Instructional Practices

Print this Instructional Practice

Families and Communities

Open-Access Practice

Reading E-Books as Support for Language and Early Literacy

Ofra Korat, Professor, School of Education, Bar Ilan University, Israel


  • To support families and caregivers and educators in choosing well-designed e-books for children's reading and in using them together with the children for promoting language and early literacy

What Is It?

E-books integrate multimedia features such as pictures, animations, music, and illuminated text that is read by a narrator. These e-books often target amusement, emphasizing multimedia, colors, sounds, and graphics. As such, they are less suitable for promoting children's language and early literacy. Often, they include too many animations that are not related to the story. These features may distract children and interfere with their story comprehension (de Jong & Bus, 2003).

By contrast, well-designed e-books were found to be effective for vocabulary learning, story comprehension, and early literacy skills (e.g., print concept, emergent reading and writing, phonological awareness; Korat, Shamir, & Segal-Drori, 2014). A meta-analysis (Bus, Takacs, & Kegel, 2015) found that well-designed e-books can facilitate children's story comprehension and word learning even better than printed storybooks, especially among children from families that are disadvantaged. Furthermore, when families and caregivers with low incomes and literacy levels use well-designed e-books together with their children, they all benefit from the activity (Korat & Shneor, 2019).

Why Is It Effective?

Well-designed e-books are effective because the multimedia provide a joint and integrated operation of two or more factors that may support story comprehension and new vocabulary. This synergy is more effective than the employment of each factor separately. Young children, especially children at risk for language learning, may benefit more from multimedia, especially when it is well designed—namely, when it has additions to the original story text such as animations, which may support story comprehension.

How Do You Do It?

Both families and caregivers and educators need to exert caution when choosing an e-book for young children, and they should remember that regarding interactivity and multimedia additions, more is often less. Recommendations for e-book selections are as follows:

  • The screen has few hotspots and animations.
  • The hotspots and animations are related to the storyline and expand it beyond the content.
  • The hotspots and animations are supportive and are related to the story language (e.g., difficult words, idioms).
  • The story does not include games and other attractions.
  • The background music can be turned off when necessary, to prevent it interfering with story comprehension.
  • The narrator's reading can be turned off to allow the child's or adult's reading.

Although children can benefit from well-designed e-books by reading them individually, joint reading with adults is also recommended and has its benefits. The following are some points to incorporate regarding adult support in the e-book reading activity:

  • Speak with the child about animations and hotspots related to the story content.
  • Talk about the story language and expand on new words appearing in the e-book.
  • Ask the child questions related to the storyline.
  • Encourage the child to tell or read the story while muting the narrator's voice.

How Do You Start?

Educators and other community leaders (e.g., communication therapists, librarians) should learn what e-books are available, study them, and create a list of recommended e-books for use at school and at home. Educators can also arrange a special meeting with families and caregivers to discuss print book as well as e-book reading.

For example, educators can show examples of well-designed e-books and explain how children can benefit from reading them. They can also suggest how families and caregivers can read these e-books together with their children and how to support their children's reading/listening experiences. This can include a discussion on animations and hotspots related to the story content and story language. Families and caregivers and educators may also relate to the highlighted print while it is read by the narrator.

Beyond joint print book reading, well-designed joint e-book reading may enrich children's language and early literacy and scaffold adults' book reading mediation (Korat & Shneor, 2019).


Bates, C.C., Klein, A., Schubert, B., McGee, L., Anderson, N., Dorn, L…. & Ross, R.H. (2017). E-books and e‐book apps: Considerations for beginning readers. The Reading Teacher, 70(4), 401–411.

Bus, A.G., Takacs, Z.K., & Kegel, C.A.T. (2015). Affordances and limitations of electronic storybooks for young children's emergent literacy. Developmental Review, 35, 79–97.

de Jong, M.T., & Bus, A.G. (2003). How well suited are electronic books to supporting literacy? Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 3(2), 147–164.

Korat, O., & Shamir, A. (2004). Do Hebrew electronic books differ from Dutch electronic books? A replication of a Dutch content analysis. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 20,(4) 257–268.

Korat, O., Shamir, A., & Segal-Drori, O. (2014). E-books as a support for young children's language and literacy: The case of Hebrew-speaking children. Early Child Development and Care, 184(7), 998–1016.

Korat, O., & Shneor, D. (2019). Can e-books support low SES parental mediation to enrich children's vocabulary? First Language, 39(3), 344–364.

Schugar, H.R., Smith, C.A., & Schugar, J.T. (2013). Teaching with interactive picture e-books in grades K–6. The Reading Teacher, 66(8), 615–624.