Have you ever found yourself opening up a brand new book and ready to read, only to get through about twenty pages of the story when you realize that the whole time, your mind has been elsewhere? I experience this rather frequently. Though I read the words on the page, they’re simply being filtered out once I move onto the next one, and I’m therefore not getting an enriching reading experience.

This is exactly the same with children when you read out loud to them. Although your voice may reach their ears, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are understanding the text. While reading with your children is a great first step, it is important that children become engaged with the text. They’re reading to further their curiosity, not just because they have to. This builds critical thinking skills, imagination, and can even build empathy.

So, the question is: how? What are some techniques that can be used to ensure that children are engaging with the text?

One way to keep children thinking while you read together is by asking questions for them to consider before you even begin. Many children’s books will often have focus questions or “before reading” prompts in the beginning (including titles from Cardinal Rule Press!) Check those out and ask your child to think about them while you read, or ask them to predict something based on what they already know about the text.

Another great way to ensure this is by initiating a dialogue with your child after reading. Ask them questions about the text and let them lead the discussion. This is something called dialogic reading. Essentially, what happens during this process is that the child becomes the speaker, while the adult listens to them and encourages them to discuss the text further with questions. The best part: this works with children and students of all ages!

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Once you’ve completed the story, engage in some dialogue with your child. There are different types of questions you can ask for any level of reading and to build different skills:

  1. Who, what, when, where, and why questions. This allows children to review the contents of the story and commit them to memory. This is the most basic type of question, but it allows for development of active recall. Some example questions, based on Cardinal Rule Press’s own The Jelly Donut Difference by Maria Dismondy, could be, “What was the name of the jelly donuts that Ms. Marvis told Dex and Leah about?” or, “Where did Ms. Marvis live?” These questions focus on what can immediately be seen from the text.
  2. Open-ending questions. While similar, these questions are not things that may be shown or written directly in the book. You can point to a picture and ask, “What do you think is happening in this scene?” or,  “How do you think this character was feeling during this moment?” or, “Why do you think this character reacted that way?This opens the door to interaction with the text. Furthermore, these questions also are great for developing empathy by prompting children to think about the thoughts, feelings, and miniscule details in the book. Again, using The Jelly Donut Difference as an example, a possible question could be, “How do you think Dex felt when Leah took the first bite of the pudding?”
  3. Questions that connect the text to their own life. When something happens in the story or the character experiences something, ask them how that would make them feel or if they had ever experienced something similar in the past. Allow them to immerse themselves in the text. This encourages empathy, as it allows them to relate to the characters, and encourages use of their imagination, as they might have to put themselves in situations they may not have ever imagined before.

Finally, the most important way that you can keep children engaged in their reading is by making reading something to enjoy. Pick out books that are interesting to them– try heading to a bookstore together and going through some of the options and then reading the one your child selects together. This allows them a more active role– besides, they’ll have a lot of assigned reading later in life. Speaking from personal experience. For now, focus on the inherent joy that comes with books!

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Chloe Kukuk, a junior majoring in public relations and English at Oakland University, is an editorial and marketing intern at the Cardinal Rule Press. When she’s not studying or working, she loves taking trips to the bookstore and lazing around the house with her three wonderful cats.