To develop children’s expressive and receptive language it is essential that they are read to on a regular basis. Ideally, they should not only be read to, but also actively engaged in discussions about the pictures and the story itself.

There are four level of questioning. These levels of questioning were first put forward by Marion Blank (2000). They are called, ‘Blank Level of Questioning’ and range from asking explicit questions to inferential questions. Explicit questions are questions that are provided in the story or can be answered by the child looking at the supporting pictures (e.g. “what noise did the pig make?” or “where is the cow?”). At the other end of the spectrum, inferential questions are questions that require the listener/ reader to go beyond the next. Answering these questions requires the listener to infer such things as attitudes, points of view, feelings, motives and character. Inferring requires the listener to draw on their prior knowledge to make conclusions.

‘Book sharing’ when children are young is thus vitally important to develop their:

  • Vocabulary;
  • Semantics (ability to link words and make associations);
  • Ability to expand on and link ideas; and

Young children who have a language impairment often have difficulties with literal and inferential language, which are both essential for reading comprehension in the school years.

Studies have shown that children who have books read to them followed by discussions including explicit and inferential questioning will develop their expressive and receptive language, skills needed for reading and comprehension of texts as they enter the formal school years.

Therefore, it is imperative that parents read to their children, especially if they have a language delay in order to strengthen their inferential language skills. The types of inferential questions that are modelled by the parent often foreshadow the same type of inferencing older children, who have good reading comprehension skills, employ to process texts independently.

In summary, book sharing with pre-schoolers which includes modelling and encouragement of them to engage in inferencing can give them the skillset needed to help them with later reading comprehension.

Van Kleeck, A.; Vander Woude, J.; Hammett, l. (2006). Fostering Literal and Inferential Language Skills in Head Start. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.

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