Helping Parents to Think Aloud

03.16.2018 Featured

Take a minute and think back to the last read aloud you did with your child. Pause and think about the language you used. Chances are – in your book sharing routine – you asked your child questions: “Where do you think the dog is going?”, “How does that make the girl feel?”, “Why did the kids act like that?”. These questions often lead to engaging and meaningful discussions, but they fall short in showing children how to understand a text.

My focus in this post is to show parents and guardians how a slight modification in the language that we normally use during read alouds can have a powerful impact. Let me introduce a tried-but-true strategy called a think aloud. As the name implies, a think aloud is when a proficient reader thinks through a process out loud. They literally talk through the thinking, planning, and actions that they are using. A think aloud is a quick explanation of what is going on in our mind as we read. As parents, we use think alouds all the time – perhaps without even knowing the formal name for them. We verbalize our thinking as a strategy to teach life skills. As I was skiing with my young daughter, I used a think aloud to model my (not-so-effective) effort to descend a slope. I thought aloud with comments like, “I see an icy patch right there, so I’ll be careful to avoid it” and “If I feel like I’m picking up speed too quickly, I’ll remember to snowplow to slow myself down.” And thought I have certainly not a proficient skier, my thought process gave her enough guidance to ease her down the mountain. Perhaps you think aloud as you teach your teenager to drive (“I need to check my blind spot as I merge”). Maybe you think aloud while you teach your first grader to tie his shoelaces (“Next, I know I need to make two loops.”) As I encourage you to think aloud while reading with your child, I will offer you some concrete ideas on how to do so successfully.

First, prepare your child for the thinking that you are about to do. Kids are used to parents asking them questions about a book, but in a think aloud you talk through your thoughts. So tell them, “As I read, I’m going to talk through all of the thinking I’m doing while I read”. Sometimes to be really explicit on when I am thinking aloud, I give a child a visual cue. I might point to my temple and tap it so show that the words that they hear are the thoughts in my mind, not the print in the text.

Next, jumpstart your think alouds with “I” language. These “I “ statements – as in, “I wonder if the author means…” and “I’m going to reread…” are the clearest way to give a model of the reading comprehension strategies that we are proficient readers do. It is with this “I” language that our children understand the active processes that adults use to understand a text. Through “I” language, children begin to see how to apply reading strategies to their independent reading. More specifically, try some of these:

  • I wonder…
  • I’m guessing that…
  • I was confused by…
  • It surprised me…
  • Now I understand…
  • I wish I could ask the author…

Next, use that “I” language to talk through the places that might be confusing in a text. Kids need to see how what proficient readers do when they are confused. Points of confusion might be unfamiliar vocabulary, abstract or confusing sentences, or places that require a reader to make an inferences (or ‘read between the lines’). You might say, “I didn’t understand this part at first, so I had to reread.” Our children need to see that making meaning from a text is an active process.

Finally, be selective. Not every read aloud requires a think aloud. Simple decodable texts like Brown Bear, Brown Bear don’t require an ongoing model of our thinking. In the texts that you do use for think alouds, I usually think aloud 6-8 times in a typical storybook. Keep them short and sweet! A think aloud is one or two sentences – not an entire conversation!

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. When parents and guardians think aloud at home, we better prepare our children for the academic tasks that they will encounter in school.

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