What, who, when, or how: What matters in shared book reading?

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We all know reading books with our kids and clients is wonderful for language development, but what about shared reading makes it so beneficial to learning vocabulary? This meta-analysis included 38 studies to determine what elements of shared book reading contribute to word learning in typically developing* children ages 33 months–12 years. Good news, shared book reading works! The authors found that children learned almost half of the words they were exposed to during shared reading, but some factors seemed to matter more than others. For example, more exposures to target words was better for word learning, and a dialogic reading style helped children learn 1.22 more words on average than non-dialogic styles. In other words, interactive reading styles with many opportunities to hear and use new words contribute to word learning. No surprise there! What was surprising is that it didn’t matter who read the book. Across studies, children did just as well on word learning measures after shared reading with their parents as they did with researchers or teachers. And the length of time between reading and testing did not affect word learning, so either immediacy wasn’t an important factor for these children, or they retained knowledge of the words they learned during reading. So, if you aren’t already, try incorporating story books into your sessions, and include dialogic reading as part of a home program or coaching session!

*Note: This meta-analysis only included studies on typically developing children, but there are studies out there on implementing therapy techniques into dialogic reading: try here and here for some ideas, and here for more on dialogic reading!

This review appears in both our Early Intervention and Preschool & School-Age sections this month!

Flack, Z. M., Field, A. P, & Horst, J. (2017). The effects of shared storybook reading on word learning: a meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/dev0000512.