How to Read “Brown Bear Brown Bear, What do you See?” to Get your Toddler Talking

Brown Bear

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? written by Bill Martin and illustrated by Eric Carle is a classic children’s book. It’s predictable, rhythmic, colorful, and pretty….BASIC. Yup. It’s pretty basic. Plain and simple. It doesn’t tell a story or move us emotionally (unlike Snuggle Puppy!), yet most toddlers love it. They want to speak it, sing it, and finish it. For these reasons, speech language pathologists like myself, also LOVE IT.

However, when I introduce this book to parents, sometimes they are not as enthusiastic (“Really? It seems a little simple?”) Or, they try it once or twice and say, “Nope, it didn’t work.”

Hmmm….and then I say, “Welllll, show me how you read it”. That’s when I see what’s missing. Of course – this is not every parent – some folks are even better at reading the book then me.

Well, get ready because I’m going to share some of my secrets!

1. Start with a picture walk. Give your child time to look at each picture. Talk about what you see. I see a brown bear. I see a blue horse, etc. Try to use the same carrier phrase so he gets use to hearing it. To learn more about how to perform a picture walk and why they are so important, please see this video:


2. Sing the book – Don’t just read it, sing it! (Similar to Raffi’s book Baby Beluga) This book has a great melody that’s best experienced when singing the verses. Did you know that Bill Martin, Jr. the author didn’t learn to read until he was in college? The rhythm and melody of poems helped him learn how to read. Check out this video of Bill Martin “reading” this book – .

3. Chunk it. Children tend to learn words in chunks (all gone, all done, once upon a time) and may not fully process or understand each individual word until a later point. For instance, they know that “all gone” means that there’s nothing left, but they may not know the individual meaning of all, as in give me all the blocks. They are not yet processing each word individually. For early learners, try to preserve the chunks together (e.g. What do you see? I see a _______ looking at me). This will be effective in helping toddlers remember and recall the phrases. Bill Martin knew this and purposefully chunked words together. Interesting stuff, ey?

4. Incorporate gestures with certain words.

  • Point to your eyes or your child’s eyes when singing the words “see”.
  • Point to the animal in the book you are reading about. For instance when reading about the brown bear (point), brown bear (point) in unison with singing each word (this makes it interactive). It also directs the child to the pictures in the book.
  • When singing “What do you see?” Shrug your shoulders as if asking a question.

***Caveat – Don’t let the gestures distract from the chunking! Pick one gesture and go with it. I wouldn’t try doing all three gestures. Believe me, I’ve tried it and it’s no good!

5. Quick –  turn the page! After singing the question “What do you see?” I prefer to simultaneously turn the page to the next animal so the child can see the animal that is being sung about.

Gentle Reminders:

Don’t ask to many TESTER questions? What’s this?” or “What’s that?”

Pause and give the child a chance to say something!

Other tips:

For younger toddlers (12 to 15 months give or take a month or two), start with having them make the respective animal sounds.

Emergent Reading tip: Point to the words while you read! Studies show that most young preschoolers don’t look at the words unless attention is brought to them. If you’re interested in learning more tips on how to grow your child into a reader, please see my new book,Learning to Read is a Ball

or subscribe to my newsletter to receive my FREE early literacy kit.

Like this post? You’ll love my book My Toddler Talks and Learning to Read is a Ball.

Do you have any secrets that help your children talk when reading this book?

If so, please comment below!

Kimberly Scanlon, M.A. CCC-SLP is a speech language pathologist, an author and a mother. As the owner of Scanlon Speech Therapy, LLC, a unique boutique practice in Bergen County, Kimberly embraces individuality and treats the whole person. Her goal is to spread compassion, hope, and some speech, language and literacy tips one moment, one person at a time.  Her first book, My Toddler Talks: Strategies and Activities to Promote Your Child’s Language Development and her second book, Learning to Read is a Ball are available for purchase at online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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