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Principal’s Message 12/6/10

Date: December 5, 2010 Author: admin Categories: Principals Message

PTA Co-President Gayle Hoch and Principal John Triska flank author and educational consultant Diane Frankenstein at the Reading Together event, co-sponsored by the San Carlos PTA Coordinating Council and The Reading Bug, San Carlos’ own independent bookstore.

Conversational Reading with Your Children: One of Life’s Greatest (and Most Important) Pleasures

Last Wednesday night, author Diane Frankenstein shared her years of reading research and parenting wisdom chronicled in her book, Reading Together: Everything You Need to Know to Raise a Child Who Loves to Read. Since I had not read her book prior to the event, I was surprised to learn that even more than the act of reading aloud, it is the conversations that parents engage in with their children during the read-aloud that are most important for developing children’s vocabulary, sense of story, and lifelong love of reading.

What is Conversational Reading?

In fact, what Ms. Frankenstein calls “conversational reading”—reading a book aloud, asking a question, and starting a conversation—has an even stronger effect on literacy learning than reading aloud to children does on its own. Through conversation, children make connections to the stories, characters, and themes. The more children connect to literature, the more pleasure they derive from it; the more they enjoy books, the more confident they become as readers. Some ideas the author shared Wednesday night, that are further explored in her book, include:

  • Conversational reading is making comments and asking questions— talking with children about a story—asking, “What did you notice?” and “What do you think?”
  • Conversational reading promotes active literacy, nurturing a child’s curiosity, instilling a love of exploring and learning. Curiosity is our most powerful search engine for learning.
  • Conversational reading helps children develop the ability to use words to express themselves and gives them a command of language.
  • Many of the skills children need to get ready to learn to read are first learned in conversation. Vocabulary is the linchpin to literacy.
  • Children read for story, and when they are working too hard with the mechanics of reading it becomes difficult for them to enjoy the story. Choose books that speak to both the appropriate reading level and a child’s developmental readiness for the story.
  • One should never interrupt the reading of the story with explanations or editorials, which can easily annoy and frustrate a child.
  • Read the story as it is written. Once you begin to tinker with the story, by substituting an easier word or leaving out complicated sentences that you think might be confusing, you are interfering with the magic of the story.
  • Don’t stop reading aloud to children once they have mastered the ability to read on their own.
  • The most important outcome is not how many books children have read, but how many conversations they’ve had about them.

Engaging in Conversations

Answering questions from the audience about conversational reading, Ms. Frankenstein explained, “Finding meaning calls for guessing, speculation, and pondering; it’s less about what you know and more about what you think.” She compares it to thinking out loud. Conversational reading is less about trying to figure out the meaning of the stories and more about what the story means to children in their lives now. She offered these tips for engaging in these conversations:

  • Start a conversation with a good question—a question that takes you someplace in your thinking. A good conversation is not about the answers; it is about the questions.
  • To begin a conversation, ask specific, concrete questions—where the answers can be found inside the story: Who, What, When, and Why questions.
  • Make personal connections to a story. “Has this ever happened to you? What would you do in this situation?” Conversations that move away from the plotline and into the personal are how children see connections between a story and their lives.
  • Try listening. If you ask children a question, you have to wait a little while and allow them to think and respond.
  • “What if” is a powerful tool to get a child’s imagination working.
  • Follow Winnie the Pooh’s advice on conversation: “It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like ‘What about lunch?’”

Conversation Starters

  • Have your child tell you what is happening in the story first by looking at the pictures.
  • What character would you like to be your friend?
  • Is there a character you dislike?
  • What would you do in this situation?
  • Do you like the ending of the story? If not, how would you change the ending?
  • What are you curious about at the end of the story?

To Support a Love of Reading, Limit Children’s Screen Time

Ms. Frankenstein ended her presentation citing research findings and recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics for limiting children’s screen time, including time playing video games, watching television, and internet usage, as it interrupts their interest in reading and books. An excellent interview with the author promoting reading with children is featured on Common Sense Media’s website at

Reading Together is available at The Reading Bug in San Carlos. SCEF will receive a percentage of proceeds for all online and in-store purchases of Reading Together made at The Reading Bug. For more about the book and author, please visit Ms. Frankenstein’s website at

Happy reading!

John Triska