Section 1: Guiding Students in the Think-Along Process

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Section 1: Guiding Students in the Think-Along Process

Before starting students off on their think-along adventure through the reading selections in this book, you may want to provide them with some modeling and oral practice that will make their progress through the think-along books even more effective.

The following teaching suggestions introduce your students to what it means to think along while you read. Even if your students are already good comprehenders, this introduction will help your students focus even more on what it means to be an active reader.

However, you may decide that your students are ready to begin working on the written think-along activities without the modeling and oral practice activities described below. Your students will benefit from the activities in this book even if you choose not to engage them in these introductory teaching activities. You should feel free to come back to these suggested activities if you feel that some of your students don’t seem at ease with the activities in the think-along book.

How do you know if these initial activities are needed?

You should probably use these introductory teaching activities if your students:

  • have had limited experiences being read to;

  • are having difficulty comprehending what they read;

  • are reluctant writers; or

  • may be confused by the activities they are going to be doing in the think-along books.

How much time will I need to spend on these activities?

These teaching suggestions are designed to “jump start” students in the think-along process. If you use all of the suggestions you will need about a half-hour or so each day for seven days. Here’s a schedule you might follow, but you should feel free to modify the schedule to meet your teaching plans, student needs, and personal style. AND—remember you can come back to these activities anytime your students seem to need a refresher on thinking while reading.

(Each of these seven activities is discussed in the sections that follow.)

Overview of Seven Activities to Introduce the Think-Along Strategies


Time Needed

What is done

Activity 1

Monday: Teacher Models & Students Identify Strategies

30-40 minutes

The teacher reads aloud and the students follow along. Students listen to the teacher read and think aloud about the story. After reading the teacher asks the student what s/he was doing to help her understand the story. The teacher makes a list of students’ ideas. (Save this list for tomorrow.)

Activity 2

Tuesday: Teacher Models & Students Use Strategies Checklist

30-40 minutes

The teacher reads aloud again while the students follow along. This time they use a checklist to note what the teacher does while reading. (The checklist is based on the list developed from the previous day.) Students are also encouraged to add to the list.

Activity 3

Wednesday: Student Volunteer Models and Students Discuss

20 minutes

The teacher discusses the reading s/he did the day before and asks if one of the students wants to read to the class and share what (s)he is thinking about with the class as s/he is reading.

Activity 4

Thursday: Students think aloud using pictures

10-15 minutes

The teacher shows some large, interesting pictures and asks students to tell what they’re thinking about when they look at the picture. The teacher encourages students to guess what is going to happen next, what it reminds them of, etc.

Activity 5

Friday: Teacher reads aloud and students think aloud

30-40 minutes

The teacher reads a story aloud, stopping at points that are appropriate for predicting, visualizing, or relating background knowledge. Students are asked to tell what they are thinking about at the stop points.

Activity 6

Monday (week two): Teacher reads aloud and uses a hat to identify which student she would like to have think aloud and when.

30-40 minutes

The teacher engages students in the same activity as the previous class session (with a different story), but this time the teacher uses a hat or other gimmick to identify which student is to respond, and when. (How to do this and the reason for the use of the gimmick is discussed in the detailed discussion of this activity.)

Activity 7


(week two): Teacher reads aloud and teacher uses multiple hats to identify students to tell what they are doing.

30-40 minutes

The teacher engages students in the same activity as the previous class session (with a different story), but this time the teacher uses three different colored hats or other gimmicks. The teacher explains that when a red hat is used, they should tell what they’re picturing in their heads. When a blue hat is used, they should tell what the story reminds them of. When a green hat is used they should tell what they think will happen next. (How to do this and the reason for the focus on specific strategies is discussed in the detailed discussion of this activity.)

What should these activities accomplish?

These activities allow the teacher to model the think-along activities that are essential for effective comprehension. They also help students to understand that:

  • each reader constructs a somewhat individual understanding of a text;

  • reading is more than merely repeating or remembering the words and ideas that are read; and

  • thinking is done while reading and includes predicting, visualizing, and relating what is being read to previous experiences or reading.

Activity 1: Teacher Models Think-Alongs & Students Identify Strategies

The first activity is to demonstrate what a reader does when s/he reads. Many students don’t understand that reading is active reasoning. They sometimes believe reading is merely correctly saying the words on the pages and then trying to understand and remember the ideas they read. They don’t recognize that allowing their thoughts to interact with the author’s ideas will help them not only remember what they’re reading, but will also result in a broader understanding of the text.


Tips for modeling think-alongs:

  • Choose a story that you think will be interesting to your students. Select a story that has lots of ideas to think about and events to picture in your head. Pick a story you know your students will like. But also be sure it is a story that you like so that you can really develop the ideas as you read.

  • Pick a story that is relatively short. For younger students it may be a story that is only 10 minutes long. For older students the story may be a bit longer. It will be good if you can complete the reading and the follow-up activities in about forty minutes.

  • Practice thinking aloud with the story before reading it to your students. It is useful to select certain points in the text where you feel it would be natural to tell your students what you are thinking. Remember, your think-alouds should help the students to see (hear) what an active thinker does while reading.

  • It is best not to stop mid-sentence to think aloud for students. Finish the sentence first.

  • Make marks in the text where you plan to think aloud.

  • You want to be sure to use a variety of strategies, so you may want to jot down notes in the margins of your text to remind yourself of which strategies you decided to model at different points in the text.

n this first activity you are going to read aloud to your students while they follow along. You are not just going to read the words on the page, however. As you read you will stop occasionally to share your thinking about what you’re reading with your students. Tell them such things as what you think is going to happen next, what you think the characters might look like, how you are putting the ideas together, and what the events and characters remind you of.


This reminds me of a typical fairy tale like Snow White, with a beautiful princess who is in love with a handsome prince.

Prince Ronald must be scared. I know I would be!

She must be very brave!

I wonder why the paper bag didn’t burn too.
hown at the left are three pages from a story which shows how one teacher prepared a text for a think-along with the students. You don’t have to write down everything you are going to say, but you do want to be prepared with ideas that fit the context of the story, that get your students thinking, and that keep the story moving along. And you certainly don’t want to read your thoughts to your students. Writing down what you will say, and indicating where you will stop and think aloud will simply make your think-aloud progress move smoothly when modeling for your students.

I think she’ll find the dragon and get Prince Ronald back.

Preparing students to listen to you read the story and model thinking along.

Before reading the story to your students, tell them that you are going to be reading and thinking out loud about the story as you read. They should follow along with their own copy of the text. Tell them to enjoy the story, but also to be ready to tell what kinds of things you were doing to help you understand the story better. If you have not done this kind of activity before, it will be surprising to you how well your students will comprehend the story with the assistance of your think-alouds, —and how well they are able to tell you the things you were doing as you read.

What you and your students do after you have finished reading the story.

Ask your students if they liked the story and what interested them the most. You should be pleased if they incorporate some of your think-alouds into their discussion of the story.

Ask them what you were doing when you read the story. You may have to prompt them if they have difficulty getting started. Here are some questions you can use to get them started: Did I guess what was going to happen next? Did I tell what I thought the characters looked like? Don’t prompt too quickly. The best learning takes place when students struggle to put into their words what you did. The students are the ones that should identify the strategies that a reader uses. By all means let them use their own words to explain what you did.

Write on the chalkboard or on a large piece of paper the things they say. You may only get three or four suggestions from the students. Such things as “you guessed what was going to happen;" “you told us about stuff you already knew about; you changed your mind;" and “you told us what you thought they looked like” are all strategies that are easily identified by students as they listen to an effective reader.

You should conclude the lesson by congratulating the students on how well they listened and how much they learned about good reading. Tell them you will read them another story tomorrow and show them some more about good reading.

Activity Two: Teacher Models & Students Use Strategies Checklist

For this second day’s activity, you will do just what you did the first day, as will your students. You will use a new text to model thinking aloud for your students, while they listen to the story and the strategies you’re using. (Choose a text with similar characteristics to the story you read the first day.) There is, however, one thing you should do differently on the second day. Before reading, pass out to the students a copy of the list of strategies your students came up with the on day one as you modeled thinking aloud.

Tips for creating the handout:

  • Be sure to put the strategies onto the handout in the exact same way students shared them with the class. Using their words is important and will help them to learn the strategies.

  • For younger students who will not be able to read the list, you can use pictures for the strategies. For example, use a question mark for guessing what comes next. A pair of glasses or a camera can be used for telling what it looks like.

  • Be sure to leave room on the sheet of paper for students to put a check mark after each of the strategies you will use when you read the second story. And also leave room for the students to add other strategies and ideas as you read again.

Before you talk about the story you are going to read the second day, pass out the handout and discuss it with the students. Remind them that these are the ideas they had yesterday about your reading. Point out which students added which ideas.

Tell them that you are going to read another story and this time you want them to make a check mark after each any strategy they hear you use with the new story you’re going to read. Also, tell them to think about things they may want to add to the list.

Briefly introduce the story to your students. Remember, the emphasis in reading and getting ready to read should be on the content and enjoyment of the story. Don’t let the identification of strategies detract from the enjoyment of the story.

When you are finished with the second story, discuss with the students their reactions to the story as you did the first day. Then ask them about the things they may have checked on the list as you read. If they didn’t do any checking as you read, you can encourage them to check off strategies now as you discuss with them the things they heard you doing as you read. Be sure to ask for new ideas that may not have been on the checklist that your students created the first day.

Preparing for day three: After you’ve finished discussing the story and adding to your list of strategies, ask if there are any students who would like to read a short story to the class the next day — doing the kinds of things you did to make the story interesting.

Select volunteers who are not bashful and who seem to be comfortable elaborating ideas and getting involved with a story. These are not always the best “word readers” but they are students who are verbal, creative, and outgoing.

Help them select and prepare a story for reading to the class the next day. Be sure that there is a copy of the story for all of the students to follow along with as the student reads. For those teachers who have had students engaged in dramatic readings this will be a familiar activity. (Those who are familiar with young children who read aloud—without reading words but telling what they are thinking— are familiar with the importance and power of this activity.) As the students prepare for the reading the next day, help them to see where they might use the kind of think-alongs you used. However, allow them the freedom to use their own ideas and strategies. They will almost always surprise you with their creativity.

Note: These first days are the heart of modeling. You are asking students to watch a skilled performer and to identify (in their words) what a skilled performer does when he or she reads. This is almost always the first step in learning. A learner has to watch, focus, and identify the elements of a skilled performance.

Activity Three: Student Models and Students Discuss

Start off day three by talking with your students about how all good readers think about the story as they are reading. You may want to remind them that all readers do not think the same things as they read.

Introduce your student volunteer, and make sure that (s)he can be seen by all students in the class. The student (with your assistance) should talk about the story before beginning to read. Make the reading fun and rewarding for the student that reads as well as for the class. Encourage and applaud the thinking afterward. Tell some of the things that you were thinking that were similar—as well as different from what the student used in his or her think-aloud.

Note: The purpose of this activity is not to see if a student has mastered the strategies or to demonstrate effective thinking. This activity is the bridge from the time that students observe an accomplished reader (you) to the time they are getting ready to practice the strategies themselves. Having a student model the strategies shows that this is something that everyone can do and to give students the knowledge that there is not a right or wrong thing to say.

Activity Four: Students think-aloud with pictures

This activity is designed to get students comfortable with the idea of telling what they are thinking about and to think beyond what they see—or hear—or read.

To get started select four or five pictures that you think will interest the students. The pictures can be photographs of real events or they can be illustrations of characters or events.

Tips for selecting pictures:

  • Your pictures should include things the students are somewhat familiar with so they can use their background experiences and knowledge to think about the pictures.

  • Select pictures which are rich with possible background connections, possible predictions, and a variety of interpretations.

  • Be sure your pictures are large enough so that all of your students can see them easily.

Tell the students that you are going to show them some pictures and they are to tell you what they are thinking about when they look at the picture. Show the pictures one at a time. You should encourage both a diversity of responses and a variety of strategies. Ask students to tell why they said what they did when they tell you what they are thinking about.

Here are some questions that can guide you in encouraging the kinds of thinking you are trying to elicit.

To get students to support their responses:

  • That’s an interesting idea. What made you think that?

  • I think I know what you mean. Can you explain a little more?

  • I never thought of that. What in the picture made you think of that?

  • Where did that idea come from? I like it.

To get students to diversify their responses:

  • What an interesting idea! No one else thought of that.

  • Who has another way of thinking about the picture?

  • Who has something else they thought of?

  • I like all of these different ideas. Are there more?

To get students to use different thinking strategies:

  • What do you think is going to happen next?

  • How do you think the people got there?

  • Any ideas what the people in the picture are thinking about?

  • What does this picture remind you of?

  • Does this picture remind you of some story character? Who?

By using four or five pictures, you will quickly learn that your students have a variety of thinking strategies and they are able to think in many different ways about the pictures. This activity should be fun and lively for the students.

Discuss with the students how you think about stories you read just the same way that you think about pictures you look at. Remind them of the think-aloud reading that you and your student volunteers performed.

You may want to develop the idea that good reading is thinking about the story you are reading. Discuss with them how thinking about the story makes it more interesting, and easier to understand and remember because they have thought about it.

Activity Five: Teacher reads aloud and students think aloud

This activity is just the same as the previous day with one exception. Instead of showing the students a picture and asking them what they are thinking about, you are going to show them part of a story and ask them what they are thinking about.

Here’s how it is done.

  • Select a story to use following similar guidelines to those you used to select the story you used for activities one and two.

  • Do not give your students a copy of the story to read.

  • Mark the story with stopping points just as you did with the story you modeled in activity one. This time you don’t have to indicate what you are going to think because you are going to ask the students what they are thinking at the stopping point.

  • Tell the students that you are going to read part of a story. Tell them the part you read is just like a picture that they can think about. Tell them that you are going to ask them what they are thinking after they listen to this word picture.

  • Read to the first stopping point. You can show the students the part you have read by holding up the book. If you can copy the story on an overhead, you could show them the part you have read.

  • At the stopping point, ask the students what they are thinking about. Encourage a variety of responses just as you did with the pictures you used the previous day. (Check the questions in activity four for ideas about questions you might ask.)

  • After several responses go on with the reading until you reach the next stopping point where you again ask the students what they are thinking.

  • Continue until you reach the end of the story.

Note: Keep the students on track by asking them to explain what in the story made them think about the things they are sharing. The goal is to encourage diversity of responses, but also to get them to keep their ideas related to the story. For this activity, indeed for all reading, there are no right or wrong responses. However, there are responses that can be better supported by what has been read and thought about and responses that cannot be supported.

Activity Six: Teacher reads aloud and uses a hat to identify students to tell what they are thinking

Activity six is the same as activity five with one addition. You will select a story, mark the stopping points, read part of the story aloud, and then put a hat on the student’s head who you want to respond.

The goal of this activity is to avoid the wait time that comes when you stop reading and wait for students to raise their hands to respond. You are trying to get them to tell what they are thinking—while they are reading. Thus, the use of a hat (or some other gimmick) is used to encourage immediate responses.

Here are some guidelines for carrying out this activity.

  • Use anything you would like to identify the student you want to respond. The hat may not be appropriate with some students. Teachers have used nerf balls, wands to tap students on the shoulder with, and velcro stick-on items. Whatever gimmick you choose, be certain that it can be quickly moved from student to student.

  • After you have read to the first stopping point, put the hat on the student and say: What are you thinking about?

  • If a student seems flustered or wants to have time to think about a response, move quickly to another student. Tell the student that was not able to respond quickly that I want you to tell me what you were thinking when I read.

  • Come back to the student you skipped at a later time to give him or her a chance to get back into the activity.
  • When a student provides a strange or unusual response, ask what made him or her think that. Some answers are easily understood as being related to the story. When they are not, ask the student to tell how their thought is related.

  • Keep the activity moving quickly. Too many responses or too much time at any stopping point will detract from the story. You want to keep the story moving, and you want to keep the students thinking about the story.

  • Encourage diversity in responses. (Check the questions in activity four for ideas about questions you might ask.)

At the end of the activity, discuss the story that you read. Encourage the students to relate back to the ideas they provided as you read the story and put the hat on their heads.

Activity Seven: Teacher reads aloud and teacher uses multiple hats to identify students to tell what they are thinking

Activity seven is the same as six with one exception, when you identify the stopping points in the story, mark whether you think each point is best for 1) making a prediction, 2) telling what the scene or character looked like, or 3) telling what it may remind you of. When you read aloud and come to the stopping point, use a different colored hat (or other gimmick) to represent each of these three reading strategies.

For example, you might use a red hat for prediction, a green hat for telling what it looks like (visualizing), and a blue hat for telling what it reminds you of (background knowledge).

All of this has to be explained to the students ahead of time. Tell them that when you read the story today, you are going to stop and then put one of the three hats on one of their heads.

  • If you put the red hat on someone’s head they are to tell you what they think happens next in the story.

  • If you put a green hat on someone’s head they are to tell you what it looks like.
  • If you put a blue hat on someone’s head they are to tell you what they are reminded of.

Note: Some teachers have found it to be more effective to introduce just one colored hat each day. This means that you would only stop at points where a prediction (red hat) can be made. There is nothing wrong with this idea and it does help the students to learn about each different strategy before moving to the next. However, this will take additional time since you will probably do a different strategy each day. Such individualization of this process is encouraged since each class of students is different and you know what will work best with your students.

Here are some suggestions for using the multiple hats:

  1. Be sure the stopping point and the color of the hat match. That is, if you have a stopping point where you think a prediction would be good, be sure to use the red hat.

  2. Be sure the students know the match between the hat color and the strategy they are to use. You can, of course, remind them as you put the hat on their head. You might say, “I’m putting the red hat on your head. Can you tell me what you were thinking might happen next.”

  3. If a student does not use the proper strategy. That is, if the student describes instead of predicts, you should merely say, “That’s great you were thinking about what it looked like, but the red hat is for telling what happened next. Did you think about that?” If the student says he or she was not thinking about that, tell them that’s fine and you liked that he or she was thinking about what it looked like.

  4. As you have been doing throughout these student think-aloud responses, move quickly with the activity so the story does not drag. Keep the class on task. Don’t be concerned about right or wrong responses. Do be concerned that the students are thinking about the story.

That’s it! You have completed the introduction of the thinking strategies and your students have now:

  • seen a model of someone who is thinking while reading (activities one and two);

  • engaged in some modeling with each other by thinking about pictures (activity three) and stories you have read (activities four and five); and

  • engaged in a bit of coached practice by telling what they were thinking about as you read (activities four, five, six and seven); and

  • reflected (thought) about the stories and their reading strategies in the discussions you have had with them after each of the stories you read.

However, the coached practice has been limited since you could only ask one student at a time to tell what they were thinking. You now need to get all of the students responding. You need to give your students lots of opportunities for coached practice. The stories and activities in the think-along books are designed for exactly that purpose. In addition, the books include follow-up discussion and writing activities that include lots more reflecting (thinking about the stories and effective reading strategies).

Note: The seven activities described above should be modified to fit your students, your classroom, and your particular teaching style. You might want to take more or less time with some of the activities. These activities are to get your students comfortable and familiar with the idea of telling what they are thinking as they read.

Come Back to These Activities

Many teachers come back to some or all of these activities when they find their students do not understand how they can think divergently as they read and write in the boxes. Some students seem to believe that reading is merely repeating what they have read. If you find this is the case with your students, you may want to come back to some of these activities and emphasize the personal and open-ended thinking they can and should do when they are reading.

In addition, many teachers find it very useful to go through the seven activities (perhaps skipping the pictures—or modifying the activities in other ways) when the reading students are doing in class becomes more difficulty or they begin to read more extensively about different topics or different genres.

The strategies one uses across content areas and genres are very similar, but they are applied with a different emphasis with different genres and different content areas. These modeling and oral coached practice activities can be used very successfully across the content areas—and they have been used successfully with high school and college students.

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