Inspiring young readers: the role of book chat

01 December 2020
Professor Teresa Cremin
Professor Teresa Cremin is Professor of Education (Literacy) at The Open University. An ex-teacher, Teresa now undertakes research and consultancy in the UK and abroad. Her research focuses mainly on children’s choice-led reading and writing, teachers’ literate identities and practices and creative practice. A Fellow of the English Association, the Academy of Social Sciences, and the Royal Society of the Arts, Teresa is also a Trustee of the UK Literacy Association. She has written and edited over 30 books. Her most recent is Reading for Pleasure in the Digital Age, with Natalia Kucirkova. Teresa is passionate about developing readers for life and leads a professional user-community website: Research Rich Pedagogies based on her research into volitional reading. The site supports over 100 OU/UKLA Teachers’ Reading Groups and 30 university partnerships across the UK in order to enable the development of children’s (and teachers’) reading for pleasure. 
The conversations triggered through reading together offer critical support to young readers, helping them make sense of what they are reading and deepening their engagement with the story or the information.

In essence, book chat is the informal interaction that accompanies quality reading to and with children. Given regular opportunities to share books and chat together, your child’s language and comprehension will expand, and you’ll be nurturing their love of reading. Being a childhood reader, one who chooses to read frequently and for their own pleasure, is, the OECD (2002) argue, the single most important indicator of your child’s future success. Those children who choose to read will fly higher and further than those who do not.

When reading together, I’d recommend you encourage your child’s active involvement and enable them to participate on equal terms in this book chat, asking their own questions and not simply answering yours! Try to avoid too many closed questions, such as what colour is that?”; these only have a single answer and don’t keep the conversation going. If you’re reading a picture book together for instance, it helps to pay close attention to your child. If you pause as you turn the page or after reading a page, you’ll find that gradually they’ll spontaneously comment on the pictures or will question what is happening. This enables you to respond to their lead and let the book chat flow.

There are a number of other ways to prompt book chat, using a combination of comments, questions and thinking aloud. For example, you might ponder aloud what you’d do in a similar situation or wonder what a character is feeling. This approach is sometimes known as dialogic shared book reading’, but we prefer to call it book chat’.

If you want to see Book Chat in action, do check out The Open University’s Book Chat: Reading with your Child resource. This comprises three short films as well as support materials to help parents, families and carers read books conversationally and creatively with children. The films model this relaxed interaction through the use of open questions, observations and prompts that initiate Book Chat and enable parents and children (aged 5–11) to share the pleasure of reading together.

The team offer five top tips to guide your book chat:

  1. Invite your child’s involvement
  2. Watch and listen carefully to follow their interests
  3. Wonder and connect to your lives
  4. Share your emotional responses
  5. Keep it light and enjoyable!

You may find downloading the OU’s Book Chat poster to pop on the fridge helps as you seek to trigger focused child-led conversations around the books you read together. The Book Chat Guide is also worth reading and incidentally, it’s okay to get so engrossed in conversation that you don’t finish the book; it will still be there another day!

Research shows that reading for pleasure not only supports children’s academic achievement, it also develops empathy, critical thinking, reduces stress and promotes wellbeing. By enjoying books and book chat with your child, you can help them to think more deeply, grapple with new ideas, explore possibilities, make sense of the world and encourage a lifelong love of reading.

Professor Teresa Cremin, The Open University (Twitter: @teresacremin)