Open-ended questions get kids talking. “What do you think will happen next?”

Demonstrating new words builds vocabulary. Don’t just read “whisper” …actually whisper. 

Relating the story to what kids know helps them learn more about the world. “Trixie went to the laundromat. Where do we go on errands?”

Active Reading


Active reading involves reading a book with a child rather than reading a book to a child. This evidence-based approach improves children’s language skills, vocabulary, and ability to understand what they read on their own.

Active reading works with children from as young as six months through sixth grade. (For the younger children you’ll want to focus more on the pictures.) In active reading, an adult shares a picture book with a child and provides the child with multiple opportunities to talk about and engage with the pictures, words and ideas in the book. The adult’s role is to be an active listener, ask questions, and get the child talking and thinking about the book.

Active Reading: Again and Again

If you have a young child you’ll be reading the same books over and over (and over). You can do active reading every time you read, or some times, depending on what your child wants. It’s all about following your child’s lead. When our research assistant sits down with her toddler to read a new book, the first few readings are just about hearing the book, then, when they both know the book, she uses more active reading strategies. The idea is to encourage your child to talk about the book and, the more you read a book the more your child will be able to talk about it. Eventually, your child will be able to read the book to you!

Active Reading Example Questions: No David! By David Shannon
Types of QuestionsDefinitionHow it helpsExample from No David!Fill in the blankStop reading a sentence or section and let your child finish the wordsTeach children about the structure of language“David’s mother always said, _____”What happenedQuestions that ask what happened in the textEncourage children to explain, recall, and order events in the story.What did David do?Why questionsQuestions that ask: what, when, where, why, and howBuild child’s vocabulary and comprehensionWhat is David playing with? How does David feel when he is in time out?Open ended questionsQuestions that encourage children to explain and explore the pictures in booksBuild a child’s verbal expression and attention to detailTell me about this picture.Remember whenQuestions that connect what the child read about in the book to his or her lifeStrengthen the “bridge between a book and the real world” while building a child’s conversation and narrative skillsRemember when played in the house. What did you play?

Active Reading Example: Giving Feedback

Active reading also involves providing good feedback to the answers your child gives you. For example, imagine that while reading No, David!, you ask your child “What did David do?” and she tells you that “David was dirty.” You can use this three-step process to give your child feedback:

StepWhat you doExampleEvaluateTell your child if their answer is right or wrongYes, he is dirtyExpandAdd more information to your child’s responseAsk a follow up questionHe tracked mud on the carpet tooHow do you think his mom felt when David got the carpet dirty?RepeatRepeat the question to see what your child has learnedWhat did David do?

Active Reading Examples and Resources

Best for Families. This video shows a mom reading with a young boy. It’s obvious that the child has read this book before! Notice how the mom evaluates and expands on the child’s comments.Best for Teachers. This video is an example of how a teacher engages children in active reading in a larger group. Notice how the teacher responds to the kids’ comments, uses fill-in-the-blank prompts, and defines vocabulary. (From the Frank Porter Graham CONNECT Modules.)Best for English language learners. Resources and modules from Loyola Marymount University explain how to use active reading with students who are from linguistically and culturally diverse homes.Are you doing active reading with your kids or do you have an idea for how we could improve? We want to hear about it! Email us at

About Active Reading

We have put together a video about active reading and how it can help improve your child’s literacy, we have included both English and Spanish versions of the video for your convenience

English Version

Spanish Version

The ABCs of Active Reading
Active reading has three easy-to-do parts:

Ask Questions

Build Vocabulary

Connect to the Kid’s World

Ask Questions

Build Vocabulary

Connect to the Kid’s World

Ask questions that cannot be answered in one word (yes, no, or single word references from the story). Open-ended questions often begin with:

Who? What? Why? How?

Examples of Good Open-Ended Questions:

Picture books are a great way to teach kids learn new words that we don’t say every day. Teaching them these new words will help them become stronger readers. Help a child id find new words in this book that they don’t already know. To focus on vocabulary while you read a book:

Ask what words mean.

Example: What’s a bonnet? Do you know what a bonnet is?

Connect words with pictures. Point to pictures in the book to help children understand the meaning of words.

Example: Who is wearing a bonnet? What color is it?

Act out the book. Use facial expressions, sounds, or physical movements to demonstrate what words mean.

Example: Don’t just read “whisper”; whisper the word as you say it. Ask what whisper means and get the child to do it.

Connect new words to words they already know.

Example: A bonnet is a type of hat, like the red hat that you wear.

Although high quality picture books are usually only 30 pages long, they are packed with illustrations, vocabulary, and ideas that can help students learn more about the world around them. In a 10-minute read aloud, students can learn about relationships, history, culture, political issues, and events. Learning through active reading can provide children with information, experiences, explanations, and different points of view.

Talk with children about the book in ways that get them thinking about the ideas, character or storyline. Connect the book with things that kids already know, prior experiences or what interests them.

Examples of potential topics and questions to use:

Ask kids what the story makes them think about

Pick something that happened in the story and ask your kid about a time when it happened to them.

Ask the kid how they are similar or different from the characters in the story?

Ask why characters in the book did what they did. Ask kids if they ever made similar choices.

Ask kids if they could change the story, how would they make it different?

Ask kids what they learned in this book. Ask them how it is similar to things they already know.

Get Your Copy of Read With Me: Engaging Your Child in Active Reading*
*All author proceeds will support Read Charlotte’s efforts to improve third grade reading proficiency in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.