Make Reading Time Interactive and Encourage Active Listening

Make Reading Time Interactive and Encourage Active Listening

Active listening helps kids focus, comprehend the story, and have fun while reading! When kids listen for details and interact with the words and pictures during story time, they are practicing active listening. Listening to a story also involves a lot of self-regulation, which can be challenging for younger kids since they are still developing those skills. Encouraging active listening can help kids sit through a story because it gives them something to do while they are listening.

Check out these tips to help encourage active listening when reading or sharing books with kids:

Ask questions and encourage conversations.

Asking questions consistently directs children’s attention to the details in the story. It is also a great opportunity for them to interact with you and the book, making reading more engaging. Try asking questions after each page you read or share.

  • As you read or go through the book, ask questions about what might happen next and be specific. For example, “What do you think will happen after he stepped in that puddle?” To answer this question, kids have to be listening to details of the story and use reason to make a prediction.
  • Ask simple recall questions throughout the story. For example, ask questions like, “What was the character’s name again?” or “What happened to the cat’s shoes?” This helps direct kids’ attention to those details.
  • Encourage your child to ask you questions. Ask them if they have any questions from time to time and take time to explore the questions. Ask about unfamiliar words, experiences, animals, places, food, etc. Asking questions helps kids relate what they are reading to their world which gives things more meaning to them, and makes listening to the story more fun.
  • Ask questions and make comments to get your child thinking about how events in the story relate to their world. Ask “Does anything in this book seem familiar to you?” and “Has that ever happened to you before?” Ask about food, animals, places, experiences, emotions, etc. For example, maybe you’re reading about a character who has the same pet as your child, you could say “Look, Jim has a dog just like us! What did Jim say his dog’s name is?”

Point out the pictures.

A great way to encourage conversations and make real world connections is to spend time talking about the pictures in the story. There are so many questions you can ask and real-world connections your child can make just from the pictures in children’s books.

  • Before starting the book, spend time looking at the picture on the cover and ask what they think the book is about. Look through the book and spend time exploring the pictures, asking your child to make predictions about the story. This encourages them to listen actively because they have to listen to find out what’s going on in the interesting pictures.
  • When you first turn a page say “Look at the picture what do you think happened or will happen?” “How can you tell?” or “Why do you think that?” This helps prime them to be listening for those details while you are reading or telling the story.
  • Play I-Spy with something you see in the picture on a page. This can be a fun way to get kids engaged and they have to actively listen to your directions to find what you spy.
  • After you finish reading or sharing a book, ask your child to retell the story to you by looking at each picture. Looking at the pictures reminds them of the words they were listening to and helps them recall the story.
  • 3 Ways to use Picture Books to Help your Child Learn has some more ideas for engaging kids in the story using the pictures. Also check out,  Using Picture Books to Teach your Child Social Emotional Skills for ideas on using the pictures to talk about social skills and feelings.

Have kids use motions and props while listening to the story. 

Many picture books provide plenty of opportunities for kids to act parts of the story out with simple motions and props. Using motions and props gives kids something to do while listening to the story and gets them actively involved in what you are reading and sharing.

  • Have your child act things out like stomping, clapping, snapping, etc. For example, if the book says “The shoes went stomp, stomp” kids could stomp their feet, or “The shirt went wiggle, wiggle”, kids could wiggle their fingers.  This gets kids actively involved with the words.
  • Have your child use puppets or stuffed animals while you read. Maybe you have some puppets that go with a picture book, stuffed animals that match types of animals in a story, or you could make simple puppets at home to go with a story. Tell your child they can move the animal when they hear that character talk in the story. This requires they are listening while you read so they know when to move their puppet.
  • Use simple props that fit with the story. For example, maybe you’re reading Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons. In the story his buttons pop off on by one, so you could have your child hold real buttons and act out them popping off to represent the buttons in the story. Using props gives kids a more concrete way to interact with the story.
  • Have your child use a felt board and move felt pieces to represent characters and props in the story while you read. You can cut pieces of felt into simple characters and props from a book and cover a piece of cardboard or similar material with black felt, so the pieces will stick. Kids have to be actively listening to move the felt pieces in the right order.

Try these reading games to encourage active listening:

  • Spot the Silly/Change: Before you read or share the story, tell your child you have a challenge for them. Tell them you will read the story once, then you’ll read it again and they have to listen for the change or silly detail you added. When they hear the change or silly detail they have to do an action like wiggle their fingers, clap, stand up, etc. This requires that they practice active listening both times you read the story.
  • Listen for the Magic Word: Pick a book with a repetitive word or phrase. Tell your child they have to use their careful listening ears and listen for the magic word. When they hear the word, they have to do an action like wiggle their fingers, clap, stand up, etc.
  • Listen for rhyming words: Similar to listening for the magic word, pick a book with rhyming words and have them do an action when they hear words that rhyme. This is great for practicing rhyming skills and active listening.

Active listening not only helps kids learn but is a great way to keep kids actively engaged and having fun with a story. November 9-15 is Children’s Book Week. Try out some of these ideas to encourage active listening while reading your favorite children’s books!

Text: © Kids In Transition to School 2020

Image: © Gpointstudio |

Nollie has worn multiple hats while working with the KITS Program. When she was a student at UO she was an assessor on the KITS research projects, a teacher in our school readiness groups, and a childcare assistant. Since then, she has taught KITS groups for 4J and coached other educators to implement the KITS Program.


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