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Thinking Aloud to Build Students’ Comprehension
Read Once: Identifying Juicy Stopping Points
The first step in thinking aloud is a close examination of the text. I peruse the text searching for the comprehension opportunities in its pictures, words, and layout. I begin planning my think alouds with a stack of sticky notes in hand. The purpose of this first reading is to mark the pages or paragraphs where I identify “juicy stopping points.” A juicy stopping point offers a range of possibilities, either comprehension opportunities or stumbling blocks. In my first reading, I may identify upwards of fifteen juicy stopping spots in a standard children’s picture book!
Read Twice: Determining Where and When to Think Aloud
In my second reading, I examine each stopping point and critically reflect on the need for that particular point. The goal here is to truly focus on what stopping points are appropriate and purposeful. The aim is to narrow down our original stopping points to a more manageable number. Because the overarching goal of the think aloud is to model metacognitive processes, I do not want to overwhelm our students with stopping unnecessarily and detract from the comprehension process. I keep several factors in mind as I make our decisions, including my overall purpose for selecting this particular text, my learning objectives in this lesson, and which comprehension strategies are familiar or unfamiliar to my students prior to reading this 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 to model in front of my students.
Read Three Times: Writing the Scripts on Sticky Notes
The goal of my third reading is to identify the script of 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, so as to give students the chance to eavesdrop on our reading processes. Using “I” statements, I encourage our students to internalize these reading comprehension strategies so that they may emulate such purposeful reading.
The End Result of the Three-Step Process
Thinking aloud requires a paradigm shift in the language that we as teachers use during read alouds. Typically, we ask our students 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 our students’ understanding of the text. Our time is better spent using language that builds their understanding, by showing them the thinking that we are doing. As we think aloud, we mentor students in building the comprehension skills that they need to become successful independent readers.
Dr. Molly Ness is a parent, a former teacher, a reading clinician, a nationally recognized author and researcher, and an professor of reading, and an associate professor in childhood education at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education. She is a prolific researcher and writer who has written three books and numerous articles in top-tiered educational journals. Follow her blog and learn more about Dr. Ness at