Interactive Reading in STEM

The issue

Research tells us that interactive reading can support literacy development of all children, including children who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH). Interactive reading can take different forms, but its most important element is a dialogue that occurs between the child and an adult about a text during the reading process. There are principles of interactive reading that can be used to support reading comprehension in various content areas including STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math.

What we know

We know that learning through reading is difficult until sufficient proficiency in reading is attained. Further, the ability to learn through reading depends on the extent of knowledge a student has on the content. Many DHH students have less knowledge in STEM compared with other populations because of limited opportunities to access the world of knowledge. As students grow older, the STEM curriculum relies increasingly on reading. A dialogue about STEM content before, during, and after reading can help students not only learn more about content but make connections with the text. There are some important principles of interactive reading worth noting for making STEM text more accessible.

Asking Questions. A key activity in interactive reading is posing questions. This may occur before, during, and after reading. Questions may be posed to students before they read to probe what they know about the text’s content and vocabulary. During and after reading, the class should continue having a dialogue. For example, the teacher could call class attention to a caption under a diagram, ask for a volunteer to explain how the caption adds information to the diagram, and encourage others to comment on the explanation. The objective of the ensuing dialogue is twofold: First, to ascertain whether the class has enough understanding before moving to the next section; second, to determine whether students understand how to use text features to support comprehension.

Expansions. A common practice DHH adults use when reading with DHH children is expansion. Expanding on a text is a way of adding background knowledge and commenting on aspects of the content that are not in the text.  This interaction is an important technique to probe the background information the reader has which is needed for comprehending the text. The teacher can expand on the knowledge that students offer so the whole class will have the additional background information to help learn about the content of the text.

Making Connections. Another common activity during interactive reading is making connections. With informational texts, readers should make connections with topics or activities previously covered in the course and to specific events or phenomena in the physical world. For instance, the teacher could connect to previous classroom experiments or ask students to compare what they are reading to their observations of the world at large.

What we don’t know

Research on the use of dialogue to support reading comprehension of STEM text is at a nascent stage. The case for including more dialogue about text in the STEM classes draws on studies of interactive storybook reading. While there is evidence that it is useful for STEM texts, there might be approaches to interactive reading that are unique to STEM, and certain strategies might arise naturally out of teaching STEM content. We need more research in this area.

We know that interactive reading instruction is good for helping students comprehend the text they are reading, but there is limited research on long-term effect of talking about STEM text on developing content knowledge and independent reading comprehension. Understanding long-term effects on student learning is an important step for future work.


There are a number of ways that teachers can incorporate interactive STEM reading into their classrooms. We recommend two principles teachers could follow.

  1. STEM at all levels. Young children who are learning to read can be motivated by informational texts, including STEM texts. Often, teachers shy away from using informational texts with younger children. Not only can they be motivating and interesting to read, but exposure to these texts and making their content accessible will lead to increasing independence in reading informational texts as students grow older.
  2. Interactive reading at all levels. Older students who are already reading to learn can benefit from interaction and dialogue as part of the reading process to support comprehension. Similar to principle 1, teachers may sometimes avoid engaging in interactive reading instruction with older students and leave them to read independently. However, discussion around new concepts and to boost comprehension can often be motivating for more mature students.

Posted on April 20, 2021 by
Jessica Scott
Georgia State University

Marlon Kuntze
Gallaudet University

Further reading