Did you know that there are extra measures one can take to improve a child’s literacy skills? A strategy called the “think-aloud” strategy, is said to eventually help children self-monitor their reading comprehension and help them understand how to deal with reading comprehension breakdowns.

So what is the “think aloud” method? In short, it is basically thinking out loud about a story book/reading excerpt– before, during, and afterwards. For example, before reading a picture book story with your child, you may sift through the pictures of a book, point at different details / key words, and make predictions and inferences out loud (e.g., “Ohh, I see in this picture there is a bear… I wonder if this book is going to take place in a zoo…What do you think? ”). During the process of reading, you may perhaps point and pause at a keyword (“Oh, I see the word, “forest”… do you think the bear is going to live at a zoo or forest?”). After reading, you may discuss what happened in the story and why he/she thinks certain events took place (“Oh, it turned out the bear was ___…. Why do you think that happened? Hmmm…”).

A research study conducted by Baumann, J. F., Seifert-Kessell, N., & Jones, L. A. (1992), reviewed the effects of the “think aloud” instruction on elementary students’ comprehension monitoring abilities. The article first opens up by painting a picture of what they found in their research study that contained two groups of fourth graders: one group who had been taught the think aloud reading comprehension, and the other who had been taught a different reading comprehension strategy. There was a noticeable difference found between both groups. The children who were taught the think-aloud strategy self-questioned, used retelling as a way to construct meaning, and made hypotheses about the story. The children who were not taught the strategy focused more on the literal comprehension, word identification, and accurate oral reading. The article also emphasized how reading comprehension self-monitoring may be what distinguishes successful readers from less successful readers. Research notes that if children can self-question, predict and verify, retell, and reread – they are much more likely to understand and retain information from texts that they read. Think alouds, as the article says, is basically self-monitoring their reading comprehension in an overt way through verbal expression. This study found that it helped the students acquire many different strategies to enhance the quality of their comprehension. Lastly, the researchers ended the article stating that students in the think aloud group participated enthusiastically and were perceived to feel empowered by increasing their cognitive ability in reading.

If your child is not reading yet, below is a walk-through of steps in how to implement the “think aloud”, so that he/she can eventually learn to utilize this method independently.
1) Preview the book before reading with your child, not only to make sure the book is appropriate for their particular child depending on where they are in the learning process, but also for cultural relevance (ie., making sure it is specific to the child’s specific experiences) and specific interests/background knowledge
2) Look at the cover together and point at different pictures and keywords, making predictions and inferences. Think-aloud prompts may include: “I wonder if…”, “I imagine that…”.
3) Look through the pages together and continue making predictions and inferences. You can also comment on what you see and relate it to background knowledge that the child already has. For example, if there is a picture of a princess, and this particular child has a princess costume, you can say, “Wow, I see a princess! It looks just like the princess costume you have right?”

*Tip: Make sure to have high energy and engagement (e.g., “Wow! Look!”) when using the think aloud strategy, because the more interested you are, the more interested the child will also be.

One of the best parts about this strategy is that it is overall simple. Additionally, although simple, it has been proven to be highly effective in improving overall literacy skills.

Happy reading to your little ones!

-Andrea Scola, M.S., CCC-SLP, Exceptional Speech Therapy Blog Writer

Baumann, J. F., Seifert-Kessell, N., & Jones, L. A. (1992). Effect of Think-Aloud Instruction on Elementary Students’ Comprehension Monitoring Abilities. Journal of Literacy Research, 24(2), 143-172.