Wednesday / July 24

Read Alouds for Smarty-Pants

How to talk the talk of your comprehension process so all students go Aha!

I’m the think aloud queen. My eight-year-old daughter considers me nerdy for being so invested in teaching teachers about this one strategy, but some day she’ll see the cool factor. Well, maybe. Anyway, here’s the thing: students who are exposed to think alouds outperform their peers without such instruction on measures of reading comprehension. Your goal with think alouds is to provide less savvy readers with a play-by-play of what you – as a skilled reader – think while reading.

The secret to success lies in planning think alouds well. They may sound spontaneous, but they are expertly choreographed. Following are tips for clear, focused think alouds, no matter what you are reading aloud.

  1. Plan in advance. Whether Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham or Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, every think aloud requires that you peruse the text and use sticky notes to mark “juicy stopping points.” These are the junctures that in one way or another invite you to do something as a reader. Infer, ask a question, lean in and take notice of figurative language, and so on. On your first read, don’t over think it—use the sticky notes liberally. Then, read a second time to examine each stopping point and reflect on the need for that particular point. Peel off the sticky notes from pages that aren’t so juicy after all, so you have a dozen or so spots in a approximately ten minutes of a read aloud. Finally, you write out a script of exactly what you will say in front of students.
  2. Focus on a few strategies. As I said in tip # 1, when you plan, you may at first flag a dozen reading strategies you could potentially model. Winnow, and then winnow some more on your second look at the text, because students will catch on when you focus on just a few during your think aloud. My favorite reading comprehension strategies to use during think alouds are making inferences, identifying the author’s purpose, generating questions, monitoring/clarifying, and synthesizing. Not only are these the strategies with which most students struggle, they provide the most instructional bang for your buck.
  3. Provide a visual cue to indicate when you are thinking aloud. As I think aloud, I provide an explicit gesture that helps students differentiate between when I am reading from the text and when I am thinking about the text. To signal for when I’m thinking aloud, I point my index finger to my temple or tap on the side of my head. With this gesture, students readily get that the words I’m saying are not found in the book, but rather are in my head.
  4. Use I-language to jumpstart your think alouds. These “I “ statements – as in, “I wonder if the author means…” and “I’m going to reread…” are the clearest way for teachers to give a model of the reading comprehension strategies that we are proficient readers do. This “I” language is a powerful reminder that a think aloud is not meant to be a time to ask students for their thoughts on the text or to mistake the think aloud for a turn-and-talk. Through “I” language, students begin to see how to apply reading strategies to their independent reading.

As teachers provide meaningful, well-prepared think alouds, they give students clarity on the process of understanding text – a process which is too often full of secrecy and confusion for young readers. With teacher clarity in think alouds, we promote comprehension for readers across content areas and text genre.

Written by

Molly Ness is an associate professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education.  She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Johns Hopkins University, and earned her PhD in Reading Education from the University of Virginia.  Her research focuses on reading comprehension instruction, the instructional decisions and beliefs of preservice and inservice teachers, and the assessment and diagnosis of struggling readers.  A former Teach For America corps member, she is an experienced classroom teacher.  She is the author of Lessons to Learn: Voices from the Front Lines of Teach For America (Routledge Falmer, 2004).  Her research has been published in national and international peer-reviewed journals including The Reading Teacher, Educational Leadership, Reading Horizons, Journal of Reading Education, Reading Psychology, and Journal of Research in Childhood Education.  She is an active member of the following professional organizations: Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers (ALER), National Council of the Teachers of English (NCTE), Literacy Research Association (LRA), International Reading Association (IRA), Professors of Reading Teacher Educators, Organization of Teacher Educators in Reading, and Phi Delta Kappa.  Her book, The Question is the Answer, was published in 2015 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

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