Small-Group Pedagogy Mini-Series: Think Alouds

This is where the powerful conceptual exploration strategy of think-alouds can really impact a lesson.

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In an attempt to “jump into the learning” and activity, it can be very easy to skip the critical “I do” phase within the Gradual Release Model. And sometimes when we do remember “I do”, we might forget what it’s like to not understand a concept and the metacognitive insights that build deep understanding. This is where the powerful conceptual exploration strategy of think-alouds can really impact a lesson. 

Think-alouds (or Self-Talk) give students the opportunity to eavesdrop on someone’s thinking as they model a skill, concept or way of reasoning. Archer (2011) states that “thinking aloud gives students access to self-questions, self-instructions and decisions that occur as a problem is solved or a task completed.” Think-alouds could include: 

  • things to note or be aware of  
  • observations we’d want the students to also consider when working independently 
  • common misconceptions 
  • anticipating misconceptions and providing pre-corrections
  • relating to other concepts or ideas. 
  • following a list of actions 
  • vocabulary surrounded the concept 

For example, 

“When I see a full stop at the end of my sentence, I know to take a breath and pause. This will help separate the ideas in each sentence. This is also a great time for me to monitor my understanding and ask myself “am I still understanding what I’m reading?” 

When I adopted think-alouds in my own classroom and those of my teams, we saw a big difference in the types of conversations and questions, and the confidence of students to undertake new learning. While it might initially feel a bit silly to externalise internal thoughts rather than “instructing”, think-alouds reduce cognitive load for students while demonstrating what success looks like and how to achieve it. 

Plus, ideally, this isn’t a strategy just for the teacher. When students externalise their thinking, think-alouds can give great insight into their understanding, processes and where misconceptions could potentially be coming from. Zorfass and Gray (2020) expresses the benefits of students learning to participate in their own Think-Alouds or self-talk: 

“Thinking aloud helps students, especially those who struggle with mathematics, to clarify their ideas, identify what they do and do not understand, and learn from others when they hear how their peers think about and approach the problem. It also helps the teacher to monitor students’ progress as part of the formative assessment process.”

The video below is another example of a possible think-aloud. The NZmaths site also has another great example.

Pedagogical Reflection: 

What mini-lesson have I run recently that a think-aloud could have really been impactful or highlighted valuable understanding before further exploring?  

References

Archer, A. (2011). Chapter 2 designing lessons: Skills and strategies. In Explicit instruction: Effective and efficient teaching. New York, USA: The Guilford Press.

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