Strategies for Small Group Reading


The American educator, Grover J. (Russ) Whitehurst says:

Preschoolers need food, shelter, love; they also need the nourishment of books.’

Books are simply amazing! These precious objects of folded paper and ink can take us to faraway places, help us meet new people, share new experiences, develop empathy, and understand our own thoughts and feelings.  These little bits of magic that we hold in our hands also include their own way of talking. They include a vocabulary and syntax that rarely comes off the pages to join our everyday conversation. This was highlighted in recent research by Kathleen Rastle and Colleagues: The Children and Young People’s Books Lexicon (CYP-LEX): A large-scale lexical database of books read by children and young people in the United Kingdom.  This research analysed 1200 books and found that 28% of words in the sample of books for 7-to-9-year-olds did not appear in age-appropriate BBC television programmes.

How can we maximise the impact of sharing a book with an individual child or small group?

Dialogic reading first appeared in a 1988 study (Whitehurst, Falco, Lonigan, Fischel, DeBaryshe, Valdez-Menchaca, & Caulfield). Since then, multiple research reports and evaluations have taken place and these show a positive effect on oral language. These strategies are now part of the EEF’s Preparing for Literacy Guidance.

Dialogic reading is an interactive way of sharing picture books with young children and is designed to help develop language and literacy skills. It provides a simple sequence, called the PEER sequence, that we can apply to a range of fiction and non-fiction picture books.

When reading together, adults can pause and:

  • Prompt the child to say something about the book.
  • Evaluate their response.
  • Expand their response by rephrasing or adding information to it; and
  • Repeat the prompt to help them learn from the expansion.


So, what might this interaction look like?

A teacher is sharing a book about a giraffe with a small group of Reception children.

The teacher asks, “What is this?” (the prompt) pointing to the giraffe.

The children say “giraffe,” and the teacher responds with “That’s right (the evaluation); it’s a tall giraffe (the expansion); can you say tall giraffe? (repetition).


There are FIVE main types of prompts that can be used as part of the PEER sequence.

The prompts can be remembered using the acronym CROWD:

  • Completion—leave a blank at the end of a sentence for children to complete (this works particularly well with books that rhyme, or have repetitive phrases);
  • Recall—ask children about something they have already read (these prompts support children to understand the story plot);
  • Open-ended—often with a focus on pictures in books (this works well with illustrations and encourages children to express their ideas);
  • Wh—prompts that begin with ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘why’, and ‘when’ (‘what’ questions can be used to develop vocabulary); and
  • Distancing—connects the book to children’s own life experiences and provides an opportunity for high quality discussion. This is to help children bridge between what they see and hear in the book and the real world.

Give it a go!

How does it differ from current practice?

How might this be used to enhance your children’s reading diet?