What is a Think-Aloud and How Will It Help My Child?

latino father and daughter think-aloud a book

Some kids just don’t understand what reading is


Quite often struggling readers or kids who can’t read at all don’t understand that reading is supposed to make sense. They don’t automatically “get it” that the purpose of putting together these sounds and markings and pages is to relate a story, or to give us information.

But don’t panic, because this can be taught!


Do you know what a think-aloud is?


A good reader thinks to herself as she reads. Because the words come automatically for her, she has “space” in her head to visualize what’s going on, to wonder what’s coming next, to make guesses about what might happen.

A reader who has to go slowly and figure out each word doesn’t have room in her mind to attend to the meaning. She’s fully focused on figuring out each tiny bit of each sentence. This is exhausting!

Or, for a child who seems to read well but doesn’t understand it, we need to show the importance of making sense of the words, not just calling them out and getting them over with.


This is how to do a think-aloud


In a think-aloud, we model the real purpose of reading for the child.

Read a brief bit of a story, then stop and share what is going through your mind about it. The child is invited to participate if they wish. Then continue reading again and stop again to “think aloud” what is happening in your mind. Video coming!

As a reading teacher, I’ve seen think-alouds work wonders with kids who are having issues with reading. Sometimes you can almost see the understanding breaking through on their face. Very exciting!


Why Thinking While Reading Needs to Be Shown


We often forget that if a child learns in a style different from our own that they don’t naturally just “get” what reading is. They need to be shown. With practice, they’ll begin to grasp this as they join you in the think-aloud.

Even if the reading is still going slowly for them, they’ll at least understand that there is a good outcome at the end of all the hard work they are tackling.

They’ll believe that they are working at being a good reader for a good reason. Just knowing this can turn things around for a few lucky kids. For others, there is still be a lot of work to do, but this puts us one step closer.


Be Sure To Make Clear When You’re Reading & When You’re Thinking


One important point: if you are reading a text with them, clearly indicate where you are stopping in the text—I stop, lift my head, make eye contact, and then talk about what I’m thinking and why. When I return to reading the text, I make it elaborate: I look away from them, down to the book, make it clear that I’m finding my place (maybe even thinking aloud, “Now let’s see…where was I? No, we read that…further down. OK! Here is the spot!”

An alternative is to keep a finger on the place, and think-aloud how you know right where to go on the page because you held your spot. Me? I use my hands so much when I talk that this is almost impossible for me to do! I end up waving the whole darn book around, and look like a nut cadet. 😉

I emphasize this because often poor readers can’t tell where the story or text stops and your out-loud-thinking begins. This can be even more confusing for them.

Exaggerating the starting and stopping helps them keep the two separate.


And now I give myself extra work!


I think it would be good to model for you, the parent, to help illustrate what I say and do during a think-aloud.

Darn! I’ve just given myself a job: make a video for the folks! ;D


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