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Teaching with Think-Alouds

I am always up to try a new teaching strategy. However, I tested the think aloud strategy completely on accident! I had heard the strategy before, but it really came to life in this one situation…

I was in the middle of teaching a short story, when administration walked into my room with a brand new district mandate. They told me that I needed to immediately switch to a different curriculum, like tomorrow.

Angry as I was, I knew they were checking on all of the English teachers to ensure compliance. I made the switch, but unfortunately did not have time to read anything from the new curriculum or prep anything with it.

From Anger to Opportunity

That situation forced me into trying think-alouds in a completely authentic manner. I decided on it as a benefit – my students can watch me work through this new curriculum and analyze it out loud.

The next day came and I began the lesson with honesty. “We have a new curriculum and we are going to learn it together!” I got them situated and then we dove in together.

Reading through the first short story in this new curriculum, I paused after each paragraph. I began charting some of my thoughts on the board while wondering out loud.

“Is this foreshadowing? Why is this metaphor important? What will this character detail mean for us as we move further into the story? What resolution do these characters want for this problem?”

Many questions arose from my mouth in the first few paragraphs. As students watched and listened, they began to feel a comfort level with the method of questioning and pure curiosity.

Teaching Through Think-Alouds

It happened quickly… Students began raising their hands. They were now contributing their thoughts as well. “Why did that character make that decision? Is this hyperbole or do they really mean it? Did that have a double meaning?”

I could see their faces as their questions were validated by putting them on the board and adding it to our list of curiosities. As we wondered the role these different aspects would play on the story, we obtained a deeper read.

Planning for the Strategy

So maybe this was not the ideal situation. A forced curriculum change mid-unit was not pleasant. I certainly hated the fact that I was teaching something I had not prepped. However, the strategy was a winner!

I would strongly recommend you don’t take this blog post to mean that you should stop planning and wing it. Rather, understand how powerful this strategy can be when you plan for it.

Think-alouds give an opportunity for students to watch you problem solve in real time. It could be done with something smaller, like a short article (ELA teachers) or an equation to solve (Maths)… You could think of an example in any subject. A quick 5-10 minute think-aloud will show them how you conceptualize problems and break them down.

The best part… Then they will feel more confident in NOT knowing the answers and being willing to explore, theorize, and test their ideas. This is one of many strategies to empower student voices!

Want more ideas on empowering student voices? You have to read this!

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