The History of
Talk to Read©

"No time is too long spent talking to a child to find out his key words, the key that unlocks himself, for in them is the secret of reading, the realization that words can have intense meaning. Words [that have] no emotional significance to him, no instinctive meaning, could be an imposition, doing him more harm than not teaching him at all. They may teach him that words mean nothing and that reading is undesirable." - Ashton-W, 1963, p. 39

My name is Dr. Betsy Baker. I am a Professor of Reading/Literacy Studies at the University of Missouri and the creator of Talk to Read©, a literacy acceleration program.  


As a second-grade teacher, my students arrived at school each day with exuberant enthusiasm and wonderful stories! They described playing with neighbors’ kittens, their delight in getting ice cream with grandma after school yesterday, and hopes for their upcoming birthday party. They expressed themselves with robust oral vernacular and unbridled imagination. They spoke of calico kittens who played with feathers and lasers, strawberry, pistachio, and Neapolitan ice cream, as well as Legos, LP charms, Tyrannosaurus Rex action models, and pinatas. I wondered how I could center their stories in our literacy program. I wondered how my students could be the main characters of our children’s literature. The stories in our literacy curriculum were often unrelatable with watered-down vocabulary. 


Each Monday, I recited a familiar story, poem, or song. I invited my students to chime in as I sang or orally read Five Little Monkeys, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Brown Bear, and more. Next, I invited them to watch me transpose these oral recitations into alphabetic text. As I wrote on chart paper, I pointed out how this week’s literacy skills helped me put oral language into writing. Then, I showed them how I could write my own version of these familiar texts. I wrote about Five Fluffy Kittens, Gary Had a Slimy Toad, and Lamar, Lamar, What Do You See? Then, based on their personal experiences, I invited my students to invoke their wonderfully rich oral vernacular to compose their own versions of these familiar texts. They took off! They became proficient and enthusiastic readers and writers!


Talk to Read© is an extension of my classroom experiences. In our technological world, students no longer have to wait for teachers to write down their wonderfully rich oral vernacular. We all have devices in our pockets that can take dictation. We can say, "Hey Siri (Alexa, Google) send mom a text message." We can dictate to our devices and watch as our oral language magically appears on the screen! Studies indicate that students involved in Talk to Read© develop over 97% sight vocabulary accuracy with the words they dictate and incorporate into personally meaningful compositions. Additional analyses indicate that their oral vernacular exceeds grade level sight words. 


Classroom-based research illuminates road bumps and identifies strategies that teachers can use to successfully incorporate Talk to Read© in their classrooms. I am delighted to be part of the Talk to Read© Collaborative which brings teachers, instructional coaches, and researchers together to tailor Talk to Read© for second-grade students attending high-poverty, rural schools.