The Power of Thinking Aloud

teaching kids to think and read critically

When our children are small, we parents guide their language development by explicitly demonstrating how language works. To get our kids using language, we make exaggerated shapes with our mouths, point to pictures to make vocabulary connections when we read aloud, and quiz toddlers over animal onomatopoeia. 

When kids get older, though, sometimes that tendency toward showing children how things work can evaporate, especially when it comes to more advanced language skills. 

As children get older, language arts instruction tends to shift more and more toward a model of asking the child to do work and then telling the child what he or she did incorrectly after the work is finished. Kids are assigned pages of reading and comprehension worksheets or they’re given a writing assignment that will be critiqued by a more skilled writer after the writing is finished.

Instead of only interfering in the end product, though, wouldn’t it make more sense for that more skilled writer or more skilled reader, in this case a homeschool parent, to share his or her expertise during the learning process when the potential for knowledge building is at its greatest?

Talking to our kids about how we comprehend will yield better results than a whole pile of comprehension worksheets. 

Readalouds are an ideal time to model the thinking skills that you want your children to achieve. When a character innocently coughs, don’t keep what you know from your experience with reading Victorian novels to yourself. Tell your kids that a cough almost always foreshadows a character’s illness and often a character’s death. When a character dons a coat or an umbrella, talk to your kids about what you can infer about the setting from that little nugget of information. When you reach the end of a chapter, practice making predictions about what’s to come. When a sentence is confusing and you feel lost, demonstrate backing up and reading it slowly and deliberately until it does make sense.  Talking to our kids about how we comprehend will yield better results than a whole pile of comprehension worksheets. 

When it comes to writing, don’t check out after you’ve handed down an assignment. Work alongside your child to model exactly what you’re thinking as you brainstorm about a topic, organize your thoughts, and construct a thesis statement. You don’t necessarily need to complete the entire assignment yourself, but talking your child through the speed bumps that are slowing him or her down is far more effective than passing down a judgement after the work has already been done. 

Much like we teach our children habits of brushing their teeth, making their beds, or clearing their places at the table, it’s up to us to teach our children the habits of good readers and writers, and there’s no better way to do that than by graciously sharing our thoughts when we read and write.