There is an abundance of techniques that can be used for the purposes of promoting the development of language and literacy skills in young children. Therefore, teachers can read books to children to improve their early reading skills (Dickinson and Tabors, 2001). Dialogic reading is among the techniques that can help reach this goal and is represented by interacted reading using certain types of prompts to engage a child into becoming a storyteller. In such a context, adults take the role of an audience as they listen and ask questions about the story. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is among the greatest books to use within the dialogic reading approach because of its predictable language, which encourages children to read along.
Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar is an endearing short story about a caterpillar that teaches children about days of the week, counting, basic numbers, colors, names of fruit and other food, nutrition, healthy eating, as well as the life cycle of a butterfly. Many teachers and parents choose the story as a subject of dialogic reading because it is fun for children who will definitely do worse at reading and comprehending if presented with a typical educational book, which can be tedious. As suggested by Hill (2012), playful and straightforward language is crucial in early literacy development because it encourages kids to modify their problem-solving, correct their mistakes as they go along, and reflect on them to achieve higher levels of performance in the future.
In dialogic reading, simple and fun pieces of literature such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar can be used to help beginner readers to develop their vocabulary, gain oral complexity and narrative skills. Because this type of reading entails teachers or parents asking questions to help learners to explore the text in-depth, it facilitates the development of vocabulary by defining new words, analyzing the characteristics and components of the story, as well as being able to discuss the text (Fellowes ad Oakley, 2020). Thus, dialogic reading represents the form of guided and scaffolded reading that emphasizes both interpretive and critical comprehension (McLachlan et al., 2012). Dialogic reading is carried out by reading a text several times along with learners by using prompts and questions at various levels. The P.E.E.R sequence is the basic dialogic reading technique in which a teacher prompts the learner to say something about the text in question (P), evaluates the response (E), expands on the answer given by the learner through rephrasing it or adding information (E), and repeating and prompting to determine whether the child has learned from the expansion.
To have a substantive conversation about a piece of literature that will extend the use of language among beginner readers, teachers use a set of prompts. Besides the P.E.E.R approach, C.R.O.W.D. Completion prompts (C) represent the first step in the framework and entails leaving blanks at the end of a sentence that children will be filling in, for example, “On Monday he ate through one apple. But he was still ____” (Carle, 1994). The prompt is used for exercising children’s awareness and sensitivity of language structures. Recall prompts (R) are designed to encourage children to remember what happened in the text (Roskos, Lenhart and Tabors, 2009). For instance, a teacher may ask, “what fruit did the caterpillar eat on Monday?” This prompt is used to help children to organize the story and remember the sequence of events. Open-ended prompts (O) usually focus on the pictures in books (Roskos et al., 2009). A teacher may say that it is a learner’s turn to read the story and ask them to explain what is happening on a specific page. When children are encouraged to tell the story with which they are familiar, they are provided with practice in expressive fluency and attention to detail when looking at illustrations. What, where, when, and why prompts (W) represent a set of questions that also ask learners to focus on specific images or words that they should remember. Teachers ask questions about the text or pictures to encourage them to use their own vocabulary and express their opinions. Distancing prompts (D) are designed to help children to make links between the story that they have read and their experiences (Roskos et al., 2009). For instance, after reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the teacher may ask questions such as “Have you ever seen a real caterpillar?” “Did you know that butterflies were caterpillars first?” The distancing approach allows students to practice both storytelling and conversational and storytelling skills.
The simplicity of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the fact that many children are exposed to it even before learning to read can be an excellent tool for facilitating immediate talk after reading. The topics of such discussions are mostly tied to illustrations in books or works in the text that children have learned to recognize. Thus, teachers will draw attention to an illustration and ask learners to point out the caterpillar, other objects or count them. Children can also be requested to participate in fill-in-the-blank routines. For example, when reading the caterpillar book, teachers will make such prompts as “On Thursday, he ate through___?” and point to the images of strawberries, and children are expected to identify the fruit. Then, the teacher will ask, “How many strawberries did the caterpillar eat?” and children will count the fruit aloud. Finally, the teacher will repeat the fact that the caterpillar ate through four strawberries and ask students whether that helped to quench his hunger, with the expectation that learners will say that the insect was “still hungry.”
The immediate talk that takes place after the reading of The Very Hungry Caterpillar enables to draw the attention of children to different concepts presented in the book as the process of reading is taking place. The non-immediate talk can also support vocabulary development and reading comprehension by engaging personal experiences, drawing inferences, and making predictions.
To conclude, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a good choice for dialogic reading because books that are used in this method of instruction are expected to have quality and rich illustrations accompanied by diverse but straightforward vocabulary (Vukelich, Christie and Enz, 2008). The method of reading is highly active and requires high levels of engagement from children into the storytelling, intrinsic motivation, natural curiosity, as well as the desire to explore and experiment with new words. It is imperative that adults allow children to take initiative in the process to strengthen and increase their language skills, and because of the method’s flexibility, it is possible to continue using it in different contexts to teach reading in a welcoming and supportive environment.
Carle, E. (1994) The very hungry caterpillar. New York: World of Eric Carle.
Dickinson, D. and Tabors, P. (2001) Beginning literacy with language; young children learning at home and school. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing.
Fellowes, J. and Oakley, G. (2020) Language literacy and early childhood education. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hill, S. (2012) Developing early literacy; assessment and teaching. Eleanor Curtain Club.
McLachlan, C., Nicholson, T., Fielding-Barnsley, R., Mercer, L. and Ohi, S. (2012). Literacy in early childhood and primary education: issues, challenges, solutions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Roskos, K., Lenhart, L. and Tabors, P. (2009) Oral language and early literacy in preschool: talking, reading, and writing. Newark: International Reading Association.
Vukelich, C., Christie, J. and Enz, B. (2008) Helping young children learn language and literacy: birth through kindergarten. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.