Using Children’s Books To Nurture Language Development
Using Children’s Books To Nurture Language Development

One of the most powerful ways to nurture the development of your child’s language skills is through age-appropriate books. Thankfully, it can also be one of the most fun activities for both adults and children. In today’s blog, we will be discussing how to maximize this experience through the use of “joint book reading.”

What is it?

“Joint book reading” refers to the shared experience of exploring text and pictures of a book. Rather than an adult reading the text word for word and the child quietly listening, both adult and child interact with and talk about the book, making comments and asking questions. To truly boost the potential for language learning, the adult must encourage the child’s active participation while reading.

How to choose the right books

Children’s books are typically categorized by target ages, which can be used as a general guideline. Choosing books based on the child’s interests will also help to keep them engaged and motivated. In addition, books can be a great way to introduce new subjects, which will naturally include new vocabulary and concepts and provide opportunities for asking questions and learning new information. For younger children, books with pop-ups, moving parts, or tactile features may help keep the child engaged and help contextualize the meaning of new vocabulary. For example, The Wheels On The Bus by Paul O. Zelinsky has movable parts to demonstrate the meaning of the wheels spinning round and round, the doors opening and closing, the windows going up and down, and more.

How to facilitate language development

As mentioned earlier, the key to maximizing the potential for language learning is to keep the experience interactive. This can begin even before reading a book. You can have the child choose a book to read and then ask them why they chose it. If they always choose the same book, you can provide a choice of two or three different books to read instead of or in addition to their favorite book.

While reading, you can target many aspects of cognitive and linguistic skills by asking certain questions. Marion Blank identified four levels of questioning:

  • Matching Perception (2-3 years)- These are simple questions about the here and now. Examples include, “What’s this?” “Who is that?” “What are they doing?”
  • Selective Analysis of Perception (3-4 years)- These are questions about specific details in the here and now. Examples include, “Which one is big?” “What color is that?” “What do we do with this?”
  • Reordering Perception (4-5 years)– These are questions that require making links beyond the here and now. Examples include “What might happen next?” “How do you feel when this happens to you?”
  • Reasoning About Perception (5 years)– These are questions that require analyzing, explaining, and reasoning. Examples include “Why did they do that?” “How can you tell they feel that way?”

The questions below fall primarily in Levels 3 and 4. If your child is at a lower developmental stage you can answer these questions yourself to demonstrate these higher-order skills. Also feel free to extend responses into a conversation. After all, these are interactions, not quizzes!

Making Predictions

  • Let’s look at the cover. What characters might be in this story? Where might the story take place? What might happen?
  • This character just found a wallet on the street. What do you think they will do? Is that what you would do, or would you do something different?
  • This character just ate all of their Halloween candy. What do you think will happen?


  • This character is friendly. Who else is friendly in this story? Who is not friendly?
  • This character is big. Is there another character who is bigger? Is there one who is smaller?
  • This character likes cookies. What does the other character like to eat?

Making inferences

  • This character’s face looks angry. Why do you think he’s angry?
  • This character put on his coat. Why did he do that?
  • This character doesn’t want to go to the dinosaur museum. Why do you think he doesn’t want to go?

Problem solving

  • These characters want to play different games. What do you think they should do?
  • This character is sad because someone was teasing him. What do you think he should do?
  • This character broke his friend’s toy by accident. What do you think he should do?

Social-emotional skills

  • This character was not invited to the party. How do you think he feels?
  • He is angry because someone took his favorite toy. When was the last time you were angry? What made you feel that way?
  • How can you tell that this person is excited?

Introducing new vocabulary

  • Provide a simple definition for the new word. For example, “Drafty” means that even if the doors and windows are closed you can still feel the cold air from outside coming into the room.
  • Provide an example that would be meaningful to the child. For example, If we had old windows, some of the cold air might get inside our house and it would feel drafty.
  • Ask the child to try to relate the word to something in their life. Have you ever felt that a room was drafty? Maybe you felt a little cold even though you were inside? Where were you?

Additional Resources:


Aram, Dorit & Fine, Yaara & Ziv, Margalit. (2013). Enhancing parent-child shared book reading interactions: Promoting references to the book’s plot and socio-cognitive themes. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 28. 111–122. 10.1016/j.ecresq.2012.03.005.

Blank, M., Rose, S. A., & Berlin, L. J. (1978). The language of learning: The preschool years. New York: Grune & Stratton.

Gillam, Sandra & Gillam, Ronald & Reece, Kellie. (2012). Language Outcomes of Contextualized and Decontextualized Language Intervention: Results of an Early Efficacy Study. Language, speech, and hearing services in schools. 43. 276-91. 10.1044/0161-1461(2011/11-0022).

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