitive text within a storybook are great places to try completion prompts (And the caterpillar was still…..).
  • Recall prompts are where you can ask questions related to things that already happened in the book. Usually staying close to the page you just finished is helpful for your child.
  • Open-ended prompts are those that don’t require a specific response, such as tell me what happened on this page or what do you see here?
  • The next type of prompts are wh-questions. Here you can use any form of what, where, who, why or when. Remember that some of these questions are harder than others.
  • Finally, distancing prompts are those that connect what is happening in the storybook to your child’s life. This is a great way to connect your child to the book’s theme. For instance, in the Very Hungry Caterpillar, you might say, The caterpillar eats strawberries when he gets hungry. What do you like to eat?

Using the Dialogic Reading framework, adults can make adaptations as needed for young children with disabilities. As children may vary in their understanding of prompts as well as their ability to respond, making small (or large) modifications can reduce frustration for both the child and adult while providing a comfortable space to encourage growth in language and emergent literacy skills. When presenting a CROWD prompt, adults may want to provide visual support by pointing to the pictures in the book. They can also present a dichotomous choice for the child, either verbally or by providing two pictures for the child to point to. When providing choices, adults can vary the transparency of the incorrect response by making the incorrect choice more or less obvious. It is always appropriate to model the correct response if the child is unable to either produce the response verbally or by pointing. While asking yes/no questions has less evidence for building language skills, this is another adaptation that may be helpful in earlier stages of language development. As with any adaptation, adults should gradually reduce the amount of support they provide to encourage more verbal participation in the shared storybook.



Fleury, V. P., & Schwartz, I. S. (2017). A modified dialogic reading intervention for preschool children with autism spectrum disorder. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education37(1), 16-28. 

Hemmeter, M. L., & Kaiser, A. P. (1994). Enhanced milieu teaching: Effects of parent-implemented language intervention. Journal of Early Intervention18(3), 269-289.

Mol, S. E., Bus, A. G., & De Jong, M. T. (2009). Interactive book reading in early education: A tool to stimulate print knowledge as well as oral language. Review of Educational Research79(2), 979-1007. 

Towson, J. A., Fettig, A., Fleury, V. P., & Abarca, D. L. (2017). Dialogic reading in early childhood settings: A summary of the evidence base. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education37(3), 132-146.

Towson, J. A., Gallagher, P. A., & Bingham, G. E. (2016). Dialogic reading: Language and preliteracy outcomes for young children with disabilities. Journal of Early Intervention38(4), 230-246. 

Towson, J. A., Green, K. B., & Abarca, D. L. (2019). Reading beyond the book: Educating paraprofessionals to implement dialogic reading for preschool children with language impairments. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 0271121418821167.

What Works Clearinghouse, U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, & National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. (2015). Early childhood education: Shared book reading. Retrieved from


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Welcome to our new storybook coversation series!decorative image

Christine Harradine's headshot

By Christine Harradine, PhD

PD Specialist at the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

Chih-Ing Lim's headshot

By Chih-Ing Lim, PhD.

Co-director of the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE)

Are you spending more time at home reading with your young children? 

Are you interested in helping them gain language skills and learn about STEM? 

Do you need some ideas for adapting the reading process for your child with disabilities?

We will like to introduce you to something called dialogic reading 1, a systematic approach to storybook reading, which has been shown to help children with and without disabilities develop comprehension and language skills.

With some careful planning of what questions to ask children throughout the book, reading time can becomes a rich opportunity for building concepts through conversation! Plus your child can become a full participant and help you tell part of the story instead of passively listening to the story! You can use digital books on a screen or regular paper or board books. It’s easy and we will show you how! With this blog, we have provided:

For example, here’s a video of a mom using dialogic reading with her preschooler who uses an augmentative communication device:

1 What Works Clearinghouse Intervention: DialogicReading

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