It’s underrated, for sure.
Thinking aloud to model how we process, analyze and take action is highly effective. It’s cheap. You can do it anywhere, under any circumstances. You can do it all day long at home and at school. I have been known to use this strategy with my husband. He doesn’t like it much, but it gets my point across.
Thinking aloud models how we organize our thoughts, put things in order, make decisions, interpret the actions of others, take action and assess what we have done. Thinking aloud helps kids with executive functioning challenges as well as kids in social situations. The beauty of thinking aloud as a tool for modeling is that you can tailor it to best fit the students you work with.
It is important to pace the think aloud in a way that allows students to follow along. Pausing, using wait time, varying tone of voice and volume, using bigger body movements and facial expressions increase the probability of useful impact. We want our students to relate to the content by observing how us think and problem solve. What we know about the brain and learning, supports thinking aloud as a way to develop new neural pathways that allow for new information to connect to old information so students can construct their own meaning from what you are teaching. And we all know that is the absolute best way to facilitate learning.
Suggestions and examples
Hmmm. This one looks tricky. I am freaking out just a little bit. (take a deep breath) One step at a time. I got this. I know that when I reduce fractions, whatever happens downstairs with the denominator has to happen up stairs with the numerator. I sure wish I had my facts memorized! Wait, I can use my multiplication chart. OK, so first step is to…………….
Throughout this kind of think aloud I use as much voice inflection as I can. One thing that stuck with a particular group of boys was me sliding my pitch from low to high when I was saying whatever happens downstairs with the denominator has to happen upstairs with the numerator. Think of those slide whistles. My voice goes from low to high as I say that phrase. Using my voice that way opened a new neural pathway, a new way to make that information stick and get filed away to be used when needed. As these boys worked through the assignment, they mimicked the way I said it and that served to keep them engaged. They got the giggles. That was OK with me. They were enjoying themselves while working. Perish the thought!
2. Literature lesson
On the board are a few quotes from this chapter of To Kill A Mockingbird. Your assignment is to interpret and respond to one of these quotes. But first let’s look at this particular quote. Here is how I might go about interpreting, and organizing my thoughts for the response.
Well, I know that this is something Atticus said to Scout. Model opening book to the page where the quote is and read aloud a bit before and a bit after the quoted line. Pause. So, Atticus and Scout were talking about ____________________. She was confused about ________________ and Atticus was helping her understand human nature. Atticus used an analogy to help Scout understand such a complex thing about people in general. He was telling her that _______________. But it could be that he was really explaining ____________. But I don’t think so because right before he says this, Scout was struggling with _____________.
Model putting those thoughts in an organized written response. Talk all the way through the modeling. Repeatedly refer to the characters and setting. Rearrange wording and sentence structure, rethink certain points. By doing this you are demonstrating how one thinks about his or her writing, how the writer searches for the best way to express thoughts. Throughout this think aloud you have a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate how to think critically. My favorite thing.
When you students are able to see through your eyes and watch you think, they make deeper connections to the content.
3. Social skills and communication
Suzie, Joey just said hello. When Joey says hello to me I always say hello right back. Hello Joey!
From here on you speak with Joey in Suzie’s voice but add how you want Suzie to be thinking, processing, and interpreting what Joey is saying. It is important to try and sit right next to or behind Suzie. Change your voice pitch so there is a difference between your thinking and your voice when speaking as Suzie. You must think aloud in your voice before you respond in Suzie’s voice.
Joey: Hey Suzie!
You as Suzie thinking: Wow, Joey said hello. He is smiling. That shows me he is friendly. I want him to know I heard him.
You in Suzie’s voice: Hey Joey.
Joey: Whatcha doing right now?
You as Suzie thinking: Joey is interested in me and what I am doing.
You in Suzie’s voice: I’m just working on this puzzle.
You as Suzie thinking: I wonder if Joey wants to do the puzzle with me? I would like his help and company.
You in Suzie’s voice: It’s pretty hard. Wanna come work on it with me?
Joey: Yes! I love doing puzzles. Thanks.
You as Suzie thinking: Joey likes puzzles. I will remember that because that is what friends do. They pay attention to what each other likes.
You in Suzie’s voice: Good! When we finish this one, maybe we can do another one.
I have had great success with his strategy in helping students communicate with each other. It serves as voice for some. It serves as a frontal lobe interpreter for my students with social communication challenges. I cannot stress enough to use enthusiasm, exaggerated voice intonation and to be very mindful of the expressive qualities you are using. Make sure you stay consistent with language and modify to meet the needs of each student. Get your students emotionally engaged.
The uses really are endless. The results can be immediate, but remember that repetition is important for internalization and generalization.
You are rewiring brains. This stuff takes time.