Encouraging Speech and Language Skills while Sharing Books with a Group of Children

Sailor reads to Filipino children

Photo by Official U.S. Navy Imagery

(This post is part two of last week’s post by Stephanie Sigal, How to Read Books with Children with Language Delay)

Parents often read to their two year old and four year old simultaneously.  Early childhood teachers read to their students every school day.  When reading to a group of children, it is vital that you are familiar with the text.  You may wish to take a moment to think about open-ended questions you can ask children before you begin a story.  For example, if you were to be reading Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson, you could ask “Does anyone know what bears do all winter long?”  If you get a response such as “sleep” or “hibernate,” great!  If you do not get a response, inform the children.  Giving them a glimpse into the story will enhance their understanding and appreciation.

Ask questions during the story.  Perhaps there is a vocabulary word the children might not be familiar with.  In the book Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay up Late by Mo Willems, the pigeon insists the children listening to the book let him stay up so he can watch an educational program on television.  You can ask, “What does educational mean?”  You can also explain to the children how the pigeon is trying to “trick” (manipulate) them into letting him stay up late.  Then, ask the children “How have you tried to trick your parents?”

At the conclusion of a story, ask children to carry over a main theme from a book into their daily lives.  For example, after reading My Friend Rabbit by Eric Rohmann, ask the children “What does it mean to be a good friend?”

Adding props and puppets to group story time can engage kids with various levels of attention.  In Caps For Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina, the peddler walks around carrying many caps on his head.  The children can do the same with caps that you have previously collected for story time, or they can use their winter hats, or caps that they make as an art project to accompany the theme of the book.

Using different voices and revealing the characters’ emotions while acting out the story can also help children attend and relate more effectively.  The mother dog in Bark, George by Jules Feiffer gets frustrated with her son, while he makes great animal sounds.  The children will laugh when you over-act the role of George, his mother and especially the veterinarian reaching deep down into George’s mouth to pull out all the animals he has consumed.

Children are inspired to verbally participate when their peers say the repetitive line in a story together.  In Tikki Tikki Tembo retold by Arlene Mosel, the older brother’s name is Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo.  Opportunities to say this long name come up numerous times, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, and children listening will want to try to say the name along with you.

Always read the title, author and illustrator’s names.  Ask the children “What is an author?” “What is an illustrator?”  Provide the information accordingly.  If the author has written other books the children may be familiar with, ask them “What other books has this author written?”  If necessary, name one or two of the books and you may notice how excited the children become when they realize they have shared a previous experience with you.

If you need help choosing the right books based on your child’s needs, you can ask your speech therapist, child’s teacher or librarian.


Stephanie Sigal, M.A. CCC-SLP, is a speech language therapist practicing on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, NYC. She works with babies, toddlers and school age children with expressive language delay and articulation disorders. Stephanie provides home based speech therapy and encourages parents to facilitate their children’s speech and language skills. To learn more about Stephanie, please visit www.sayandplayfamily.com


  1. Paula Stone, M.S.,C.C.C.-SLP says

    Thank you for taking the initiative as the expert in the field of communication disorders in writing this article. I am deeply concerned as a 30 year professional as to who is in charge right now.
    A JD who does not have a speech language pathology degree or a two year associate. Thank you again and Congratulations for taking the leadership role in our profession.

  2. says

    Thanks for the tips, Stephanie. When I worked in a school and provided infused speech therapy to the entire class, I also shared books. Sometimes the most challenging part was keeping ALL the children engaged for the duration of the book. I learned to keep it interactive by not only asking questions, but by being full of surprises. For example, I would sometimes quickly close the book before an anticipated part and ask what they think would happen or I would stop mid sentence and ask the class to fill in the blank. Preparing your class for these “surprises” also helps by saying to them before you begin reading: “Okay class, I’m going to read ______________(name the book), but sometimes, I may need your help. Do you think you could help?”. Of course, you can also use these techniques at home when reading to your children.

  3. says

    Thanks so much for this article! I love to share books with my language groups and know I can apply these tips to make it more interatctive for them!

  4. says

    Readers may be interested to watch my 16 minute documentary about children with speech disorders. It was produced in the 1980s, but the issues remain the same – and much more needs to be done. “Speaking Out – children with speech disorders”, can now be freely viewed on my YouTube channel at EyesEars.com: