Enhancing Language Comprehension at Storytime

Talk about the components of the story and refer to the characters, the setting, action, problems and outcomes. This helps children  not only to understand the story they are hearing, but build a good foundation for them to be able to tell or write a story of their own.

  •  Talk about who is in the story (the characters),
  • Where the story takes place (the setting),
  • State the problem which confronts the characters and
  • Talk about the action they take to overcome this problem and
  • How successful they were (the resolution).

Use comments to communicate what you are thinking:

  • I’m thinking that............”,
  • “I wonder...................”
  • “Why do you think...........?”
  • “It’s a bit hard for me to understand why....................”.

Wait a little while for your child to organise their thoughts so they might respond if they wish. Understanding that everyone does not think the way they do is an important milestone for your child's development of social skills. If it is the first time you have read the book together, try to keep the conversation brief so that you don’t interrupt the story for too long. You can have longer conversations the second or third time you read the book together and delve into the thoughts and feelings of the characters in the book. When your child answers one of these types of comments,  keep the conversation going by repeating what he/she said and then adding another question or comment.

At the end of the book you can have a longer discussion and ask more probing Why questions to discuss why the characters did or reacted the way they did. You can ask your child if they would have done the same thing as the characters in the story or if they said they would do something differently you can talk about what might happen if ......... These problem solving questions play a key role in language development and social imaginative play.

When having a conversation about the story, encourage your child to use their existing knowledge, problem solving and reason to assist their comprehension. You can help your child to develop their ability to read between the lines by asking questions and making comments which go beyond what is simply written in the text of the book.  Examples of this are:

  • “Oh dear his car is broken down”. I wonder what he will do (predicting)
  • “He wants to go outside and play but there are big puddles in the playground”. How can he play in the playground now? (problem solving)
  • “I remember a time when I went swimming but I forgot to bring my towel” (drawing on past experiences).

The ability to use language for thinking and learning is the key to reading comprehension and the foundations for this are laid in the pre-school years during shared book reading. What you talk about during book reading will determine what your children will talk about.

Pointing out the illustrations and talking about them also helps your child to understand the sequence of the story.  Wordless picture books rely on the illustrations to tell the story entirely. You can interchange wordless books with your usual story books to really focus on the messages conveyed in the pictures. Pictures, puppets, miniatures of the characters or even felt boards can be used in combination with the book to make the story come alive. You can use exaggerated facial expressions, gestures or even take on the role of one of the characters complete with actions, tone of voice, feelings and expression adding that additional play element to reading. Play is the work of children and it is their way of exploring the world. We often have little time for play in our busy world but it has been scientifically proven that playing with your child results in hormone secretions which actually decrease our stress levels so there are even health benefits for you in spending some fun time with your child.

Asking your child to explain what they think has happened or what caused an event to happen also promotes language for thinking and learning.  Comments which encourage explanation are:

  • “ I think that was probably because...............” or
  • “That’s why............” or
  •  “Maybe the reason he did that was ................

When reading a book with your child try to maintain 5 conversational turns ( you (1), your child (2), you (3), your child (4) and you again (5). Interchange your comments with the occasional question e.g. I wonder what he/she could say. Too many questions, however,  will often inhibit your child’s conversation.

Encourage your child to talk about how they felt and what they did when something similar happened to them by talking about how you felt too. This is also a powerful strategy to promote comprehension.

  •  “ I remember one time when I ...........” or
  • “Last summer I tried that and..................” or
  • “Once, when I was with my grandma.....................”

You can also ask questions to encourage children to comment about a similar experience:

  •  “Is that something you have done?” or
  • “Do you remember one time when you...........?” or
  • “When you were on holidays last year, did you get to try.......................?”

Conversations allow a child to learn that not everyone likes the same things they do or to the same degree. This important realization promotes their social skill development. Understanding emotions is a key to understanding the motivations of the characters in books. When reading about a character you may ask:

  • “How do you think he feels?” or comment:
  • “Wow I think I would have felt really frightened if there was a bear outside my tent. I wonder why he isn’t scared”, or
  • “Oh dear they were just about to pay for their ice-creams but discovered they left their wallet at home”. “That’s really frustrating”. “Do you remember a time when you felt frustrated.

Evaluation is a skill which helps us to plan and appreciate a cause/effect relationship. It is a way of learning from our mistakes and something which gives us insight into why a person may make a decision which may or may not be the decision we would have made.

  • “Why do you think.....?” or
  • “Do you think that was a good idea?”

These are high level language skills and may require some prompting for a pre-school child but having conversations like these really does promote the development of language for thinking and learning and forms a good foundation for literacy.

If you would like to read more, you can purchase a wonderful book entitled "I'm Ready - how to prepare your child for reading success" by J.Greenberg and E Weitzman available from www.hanen.org

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