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February 1, 2018
Vol. 60
No. 2

Three Steps for Think Alouds

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Instructional StrategiesSocial-emotional learning
"The author doesn't come right out and say it, but I can infer that the narrator is a girl.""I believe the most important idea here is that Yoon is homesick.""I don't understand what just happened. Maybe if I keep reading I can clear up this confusion."
In John Logan's 2nd grade classroom, daily read alouds provide the opportunity for students to internalize the metacognitive moves that a proficient reader employs. As he reads aloud to the class, Mr. Logan provides multiple think alouds: he uses "I" language to model the thinking that builds his comprehension and provides quick explanations of what is going through his mind at periodic stopping points. With this transparent effort, his students are more likely to internalize these strategies and apply them to their independent reading.
When teachers think aloud, students benefit. Research suggests that students who are exposed to think alouds outperform their peers on measures of reading comprehension. Think alouds are beneficial for a variety of readers across a variety of texts; these benefits have been documented for struggling readers, for English language learners, for different text genres and content areas, and for students encountering online text. The think aloud serves as a brief, energizing instructional burst that helps young readers take on the strategies the teacher is modeling.
Despite their benefits, however, think alouds are not commonplace in K–5 classrooms. In my work as a teacher educator, I have found that the explicit modeling component of think alouds requires deliberate planning—we cannot assume that effective think alouds will come to us naturally. In a year-long research project with a teacher study group, I created a three-step process to help teachers think big with think alouds. I then refined and tweaked this process in my work with K–5 classrooms. As I plan my think alouds, I skim through the selected text three times—each rereading is described in the steps that follow. Just as training wheels provide stability and confidence when learning to ride a bike, so does the script of a think aloud. The end goal is to be able to think aloud independently with comfort, ease, and skill.

1. Identify Juicy Stopping Points

The first step in planning a think aloud is a close examination of the text. With a stack of sticky notes in hand, I peruse the text, searching for places to make inferences, synthesize information, monitor and clarify my confusion, ask a question, or think through the author's purpose. I see these spots as "juicy stopping points" that can either lead to comprehension opportunities or stumbling blocks. In my first reading, I may identify more than 15 juicy stopping points in a standard children's picture book.

2. Determine Where and When to Think Aloud

In my second reading, I examine each stopping point and critically reflect on the need for that point. The goal here is to narrow down the stopping points to a more manageable number so I do not overwhelm students and detract from the comprehension process. I keep several factors in mind, including my purpose for selecting the text, my learning objectives for the lesson, and which comprehension strategies are familiar or unfamiliar to my students prior to reading the text. I might eliminate stopping points that focus on minor details or occur after very short portions of text. After my second reading, I typically end up with about five to seven stopping points. These are the bare bones of the think aloud I will model in front of my students.

3. Write Scripts on Sticky Notes

The goal of my third reading is to identify exactly what I will say in front of students. I literally write out, in first-person narrative, what I will say in response to a text to give students the chance to eavesdrop on the reading process. The use of "I" statements—as shown by Mr. Logan in the opening vignette—encourages students to emulate purposeful reading.

Go Below the Surface

Each read aloud—whether of a storybook or of a few paragraphs in a science textbook—provides the opportunity to model our metacognitive processes. Typically, we ask surface-level questions like "Where does the story take place?" and "Why do you think he left the town?" These questions serve merely to assess students' understanding of the text. As we think aloud, however, we can mentor students in building the comprehension skills they need to become successful independent readers.
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