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 https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/InterventionReports/wwc_sharedbook_041415.pdf


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