Think-Aloud Reading Strategy

Its name really says it all.  The think-aloud strategy is basically a reader vocalizing his or her thoughts to another person or audience.  It involves telling what you see in your mind as you read, the connections that you are making, what you think might happen or even a word or passage that you don’t understand.  For some readers, skilled readers, the steps that are used for comprehending a passage are natural and automatically a part of their thought process.  They are able to determine the meaning of what they read.  However, for struggling readers, often times it needs to be taught and modeled frequently until they can internalize the process.

Steps

  1. Start by choosing an interesting short story to read to the students.
  2. Decide on a few general reading processes / strategies that you want to focus on modeling.  Research shows that good readers use the strategies illustrated in the following cartoon every time that they read (Wilhelm, 2001).                                                                                                                                                         

    Wilhelm (2001) also includes the following on his list of general reading processes (p. 29):
    -“decode text into words and meanings”
    -“set purpose for reading” (for pleasure, for information, etc.)
    -“monitor understanding/self-correct (continuously check that reading makes sense and use fix-it strategies when it doesn’t)”
    -“reflect on meaning (consolidate knowledge with what was previously known)”
    -“prepare to apply what has been learned (create new knowledge structures, or schema, and ways of thinking and use these in new situations)”
  3. State your purposes for reading and learning some strategies.  Let the students know that you will be stopping at different points to think about what you have read.  Use a visual cue to signal that you are no longer reading (example: turn the book over in your lap).
  4. Introduce the story to the students.  Tell the students what predictions you are going to make about the story based on the title and cover illustration.
  5. Begin reading the story and model your thinking as you read.  Think about what parts may be confusing for your students and model how you would handle the issue.  For example, “I don’t know this word.  Does it have a prefix or suffix that might help me figure out what it means?  Are there any clues in the sentence or paragraph that may help?”
  6. Tell the students what thoughts and images are going through your mind as you read every paragraph or two.  Talk about how you are analyzing what happened in the story, making sense of what you have read and giving it meaning.
  7. Write down some of your thoughts (questions, predictions, etc.) on the board.  Once you are done reading, have students decide if you were predicting, noting something that confused you, making a picture in your head, questioning, clarifying or making a connection to something you already know.   According to Kylene Beers (2003), “This level of metacognitive analysis helps students understand what you, the more skilled reader, are doing and why you are doing it” (p. 124).
  8. Model fix-it / fix-up strategies (examples: rereading a sentence, look for context clues to understand something).
  9. Provide a small visual reminder of the strategy to look at while reading (example: a bookmark).
  10. After doing a number of think-alouds as a class, have students read a portion of a story with a partner and take turns thinking aloud while they read to each other.  Walk around and listen to students to gauge their understanding and see who is struggling.  Offer prompts to students as needed.
  11. Practice practice practice.
  12. Offer time for students to reflect on how this strategy has helped them to become better readers.

Here are a few video examples of the think-aloud strategy being used with students and some questions to ask.

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

Prior to reading:

  1. Why am I reading this?
  2. What connections can I make to the title and illustrations?
  3. Based on the title and illustrations, what do I think the story is going to be about?

During reading:

  1. Do I understand what I just read?
  2. Does it make sense?
  3. Is there anything that confuses me?
  4. Do I need to adjust any of my predictions?
  5. Is there anything else that I can do to better understand what I’m reading?

After reading:

  1. What were the main ideas of what I read?
  2. What did I learn?
  3. How can I connect it to what I already know?
  4. How do I feel about what I read?
  5. Do I need to reread any part of the story to get a better understanding?
  6. What can I do to remember what I’ve read?

I highly recommend purchasing Improving Comprehension with Think-Aloud Strategies and adding it to your collection.  It is a wonderful resource filled with tons of examples as well as various reproducible checklists, student self assessments and informal teacher assessments.

There is a great checklist available on the Reading Rockets website.  It offers an easy and quick way for students to identify which strategies are being used while a passage is being read.

Benefits of Think-Aloud

  • easy to use and research-based
  • helps students reflect on what they’ve read
  • can be used (teacher to students, student to teacher, student to student) and expressed (on paper / sticky notes / on the board, large / small group) in a variety of ways
  • allows the opportunity for teachers to informally assess how students think and comprehend material
  • students are given a purpose and as a result able to read more effectively
  • students are encouraged to pause while they are reading and think about whether they understand and what steps they should take if they don’t
  • can be used with students of varying reading skills / levels
  • able to differentiate instruction
  • able to incorporate most of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (click here for great ideas and resources)
  • follows universal design for learning principles (provides multiple, varied, and flexible options for representation, expression, and engagement)
  • reduces barriers to learning

In conclusion, researchers have found that the think-aloud strategy “significantly increases students’ scores on comprehension tests, adds to students’ self-assessment of their comprehension, and enhances students’ abilities to select thinking processes to overcome comprehension challenges while they read” (as cited in Block & Israel, 2004, p. 154).

References

Beers, K. (2003). When kids can’t read, What teachers can do: A guide for teachers, 6-12. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Block, C.C., & Israel, S.E. (2004). The ABCs of performing highly effective think-alouds. The Reading Teacher, 58(2), 154-167. doi: 10.1598/RT.58.2.4.

Reading Rockets. (n.d.). Classroom strategies: Think-alouds. Retrieved February 15, 2012. From http://www.readingrockets.org/strategies/think_alouds

Wilhelm, J. D. (2001). Improving comprehension with think-aloud strategies. New York: Scholastic Inc.