Learn amazing tips to help your child speak and read from the leading child language expert

We’re back with more amazing reading and speaking tips for toddlers and children from David Crystal – one of the world’s leading authorities on child language and the English language!

More helpful tips from David Crystal – one of the greatest experts on child language

“Reading is essential for vocabulary acquisition and learning in children. Apps like Pickatale are a great supplement to reading physical books.” David Crystal

In this week’s blog post, David Crystal helps to explain the different ways grown-ups and young children can read books together, in order to develop their speaking skills and grow their vocabulary.

Read on to discover how talking about a book can make the world of difference to your child’s reading progress. You’ll also learn amazing tips on the best ways to phrase questions to encourage your little ones to speak more.


How talking about books can encourage your child to speak and read more by David Crystal

There’s no difference between books that are full of make-believe and books that are about the realities of life. A story about a cat that wears boots can be related to the footwear in the family home – as can a tale about how boots are made in a factory. The Pickatale reading app has thousands of books in its children’s digital library, all of which are illustrated – making choosing a book and then reading said book a fun experience for families.

Whatever the book, it’s important to give children the chance to respond to the events of the story. Looking at a picture of the booted cat, there’s a world of difference between an observation: ‘We’ve got boots in our cupboard’ and a question: ‘Where do we keep our boots?’. The first doesn’t require an answer; the second one does.

Asking questions:

Note that there are different kinds of questions to pose to a child while reading a book together and some are more useful than others for eliciting responses.

– ‘Has Grandma got boots like that?’ The only answers are ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘Don’t know’. The question doesn’t lead anywhere.

– ‘What sort of boots does Grandma wear?’ This allows answers to go in several directions – size, shape, colour, whether they’re pretty, or muddy…? And if the child doesn’t know what to say, it allows an easy prompt using an alternative: ‘Are they red boots or green boots?’ 

What, Who, and Where are the most fruitful question-words with very young readers. When, How, and Why are best left until later. 

– The most open-ended questions begin with a What and a very non-specific action-word: ‘What’s the cat doing?’ ‘What’s happening in this picture?’ To answer these, a child has to have a confident command of verbs. ‘It’s running, jumping, swimming…’ 

Sometimes the books do the job especially for very young readers; a question on one page is answered by the writer on the next. This technique is familiar to adult readers and is known as the cliffhanger! A wonderful cliffhanger book for younger readers is Tiny Cops and Robbers by Joel Stewart, which can be read on the Pickatale app.

This fun children’s book is full of exciting cliffhangers! Read it on the Pickatale app.

It can also be helpful to prepare the child for what is about to be read. For this to happen, adults need to read the story ahead of the child and note any words or concepts that are likely to be challenging for the reader.

These can then be introduced and talked about in advance, so that the child becomes familiar with them in speaking and listening before meeting them in reading. This process is called scaffolding: we help children to build a mental framework using what they already know, so that new words and concepts will fall into place when they are encountered.  

Keep your eyes peeled on the Pickatale blog for more insightful articles from David Crystal, which will be coming soon! You’ll discover more fascinating information about how children begin to speak, how and when they build up their vocabulary, how speaking and reading come hand-in-hand, top tips and so much more!


Are you a teacher? We’ve recently launched a brand-new reading tool for classrooms and students called Pickatale for Schools. It is completely FREE for teachers and students to use! Find out more here.