Reading and thinking aloud is ideal when teaching with the following challenges:
- Beginning readers have had very limited exposure to books.
- Beginning and developing readers are being instructed in a second language.
- Students of any age are not reading for meaning. They do not recall (retell) any or most of what they read but they can recall the same material when it is read to them.
- Students can read a selection with a good degree of fluency but when given 5 or more literal and inferential questions based on that selection, they score less than 75% on their comprehension.
For the uninitiated teacher, getting accustomed to thinking aloud is an important first step to using this practice. This may take more practice for some. If you tend to be introverted, you are attuned to your thoughts and you take time to reflect. Thinking aloud will probably come quite naturally to you. Extroverts, on the other hand, draw energy from involvement with the people around them. Thinking about their thinking may feel awkward at first. Practice will smooth the way for the lessons with your students.
Practice thinking aloud
Here is a sequence of steps that will get you ready for reading and thinking aloud with your students for optimum results:
- Select an engaging book. Picture books are ideal because they bring a visual dimension to the abstract work of giving meaning to words and ideas. They are appropriate for intermediate students too, as long as they are not babyish. Use a book that is a good fit for the cultural norms of the students you are working with.
- Arrange to work with a partner or use a recording device. You’ll need a record of your reading behaviors that you can review. When you practice reading aloud with another person listening to you and keeping a running record, you become more mindful of verbalizing what you are thinking. You want to identify what you do as a proficient reader to help yourself figure out words, use typographical information (headings, fonts, symbols) and make meaning of it all. You are explicitly demonstrating what you want students to emulate when they read. You are teaching the reader as well as the thing they are reading. You want to say what you are thinking before, during and after reading.
It may be a challenge to avoid lapsing into didactic teaching mode and even more of a challenge to not ask students questions. This brief lesson is pure demonstration – the most effective way we know to teach new behaviors (think, walking and talking for starters). So, for example, you might say:
“I bet the bears are going to come home any minute and catch Goldilocks! (prediction)
I’m thinking they just went for a walk while their porridge was cooling. That does not take very long.” (the reason for your prediction)
If, however, after you say, “I bet the bears are going to come home any minute and catch Goldilocks!” you slip into didactic mode, the next sentence would become:
“When I read, I make inferences or guesses from clues in the story. First I gather clues…”
That kind of explicit teaching should begin after and apart from the reading. Embedding lessons while kids are listening to a story, is counter-productive. Your think aloud, however, supports and extends the text they are focusing on.
- Get ready to read. Start by thinking aloud as you observe and react to the information on the cover. Focus on the title, author and illustrations to glean ideas about the book’s genre, subject matter, characters, and storyline. Make predictions about what you are about to read and show your enthusiasm for finding out if your predictions were accurate or not. When students automatically preview in this way, they are pulled into their reading; they are engaged from the start and as we know, attending when reading is crucial to understanding and recall.
A preview for intermediate students can include metacognitive dialogue about how you adjust your reading to the task at hand; challenging material will require slower reading and some form of notetaking. A book that doesn’t interest you, but is required reading, needs a plan too. Decide whether you should map, draw or take notes to keep yourself engaged.
- While reading, practice demonstrating how thoughtful readers pause to consider thoughts, repair confusion, and reconsider prior thoughts. As you read aloud, catch your thoughts and express them as they occur, don’t wait for the end of a paragraph or a page. You will hear yourself spontaneously using the following proficient reader strategies:
- Make connections with your experiences and your knowledge
- Ask questions
- Stop to clear up confusion
- Chunk information into connected episodes or topics
- Get the author’s message
- After you have practiced reading a portion of the text, listen to each of the thoughts you expressed. You, and your partner, then label each idea with the name of the strategy you were using. For instance, using our former example, decide which strategy you were using when you said, “I bet the bears are going to come home any minute and catch Goldilocks!”
- Why think about labeling strategies? (1) You need a vocabulary for talking about reading behaviors and strategies in order to extend that conversation into all areas of your curriculum. (2) We want to foster students’ metacognitive awareness of what they are doing when they read so they are sitting in the driver’s seat, so to speak. They know what they are doing and what they need to do to understand, remember and accomplish their goals. (3) Labeling behaviors, in and of itself, is a brain-friendly teaching practice. We need labels to categorize, store and retrieve what we learn.
- Will early-grade students, especially second-language learners, find learning labels like “inferences” and “predictions” too challenging? Not as long as you embellish and not just toss the words out. Tell students they are learning a big-kid word, write it slowly, sound it out, play with the word (Ex. I see clouds in the sky. I predict ___________.) and use the word often in different contexts.
Continue thinking aloud to model what proficient readers do after reading in the following two ways:
- Think about what you took away from your reading – information learned, memorable lessons about human nature (friendship, love, fear, loss ...); vocabulary you want to return to; questions you were left with that you want to explore; what you thought about the author and illustrator (likes, dislikes, comparisons); a literary device you want to try when you write (rich description, being specific ...).
- Think about what you observed about your reading behaviors. Here are a few examples:
- Think aloud about what helped you figure out the meaning of a new word (using context or sentence clues)
- Think aloud about what helped you locate the answer to a question you had. (searching keywords, working slowly and thoroughly)
- Think aloud about how you helped yourself remember what you read. (asked questions, made predictions at the bottom of each page)
- Think aloud about how trying to figure out a new word in different ways was helpful. (being flexible)
- Think aloud about how stopping to picture what the words are saying (visualizing) instead of reading fast, helped your understanding.
How to plan your lesson
- Set your objective. What skill, strategy or knowledge do you want your students to get from this read aloud and think aloud? How will you ask them to demonstrate that outcome? Your objectives may come from the following beginning reading skill areas:
- Print literacy (spoken word to written word, direction and spacing of print ...)
- Book literacy (title, author, illustrator, the cover, the illustrations ...)
- Story literacy (fiction, non-fiction, story structure – beginning, middle and ending, problem and solution; story pattern - comparison, repetition …)
- Comprehension strategies (see #4 above)
- Tell what we are going to be doing – “Today, while I am reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears, I’m going to show you something I do that is fun and it helps me remember what I read. I’m going to show you how I always guess what will happen next.” (You may have to check in with students to see if they understand the word and the concept of guessing.)
- Tell why we are doing it – “Raise your hand if you sometimes finish reading a sentence (paragraph, page, chapter, story) and can’t remember what the words said. Making guesses while we read is one really good way to help you understand and remember what you read.”
Tips for your think-aloud lesson
- The first time you read aloud and think aloud tell children you are going to be showing them what is going on inside your head when you read. Explain that you will do that by saying what you are thinking.
- Tell students, when you are reading, you will look down at the page. When you are thinking aloud you will look up and tap your forehead. Their job, now, is to watch and listen. Tell them, when you finish your read aloud and think aloud, we are all going to talk about what you saw and heard.
- Remember, there is no “right” script for your think aloud. The important thing is to make students aware of what readers do when they read.
In the next blog, we’ll take a close look at why reading aloud and thinking aloud is a transformative teaching practice and how you can transition from demonstration lessons to inviting your students to share their thinking as you read aloud. We’ll talk about how scaffolded reading and thinking aloud enables youngsters to become independent, responsive, thoughtful readers. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, and experiences.