Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-59b7f5684b-vcb8f Total loading time: 0.342 Render date: 2022-10-05T23:17:15.626Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "displayNetworkTab": true, "displayNetworkMapGraph": true, "useSa": true } hasContentIssue true

Can inferencing be trained in preschoolers using shared book-reading? A randomised controlled trial of parents’ inference-eliciting questions on oral inferencing ability

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 December 2019

Catherine DAVIES*
University of Leeds, UK
University of Sheffield, UK Universityof Warwick, UK
Caroline ROWLAND
ESRC LuCiD Centre & Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Liverpool, UK Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
University of Sheffield, UK
*Corresponding author: School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT. E-mail:


The ability to make inferences is essential for effective language comprehension. While inferencing training benefits reading comprehension in school-aged children (see Elleman, 2017, for a review), we do not yet know whether it is beneficial to support the development of these skills prior to school entry. In a pre-registered randomised controlled trial, we evaluated the efficacy of a parent-delivered intervention intended to promote four-year-olds’ oral inferencing skills during shared book-reading. One hundred children from socioeconomically diverse backgrounds were randomly assigned to inferencing training or an active control condition of daily maths activities. The training was found to have no effect on inferencing. However, inferencing measures were highly correlated with children's baseline language ability. This suggests that a more effective approach to scaffolding inferencing in the preschool years might be to focus on promoting vocabulary to develop richer and stronger semantic networks.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Ackland, J. (2012). At home with counting. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Alcock, K. J., Meints, K., & Rowland, C. F. (2017). UK-CDI Words and Gestures – Preliminary norms and manual. Retrieved from <>..>Google Scholar
Anderson, A., Anderson, J., Lynch, J., Shapiro, J., & Kim, J. (2012). Extra-textual talk in shared book reading: a focus on questioning. Early Child Development and Care, 182, 1139–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ard, L. M., & Beverly, B. L. (2004). Preschool word learning during joint book reading: effect of adult questions and comments. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 26(1), 1728.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baker, N. D., & Nelson, K. E. (1984). Recasting and related conversational techniques for triggering syntactic advances by young children. First Language, 5, 321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bianco, M., Bressoux, P., Doyen, A. L., Lambert, E., Lima, L., Pellenq, C., & Zorman, M. (2010). Early training of oral comprehension and phonological skills at preschool: the results of a 3 year longitudinal study. Scientific Studies of Reading, 14(3), 211–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bos, L. T., De Koning, B. B., Wassenburg, S. I., & van der Schoot, M. (2016) Training inference making skills using a situation model approach improves reading comprehension. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, e00116.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Burgess, S. (2010) The role of shared reading in the development of phonological awareness: a longitudinal study of middle to upper class children. Early Child Development and Care, 127, 191–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burgoyne, K., Gardner, R., Whiteley, H., Snowling, M. J., & Hulme, C. (2018). Evaluation of a parent-delivered early language enrichment programme: evidence from a randomised controlled trial. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 59(5), 545–55.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bus, A. G., Leseman, P. P., & Keultjes, P. (2000). Joint book reading across cultures: a comparison of Surinamese–Dutch, Turkish–Dutch, and Dutch parent–child dyads. Journal of Literacy Research, 32, 5376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Butterworth, N. (2011) One snowy night (a tale from Percy's Park). London: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
Cain, K., & Oakhill, J. V. (1999). Inference making ability and its relation to comprehension failure in young children. Reading and Writing, 11, 489503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cain, K., Lemmon, K., & Oakhill, J. (2004). Individual differences in the inference of word meanings from context: the influence of reading comprehension, vocabulary knowledge, and memory capacity. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(4), 671–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cameron-Faulkner, T., & Noble, C. (2013). A comparison of book text and child directed speech. First Language, 33, 268–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carmiol, A. M., Matthews, D., & Rodríguez-Villagra, O. A. (2018). How children learn to produce appropriate referring expressions in narratives: the role of clarification requests and modeling. Journal of Child Language, 45(3), 736–52.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Clarke, P. J., Snowling, M. J., Truelove, E., & Hulme, C. (2010). Ameliorating children's reading comprehension difficulties: a randomised controlled trial. Psychological Science, 21(8), 1106–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cleave, P. L., Becker, S. D., Curran, M. K., Van Horne, A. J. O., & Fey, M. E. (2015). The efficacy of recasts in language intervention: a systematic review and meta-analysis. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 24, 237–55.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Colmar, S. (2014). A parent-based book-reading intervention for disadvantaged children with language difficulties. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 30, 7990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Connor, C. M., Morrison, F. J., & Katch, E. L. (2004). Beyond the reading wars: exploring the effect of child–instruction interaction on growth in early reading. Scientific Studies of Reading, 8, 305–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Currie, N. K., & Cain, K. (2015). Children's inference generation: the role of vocabulary and working memory. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 137, 5775.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Das Gupta, P., & Bryant, P.E. (1989) Young children's causal inferences. Child Development, 60, 1138–46.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Dawes, E., Leitão, S., Claessen, M., & Kane, R. (2019). A randomized controlled trial of an oral inferential comprehension intervention for young children with developmental language disorder. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 35(1), 3954.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Elleman, A. M. (2017). Examining the impact of inference instruction on the literal and inferential comprehension of skilled and less skilled readers: a meta-analytic review. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109, 761–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ezell, H. K., & Justice, L. M. (2000). Increasing the print focus of adult–child shared book reading through observational learning. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 9(1), 3647.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Farrar, M. (1990). Discourse and the acquisition of grammatical morphemes. Journal of Child Language, 17, 607–24.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Filiatrault-Veilleux, P., Bouchard, C., Trudeau, N., & Desmarais, C. (2016). Comprehension of inferences in a narrative in 3- to 6-year-old children. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 59, 1099–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Florit, E., Roch, M., & Levorato, M. C. (2011). Listening text comprehension of explicit and implicit information in preschoolers: the role of verbal and inferential skills. Discourse Processes, 48, 119–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Freed, J., & Cain, K. E. (2017), Assessing school-aged children's inference making: the effect of test story format in listening comprehension. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 52(1), 95105.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Fricke, S., Bowyer-Crane, C., Haley, A., Hulme, C., & Snowling, M. (2013). Efficacy of language intervention in the early years. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 53, 280–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fricke, S., Burgoyne, K., Bowyer-Crane, C., Kyriacou, M., Zosimidou, A., Maxwell, L., Snowling, M., & Hulme, C. (2017). The efficacy of early language intervention in mainstream school settings: a randomised controlled trial. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58, 1141–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Girolametto, L., & Weitzman, E. (2002). Responsiveness of child care providers in interactions with toddlers and preschoolers. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 33, 268–81.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hammett, L. A., van Kleeck, A. V., & Huberty, C. J. (2003). Patterns of parents’ extratextual interactions during book sharing with preschool children: a cluster analysis study. Reading Research Quarterly, 38, 442–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Heath, S. B. (1983). Ways with words: language, life, and work in communities and classrooms. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hindman, A. H., Connor, C. M., Jewkes, A. M., & Morrison, F. J. (2008). Untangling the effects of shared book reading: multiple factors and their associations with preschool literacy outcomes. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 23(3), 330–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hoff-Ginsberg, E. (1991). Mother–child conversation in different social classes and communicative settings. Child Development, 62, 782–96.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Huat See, B., & Gorard, S. (2013). What do rigorous evaluations tell us about the most promising parental involvement interventions? A critical review of what works for disadvantaged children in different age groups. London: Nuffield Foundation.Google Scholar
Hulme, C., Stothard, S. E., Clarke, P., Bowyer-Crane, C., Harrington, A., Truelove, E., & Snowling, M. J. (2009). York assessment of reading for comprehension: early reading. London: GL Assessment.Google Scholar
Huttenlocher, J., Waterfall, H., Vasilyeva, M., Vevea, J., & Hedges, L. V. (2010). Sources of variability in children's language growth. Cognitive Psychology, 61, 343–65.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Karweit, N. (1989). The effects of a story-reading program on the vocabulary and story comprehension skills of disadvantaged preschool and kindergarten students. Early Education and Development, 1, 105–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kucan, L., & Beck, I. L. (1997). Thinking aloud and reading comprehension research: inquiry, instruction, and social interaction. Review of Educational Research, 67, 271–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lakens, D., McLatchie, N., Isager, P. M., Scheel, A. M., & Dienes, Z. (2018). Improving inferences about null effects with Bayes factors and equivalence tests. Journals of Gerontology: Series B, gby065.Google Scholar
Lakens, D., Scheel, A. M., & Isager, P. (2018). Equivalence testing for psychological research: a tutorial. Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science, 1(2), 259–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Language and Reading Research Consortium (2015). The dimensionality of language ability in young children. Child Development, 86(6), 1948–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Language and Reading Research Consortium (2017). Pressure points in reading comprehension: a quantile multiple regression analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(4), 451–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Language and Reading Research Consortium (2018). The dimensionality of inference making: Are local and global inferences distinguishable? Scientific Studies of Reading, 22(2), 117–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Language and Reading Research Consortium, Currie, N. K., & Muijselaar, M. M. L. (2019). Inference making in young children: the concurrent and longitudinal contributions of verbal working memory and vocabulary. Journal of Educational Psychology. Scholar
Law, J., Charlton, J., Dockrell, J., Gascoigne, M., McKean, C., & Theakston, A. (2017). Early language development: needs, provision and intervention for pre-school children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. London: Education Endowment Foundation.Google Scholar
Lucas, R., & Norbury, C. (2015). Making inferences from text: it's vocabulary that matters. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 58, 1224–32.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
MacWhinney, B. (2000). The CHILDES Project: tools for analyzing talk (3rd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
Marulis, L. M., & Neuman, S. B. (2010). The effects of vocabulary intervention on young children's word learning: a meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 80, 300–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Marulis, L. M., & Neuman, S. B. (2013). How vocabulary interventions affect young at-risk children's word learning: a meta-analytic review. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 6, 224–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McGee, A., & Johnson, H. (2003). The effect of inference training on skilled and less skilled comprehenders. Educational Psychology, 23(1), 4959.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McGillion, M., Pine, J. M., Herbert, J. S., & Matthews, D. (2017). A randomised controlled trial to test the effect of promoting caregiver contingent talk on language development in infants from diverse socioeconomic status backgrounds. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58(10), 1122–31.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mol, S. E., Bus, A. G., de Jong, M. T., & Smeets, D. J. H. (2008). Added value of dialogic parent-child book readings: a meta-analysis. Early Education and Development, 19, 726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nation, K., Adams, J. W., Bowyer-Crane, C. A., & Snowling, M. J. (1999). Working memory deficits in poor comprehenders reflect underlying language impairments. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 73, 139–58.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
National Foundation for Educational Research (2015). NFER Reception Baseline Assessment. Slough: NFER.Google Scholar
Neale, M. D. (1989). Neale Analysis of Reading Ability – Revised. Windsor: NFER-Nelson.Google Scholar
Nesbit, J. C., & Adesope, O. O. (2006). Learning with concept and knowledge maps: a meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 76(3), 413–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Noble, C., Sala, G., Peter, M., Lingwood, J., Rowland, C. F., Gobet, F., & Pine, J. (2019). The impact of shared book reading on children's language skills: a meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 28. Scholar
Oakhill, J. (1984). Inferential and memory skills in children's comprehension of stories. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 54(1), 3139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Oakhill, J., & Cain, K. (2012). The precursors of reading ability in young readers: evidence from a four-year longitudinal study. Scientific Studies of Reading, 16(2), 91121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Oakhill, J., Cain, K., & McCarthy, D. (2015). Inference processing in children: the contributions of depth and breadth of vocabulary knowledge. In O'Brien, E. J., Cook, A. E., & Lorch, R. F. (Eds.), Inferences during reading (pp. 140–59). Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ouellette, G. P. (2006). What's meaning got to do with it? The role of vocabulary in word reading and reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 554–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Oxford University Press (2018). Why closing the word gap matters: Oxford language report. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from <>..>Google Scholar
Pellegrini, A. D., Perlmutter, J. C., Galda, L., & Brody, G. H. (1990). Joint reading between black Head Start children and their mothers. Child Development, 61, 443–53.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Perfetti, C. (2007). Reading ability: lexical quality to comprehension. Scientific Studies of Reading, 11, 357–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Potter, C. A., & Haynes, W. O. (2000). The effects of genre on mother–toddler interaction during joint book reading. Infant–Toddler Intervention, 10, 97105.Google Scholar
Price, L. H., van Kleeck, A., & Huberty, C. J. (2009). Talk during book sharing between parents and preschool children: a comparison between storybook and expository book conditions. Reading Research Quarterly, 44, 171–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pyykkönen, P., Matthews, D., & Järvikivi, J. (2010). Three-year-olds are sensitive to semantic prominence during online language comprehension: a visual world study of pronoun resolution. Language and Cognitive Processes, 25(1), 115–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
R Core Team (2013). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria. Retrieved from <>..>Google Scholar
Rogde, K., Melby-Lervag, M., & Lervag, A. (2016). Improving the general language skills of second-language learners in kindergarten: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 9, 150–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rowe, M. (2013). Decontextualized language input and preschoolers’ vocabulary development. Seminars in Speech and Language, 34(4), 260–6.Google ScholarPubMed
RStudio Team (2015). RStudio: Integrated Development for R. RStudio, Inc., Boston, MA. Online <>..>Google Scholar
Sala, G., & Gobet, F. (2017). Does far transfer exist? Negative evidence from chess, music, and working memory training. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(6), 515–20.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Schulz, K. F., Altman, D. G., & Moher, D. (2010). CONSORT 2010 statement: updated guidelines for reporting parallel group randomised trials. BMC Medicine, 8, 18. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-8-18CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Schulze, C., Grassmann, S., & Tomasello, M. (2013). 3-year-old children make relevance inferences in indirect verbal communication. Child Development, 84(6), 2079–93.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Silva, M., & Cain, K. (2015). The relations between lower and higher level comprehension skills and their role in prediction of early reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107, 321–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Snow, C. E. (1993). Families as social contexts for literacy development. In Damon, W. (Series Ed.) & Daiute, C. (Vol. Ed.), New directions in child development: Vol. 61. The development of literacy through social interaction (pp. 1124). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
Snow, C. E. (2001). Reading for understanding. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Education & the Science and Technology Policy Institute.Google Scholar
Tompkins, V., Bengochea, A., Nicol, S., & Justice, L. M. (2017). Maternal inferential input and children's language skills. Reading Research Quarterly, 52(4), 397416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Valdez-Menchaca, M. C, & Whitehurst, G. J. (1992). Accelerating language development through picture book reading: a systematic extension to Mexican day care. Developmental Psychology, 28, 1106–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
van Kleeck, A. (2006). Fostering inferential language during book sharing with prereaders: a foundation for later text comprehension strategies. In van Kleeck, A. (Ed.), Sharing books and stories to promote language and literacy (pp. 269318). San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing.Google Scholar
van Kleeck, A. (2008). Providing preschool foundations for later reading comprehension: the importance of and ideas for targeting inferencing in storybook-sharing interventions. Psychology in the Schools, 45, 627–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
van Kleeck, A., Vander Woude, J., & Hammett, L. (2006). Fostering literal and inferential language skills in head start preschoolers with language impairment using scripted book-sharing discussions. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 15(1), 8595.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Walker, I., & Hulme, C. (1999). Concrete words are easier to recall than abstract words: evidence for a semantic contribution to short-term serial recall. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 25, 1256–71.Google Scholar
Wiig, E., Second, W., & Semel, E. (2006). Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals Preschool 2 UK. London: Pearson.Google Scholar
Wright, T. S., & Cervetti, G. N. (2017). A systematic review of the research on vocabulary instruction that impacts text comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly, 52(2), 203–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Xiao, Z., Kasim, A., & Higgins, S.E. (2016) Same difference? Understanding variation in the estimation of effect sizes from educational trials. International Journal of Educational Research, 77, 114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yanez Diaz Barriga, A. (2018). Domain-general precursors of children's mathematics skills: the role of working memory and language (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Sheffield, UK. Online <>..>Google Scholar
Yuill, N., & Oakhill, J. (1988). Effects of inference awareness training on poor reading-comprehension. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 2(1), 3345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zucker, T. A., Justice, L. M., Piasta, S. B., & Kaderavek, J. N. (2010). Preschool teachers’ literal and inferential questions and children's responses during whole-class shared reading. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 25(1), 6583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Can inferencing be trained in preschoolers using shared book-reading? A randomised controlled trial of parents’ inference-eliciting questions on oral inferencing ability
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Can inferencing be trained in preschoolers using shared book-reading? A randomised controlled trial of parents’ inference-eliciting questions on oral inferencing ability
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Can inferencing be trained in preschoolers using shared book-reading? A randomised controlled trial of parents’ inference-eliciting questions on oral inferencing ability
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *