How to inspire reluctant readers through dialogic reading​

For children who struggle to find the magic in stories, traditional reading methods often don’t do enough to inspire or engage.

Dialogic reading is the practice of reading interactively with children, developed by Dr. Grover J. Whitehurst, which allows them to become active participants in the telling of the story. An adult asks simple questions to the child while reading, and then by expanding on the child’s responses, encourages them to retell the stories. By repeating names, objects and events in a book, dialogic reading helps young children to build their basic language and literacy skills.

mum helping daughter read

So for example, as a child looks at the front cover of a book, an adult may ask them ‘what do you think will happen in this story?’. The idea is get the child to do most of the talking. Ask open-ended questions like ‘Why do you think Bob doesn’t see the cat?’. The adult then expands on the child’s responses with things like, ‘Yes – that is a dog chasing the cat’. The adult encourages further conversation by thinking aloud about the story, making comments like ‘I wonder how the girl is feeling after that happened…’

The best type of books for dialogic reading include rich illustrations, interesting characters, and situations that require thinking or problem-solving. Look for books that use interesting language as a chance to expand your child’s vocabulary. As it’s a book you’ll read together, you can afford to look for word counts slightly higher than your child would read on their own, or with language that is slightly more sophisticated.

Our FREE interactive story app ‘Havoc in a Hippo’, is a perfect place to start for any reluctant reader. Created with the sole purpose of helping this next generation to start reading again, it’s been designed to provoke a sense of discovery, curiosity and adventure.

Remember, it’s the quantity and quality of the interactions children receive which help them develop positive attitudes towards reading. Make time each day to read with your child, keeping it relaxed, cozy and calm.

Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty. It should be offered as a gift.” 

Kate DiCamillo

open book with light coming out of it


The basic technique used in dialogic reading is PEER. This is a helpful way of remembering how to interact with your child while they read:

  • Prompt the child to say something about the book,
  • Evaluate the child’s response,
  • Expand the child’s response by rephrasing and adding information to it, and
  • Repeat the prompt to make sure the child has learned from the expansion.

So, if you and your child were reading a book about animals, and stop on a page with a dog on it. You would ask, ‘What’s this?’
(the prompt) while pointing at the dog. Your child says ‘dog’, and you say, ‘Correct (the evaluation), it’s a brown dog (the expansion); can you see any other dogs?’ (the repetition).

There’s also another acronym to remember that’ll help inspire the types of prompts you can use… it’s called 

  • Completion prompts – leave a blank at the end of a sentence for your child to fill in.
  • Recall prompts – ask ‘can you tell me what happened?’
  • Open-ended prompts – ‘Tell me what’s happening in this picture’.
  • ‘Wh’ prompts – What, where, when, why and how questions.
  • Distancing prompts – relate what your reading to outside experiences, ‘remember when we saw a dog?’ 

Ask questions like:

  • Where is the _____?
  • Can you touch the _____?
  • What noise does that animal make?
  • What is this called?
  • What can you see in this picture?
  • What is that person doing?
  • Why do you think he did that?
  • Have you ever done that?
  • How do you think she feels?
  • Have you ever felt like that?
  • What would you do next?
  • That’s a bit like____ that happened to you, isn’t it?
  • What do you think that would look like?

What are the benefits of dialogic reading?

  • Dialogic reading deepens children’s engagement with a story and text through enjoyable interactions with an attentive adult. 
  • It helps emergent readers develop strong literacy, comprehension and language skills.
  • Children (especially reluctant readers) generally enjoy this type of reading more than traditional reading.

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” 

Dr. Seuss

child sitting on suitcase earring flight goggles reading book

A few general tips for reading to your child:

  • Give everything a name. Build your child’s vocabulary by talking about interesting words and objects.

  • Remember to talk about how much you enjoy reading, it’ll make reading a more positive experience for your kids.

  • Always use expression and voices when you read to bring the story to life – there’s nothing more off-putting than a deadpan delivery.

  • Know when to stop. Put the book away when a child loses interest. Don’t force them to continue.

  • Be interactive and discuss what’s happening on the page.

  • Read their favourite book again, and again, and again. It will help teach them to look beyond the first layer of a story. This type of exploration is easier if a child already knows the basic story.

In the end, all that you really need to do is make time for reading. The methods above is just one way of helping children get more from books. It may not work for everyone, but hopefully our tips will give you an insight into how you can give it a go.

Epic note

This ‘dialogic’ method is not just restricted to reading – you can apply the same principles to any type of learning activity. It’s all about having an ongoing conversation between the ‘teacher’ and the ‘student’ (or parent and child). Through dialogue, you can apply everyday perspectives to abstract ideas and help children engage with learning. Because, when given the opportunity to contribute to the conversation, a child can explore the limits of their own understanding, allowing for more productive ways to problem solve and overcome misunderstandings.

So try it when you’re next helping your little one with homework, or doing a science experiment together, or trying to explain a complicated topic. It really works!

Happy reading.


A good example of dialogic reading being practically applied can be seen in this video: