Read a book. Ask a question. Start a conversation.

Conventional wisdom has become so focused on the importance of reading to children that it has, to a large extent, ignored the critical component of the importance of talking with children about what they read.  As important as it is to read aloud to children, many of the benefits of the read aloud experience are lost when there is no verbal interaction. Reading to a child does not by itself automatically lead to literacy. Talking with children has an even stronger effect on literacy learning than reading aloud to them.

Conversational Reading is talking to children about the stories they read—asking them “What do they notice?” and “ What do they think?” A common assumption is that children understand everything they read but this is not the reality. Children who talk about stories and the subjects a story explores are involved readers who•better understand what they read. Children who better understand stories become more confident readers, and this confidence directly impacts the pleasure children find in the stories they read. Let there be no doubt,— children who read what they love, love to read.

Conversational reading encourage children to read for meaning and echoes a Chinese proverb that says; “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” The next time you think— “I don’t know how to talk with my child about the books they read; why is it important to talk with children about the stories they read?”—know that by engaging children through questions and conversation, you are playing an instrumental role in developing children who become good readers, critical thinkers and thoughtful individuals.

Most children thrive on questions; it’s as if they breathe out question marks as they try the world on for size. But nobody comes into the world knowing how to find meaning in a story and no one likes looking for the hidden meanings in a story. A question that can easily end a conversation before it begins is: “What does the story mean?” A child needs to first understand a story before they can understand the meaning of the story. Finding meaning in a story calls for guessing and speculation.

The following are a few strategies and tips to begin reading conversationally.

Conversational Reading—a few tips:

A piece of advice I try to follow when it comes to conversations, comes from Winnie the Pooh, who said—
“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like ‘What about lunch?'”

~ You only need one good question to start a conversation
~ Be realistic—a conversation is not a literary discussion
~ When you ask a questions, try listening and be patient and wait for a response
~ Keep the conversation moving: “Tell me more”, “Why do you say that?”
“Are you saying?”

Conversation starters for any story:

~ Which character would you want to be your friend?
~ Is there a character you dislike?
~ What would you do in this situation?
~ How would the story be different if…
~ What are you curious about at the end of the story?
~ If you could invite one character to come to your house to play, who would it be?
~ Did you like the ending of the story? How would you end the story?

Reading is thinking, not just figuring out the words, spelling the words and knowing the letters. The most important outcome may not just be how many books children have read, but how many conversations they’ve had about them.

As wise Alice once said:
“What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?’” Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


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