How to Read Books for Learning
For Early Learners, reading books together should be low stress and enjoyable. Let the child explore and feel the books, and turn the pages at their own pace. For a child with limited language comprehension, this is not the time to push story comprehension. Rather, pair the book with positive experiences like cuddling, silly sound effects voices, and singing along. Bounce the child on your knee, tip them over and try to keep them physically, as well as mentally engaged. Don't feel you have to finish the book. When they are ready to stop reading, we like to prompt, "All done."
Gradually introduce a few skills as you can. The key is to keep the pace fun, be flexible, and don't make the book seem like work. Some examples of skills we work into reading experiences are as follows: Pointing: Gently hold their fisted hands, resting their index finger on top of your hand. Help them touch the objects after you name them.
Receptive labeling: Pair the pointing skill with varied language cues such as "where" and "show me" E.g. "Where's the doggie?" and "Show me the doggie." Physically prompt them to point to the correct picture if they fail to respond, or redirect their finger if it begins to point to the wrong picture.
Expressive Labeling: This time you are doing the pointing, and asking questions with varied language cues like "What's this?" and "Look, it's a (fill in the blank)" E.g. "What's this?" (a dog) or "Look, it's a" (dog). If the child can echo speech, you should prompt them if they fail to respond using an echoic prompt. E.g. What's this?" (no response) "Say Doggie" or "Doggie." If they echo, they should get a reward such as praise, a tickle, or turning the page.
Reading with Intermediate Learners should also be fun and low stress. Intermediate learners should be ready to read for comprehension beyond labeling. They should be beginning to follow the sequence of the story line, learn that a story is a discrete unit with a beginning, middle and end, and relate images to features and actions rather than merely labels. Intermediate learners should be beginning to learn the following skills:
Receptive Identification of Noun-Verb Combinations: For example, instead of directing a child to show you a dog, you might say, "Show me doggie sleeping" and prompt them to touch the correct image, if necessary.
Receptive Identification by Feature, Function or Class: This is your classic "I Spy" game. Identify by features, E.g. "I spy something blue! Can you find something blue?" Identify by function, E.g. "I spy something you eat with! Can you find something you eat with?" Identify by Class, E.g. "I spy an animal! Can you find an animal?" Reinforce any appropriate answer. Reward spontaneity, creativity, and varied answers with praise, or a moment of silliness, tickles or fun.
What, Who and Where Questions: Answering and Asking: These expressive language skills can be taught quite nicely in the context of books. You might begin to introduce questions like "What is your favorite ____?" (teaches open ended questions) and "What is ______ doing?" (promotes noun-verb expressive answers). Many books, such as lift the flap books, lend nicely to Where questions, such as "Where did Maisy go?" (teaches prepositions expressively). Encourage them to ask you the same kinds of questions.
Sequencing and Story Line: This is an important, usually neglected skill that should be introduced with intermediate learners. Sequencing reflects a cognitive understanding of time and "what comes next" that is often lacking in our ASD population. Learning to predict what comes next helps give children the ability to cope with transitions and change. To teach this skill, make pictures that represent the main actions of the story (3 to 4 cards for starters). Read the story, then practice retelling it with your picture cards. Plan a coloring or craft activity to accompany the pictures/book for even more learning opportunities. Pretend Play and Creativity: Books give our kids a framework for beginning and then expanding pretend play scenarios. After you read a book, pretend to reenact the book either with play acting, puppets, or manipulatives to increase comprehension and build play skills.
Advanced learners need the opportunity to learn higher level skills like perspective, and answering and asking how, and why questions. They need to practice explaining what they see or read in terms of what happens, using all of the parts of speech--prepositions, adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs. They should practice relating what happens in the sequence of story events. They should have opportunities to dress up as favorite characters and reenact plotlines, changing and varying dialogue and events with support and encouragement. They should be using problem solving skills to predict future events in stories. For more specific examples, click on the concept links.