Interactive Storybook Reading: A Vocabulary Instructional Strategy

Interactive Storybook Reading: A Vocabulary Instructional Strategy

Storybook reading is one of the most effective ways to improve the language and reading outcomes of children (Swanson et al., 2011).   This remains true for students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing (DHH). Storybook reading influences language and reading outcomes through vocabulary.  There are different types of storybook reading: shared reading, repeated reading, and interactive storybook reading. Shared reading is reading aloud a story to children with a focus on comprehending the story and story elements, such as character, setting, and plot.  Repeated reading is reading the same book with children over and over again to build confidence and repeated exposure to the story.  Interactive storybook reading is using the book as a shared experience and developing language in the context of the story.  Interactive storybook reading has shown to be effect with children who are DHH who use sign language (Trussell, Dunagan, Kane, & Cascioli, 2017; Trussell & Easterbrooks, 2014) and spoken language (Trussell et al., 2017; Trussell, Hasko, Kane, Brusehaber, & Amari, 2018) from the age of three to about six years old.

Interactive storybook reading is easy to plan for a class or one child. There are different goals for interactive storybook reading.  The first goal is to develop vocabulary.  The second goal is to help the child retell the story.  Herein, we will focus on the first goal to develop vocabulary.  When using interactive storybook reading to develop vocabulary, the focus of the instruction will be on the book’s pictures and not the text.

First, you should pick a book that has little text but very clear pictures with a lot of action.  Second, you will need to look at the book’s pictures and notice items that show up in several pictures throughout the book.  These are the items that could become your target vocabulary.  After making a list of potential vocabulary items, you may want to pretest your students to determine if they know the words or not.  You can use the picture from the book or you could develop flashcards using colorful clipart.  Next, you can choose as few as five vocabulary items to focus on and as many as ten depending on your students’ needs.  Now that you have the vocabulary items that you will focus on, it is time to develop your questions.

Interactive storybook reading is centered around two concepts: CROWD question prompts and the PEER cycle.  The CROWD question prompts are five different types of questions that are asked during interactive storybook reading.  The first type is the completion question (Dad is holding an _________.)  The second type of question is a recall question from the pictures (How were the children feeling before?).  The third type of question is an open-ended question with more than one right answer (What do you think the children see?).  The fourth type of question is a wh- question (What is on the ground?). The last question type is distancing and connects the story to the child’s life (When have you felt the same as the dad feels here?).  The purpose of the questions is to elicit the target vocabulary items from the child.  You will write four to five questions for each vocabulary item throughout the book.  Attempt to write various types of CROWD questions to elicit the vocabulary item.

The next important part of interactive storybook reading is the PEER cycle. The first part of the cycle is prompting using one of the CROWD questions you have developed.  The second and third parts are to evaluate what the student said and expand on it.  The last step is to re-prompt the student with the CROWD question again in hopes that the student will give you a longer response.  See the example below for further clarification.



PEER Sequence Example

Adult Child
Prompt What fruit do you see here? Apple
Evaluate Yes!
Expand You see a red apple.
Re-prompt What fruit do you see? Red apple


Initially, you will be giving the student the answers to the CROWD questions prompts.  After the second exposure to the book, the students should start answering with the vocabulary target you were hoping they would use.  You can use the book for four to five days or until the students have mastered all of the targeted vocabulary items.  The students enjoy repeating the book day after day because they feel very successful when they can answer your questions.  When engaging in interactive storybook reading using the PEER cycle, the teacher and students can have 50-60 opportunities for engagement with the CROWD question prompts.  If you would like to read more about interactive storybook reading, also known a dialogic reading, see these links for examples and more information:

Swanson, E., Vaughn, S., Wanzek, J., Petscher, Y., Heckert, J., Cavanaugh, C., … Tackett, K. (2011). A synthesis of read-aloud interventions on early reading outcomes among preschool through third graders at risk for reading difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 44(3), 258–75.

Trussell, J. W., Dunagan, J., Kane, J., & Cascioli, T. (2017). The effects of interactive storybook reading with preschoolers who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 37(3), 147–163.

Trussell, J. W., & Easterbrooks, S. R. (2014). The effect of enhanced storybook interaction on signing deaf children’s vocabulary. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 19(3), 319–332.



Jessica W. Trussell, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

National Technical Institute for the Deaf

Rochester Institute of Technology

The evidence base for our primary role

The evidence base for our primary role

It is almost out! 664 pages detailing Evidence-Based Practices in Deaf Education will be published this October, for £64.  It is edited by the prolific sponsor and coordinator of research in this area, Marc Marschark, with Harry Knoors with a world-wide list of contributors.  A quick scan of the contents indicates that it addresses issues that we deal with constantly: The diversity of our students, supporting language, assisting with literacy and numeracy, and enhancing cognitive and social-emotional development.


So what would we like from such a book? We might dream that somewhere out there is an instruction manual for that student that we can’t get out of our minds as we drive from one school to another, or to work. Perhaps there exists a set of lesson plans, with attached resources, finely attuned to that student, who like many others, has the paradox of great potential, but huge gaps in his skill set? Returning to reality, however, I would like to point briefly to three articles from our Deafness and Education International Journal (DEIJ) that can serve to remind us of basic daily realities. The articles concern Language and Play, Numeracy, and Executive Function.


Our own Margaret Brown from Victoria and Linda Watson from Birmingham have stepped down from many years of voluntary editing the DEIJ with a wonderful collaborative article synthesizing studies in the early language and literacy development of deaf children (Vol. 19 pp.108-114). A wonderful must-read for any of us working with prior-to-school aged children and their families. It reviews the significant literature and concludes that practitioners need to focus not on their interventions with the child, but with assisting the parents to utilize the everyday and ‘exotic’ experiences they have with their child. Pretend play should be a strong focus, and a means of providing quality scaffolded-interactions. We know most of this, but in the era of reductionist SMART goals, we may need reminding that play-based and parent-focused strategies are necessary to effectively assist language development, even with students at school with delayed language.


Two articles in Volume 20:2, both with Marc Marschark as a collaborative editor, give a sense of what is to come in the impending book. The first deals with numeracy and includes a discussion of real-world estimation abilities (number, length, weight, volume) – abilities that are also related to everyday living skills as well as to academic performance. Apart from yet again establishing that the deaf learners are behind their hearing peers–even though this gap is unrelated to cognitive abilities–there were few indications of what we can do about it apart from avoiding generalizations for the actual students we are supporting. There were also strong suggestions that language ability is a mediating factor, including the way in which it can limit everyday interactions and negotiations with pre-school children. There was also yet another warning that the early benefits of early intervention and cochlear implants seems to diminish over time, i.e. starting school well does not mean that they will not need continuing assistance over their school life.


The second article in Vol.20:2 relates to social maturity, executive function and self-efficacy. Even though the research was with deaf university students, it provides access to current thinking in all these areas with our students. New for me was the Learning, Executive, and Attention Functioning (LEAF) scale as a research measure, which includes comprehension and conceptual learning, factual memory, attention, processing speed, visual-spatial organization, working memory etc. There is a lot of other interesting detail in this study, but I was struck by one of the conclusions: Social maturity was a key issue for both executive function and self-efficacy, and that this was strongly related to spoken language between hearing parents and their deaf children. This once again indicates to me that a family centred approach that strives to enhance communication at home may be the best focus of our activities and energy. Rather than lie awake thinking about how we will engage with a particularly difficult student, we may be better engaged thinking about how to assist the parents to engage more with their child – reading to them, arguing, sports, games together, homework time etc.

So, I am left wondering about our primary role: obviously as a parent coach in early intervention, and perhaps still as a parent coach all through school? Or is our role to work to find other ways to increase the amount and quality of the interactions that our students have, with anyone, independent of us?


By Dr John Davison-Mowle