You are on page 1of 12



classroom Strategies Think Alouds Background Think Alouds help students learn to monitor their thinking as they read an assigned passage. Students are directed by a series of questions which they think about and answer aloud while reading. This process reveals how much they understand a text. As students become more adept at this technique they learn to generate their own questions to guide comprehension. Benefits Think Alouds are practical and relatively easy for teachers to use within the classroom. Teachers are able to model the Think Aloud technique and discuss how good readers often re-read a sentence, read ahead to clarify, and/or look for context clues to make sense of what they read. Think alouds slow down the reading process and allow students to monitor their understanding of a text. Create and use the strategy Begin by modeling this strategy. Model your thinking as you read. Do this at points in the text that may be confusing for students (new vocabulary, unusual sentence construction). Then introduce the assigned text and discuss the purpose of the Think Aloud strategy. Then develop the set of questions to support thinking aloud (see examples below). 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. What do I know about this topic? What do I think I will learn about this topic? Do I understand what I just read? Do I have a clear picture in my head about this information? What more can I do to understand this? What were the most important points in this reading? What new information did I learn? How does it fit in with what I already know?

Teachers should next (1) give students opportunities to practice the technique, either in pairs, small groups or individually; and (2) offer structured feedback to students. Initially, the teacher reads the selected passage aloud as the students read the same text silently. At certain points the teacher stops and "thinks aloud" answers to some of

the pre-selected questions. Teachers should demonstrate how good readers monitor their understanding by rereading a sentence, reading ahead to clarify, and/or looking for context clues. Students then learn to offer answers to the questions as the teacher leads the Think Aloud strategy. As students become familiar with the Think Aloud process, they may work individually or in small groups. Teachers may choose to have students write down responses to the Think Aloud strategy which provides a record of learning. Further reading page=&viewtype=&category

What Is It? The think-aloud strategy asks students to say out loud what they are thinking about when reading, solving math problems, or simply responding to questions posed by teachers or other students. Effective teachers think out loud on a regular basis to model this process for students. In this way, they demonstrate practical ways of approaching difficult problems while bringing to the surface the complex thinking processes that underlie reading comprehension, mathematical problem solving, and other cognitively demanding tasks. Thinking out loud is an excellent way to teach how to estimate the number of people in a crowd, revise a paper for a specific audience, predict the outcome of a scientific experiment, use a key to decipher a map,access prior knowledge before reading a new passage, monitor comprehension while reading a difficult textbook, and so on. Getting students into the habit of thinking out loud enriches classroom discourse and gives teachers an important assessment and diagnostic tool. Why Is It Important? By verbalizing their inner speech (silent dialogue) as they think their way through a problem, teachers model how expert thinkers solve problems. As teachers reflect on their learning processes, they discuss with students the problems learners face and how learners try to solve them. As students think out loud with teachers and with one another, they gradually internalize this dialogue; it becomes their inner speech, the means by which they direct their own behaviors and problem-solving processes

(Tinzmann et al. 1990). Therefore, as students think out loud, they learn how to learn. They learn to think as authors,mathematicians, anthropologists, economists, historians, scientists, and artists. They develop into reflective, metacognitive, independent learners, an invaluable step in helping students understand that learning requires effort and often is difficult (Tinzmann et al. 1990). It lets students know that they are not alone in having to think their way through the problem-solving process. Think-alouds are used to model comprehension processes such as making predictions, creating images, linking information in text with prior knowledge, monitoring comprehension, and overcoming problems with word recognition or comprehension (Gunning 1996). By listening in as students think aloud, teachers can diagnose students' strengths and weakness. "When teachers use assessment techniques such as observations, conversations and interviews with students, or interactive journals, students are likely to learn through the process of articulating their ideas and answering the teacher's questions" (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics 2000). How Can You Make It Happen? Modeling Thinking Out Loud Asking students to use a strategy to solve complex problems and perform sophisticated tasks is not enough. Each strategy must be used analytically and may require trial-anderror reasoning. Thinking out loud allows teachers to model this complex process for students. For example, suppose during math class you'd like students to estimate the number of pencils in a school. Introduce the strategy by saying, "The strategy I am going to use today is estimation. We use it to . . . It is useful because . . . When we estimate, we . . ." Next say, "I am going to think aloud as I estimate the number of pencils in our school. I want you to listen and jot down my ideas and actions." Then, think aloud as you perform the task. Your think-aloud might go something like this: "Hmmmmmm. So, let me start by estimating the number of students in the building. Let's see. There are 5 grades; first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, plus kindergarten. So, that makes 6 grades because 5 plus 1 equals 6. And there are 2 classes at each grade level, right? So, that makes 12 classes in all because 6 times 2 is 12. Okay, now I have to figure out how many students in all. Well, how many in this class? [Counts.] Fifteen, right? Okay, I'm going to assume that 15 is average. So, if there are 12 classes with 15 students in each class, that makes, let's see, if it were 10 classes it would be 150 because 10 times 15 is 150. Then 2 more classes would be 2

times 15, and 2 times 15 is 30, so I add 30 to 150 and get 180. So, there are about 180 students in the school. I also have to add 12 to 180 because the school has 12 teachers, and teachers use pencils, too. So that is 192 people with pencils." Continue in this way. When reading aloud, you can stop from time to time and orally complete sentences like these:

So far, I've learned... This made me think of... That didn't make sense. I think ___ will happen next. I reread that part because... I was confused by... I think the most important part was... That is interesting because... I wonder why... I just thought of...

Another option is to videotape the part of a lesson that models thinking aloud. Students can watch the tape and figure out what the teacher did and why. Stop the tape periodically to discuss what they notice, what strategies were tried, and why, and whether they worked. As students discuss the process, jot down any important observations. Once students are familiar with the strategy, include them in a think-aloud process. For example: Teacher: "For science class, we need to figure out how much snow is going to fall this year. How can we do that?" Student: "We could estimate." Teacher: "That sounds like it might work. How do we start? What do we do next? How do we know if our estimate is close? How do we check it?" In schools where teachers work collaboratively in grade-level teams or learning communities, teachers can plan and rehearse thinking out loud with a partner before introducing the strategy to students. This is especially useful when the whole school is focusing on the same strategy, such as using learning logs orreflective journals in content area classes or applying fix-up strategies when reading informational and story texts. Reciprocal Think-Alouds In reciprocal think-alouds, students are paired with a partner. Student take turns thinking aloud as they read a difficult text, form a hypothesis in science, or compare opposing

points of view in social studies. While the first student is thinking aloud, the second student listens and records what the first student says. Then students change roles so that each partner has a chance to think aloud and to observe the process. Next, students reflect on the process together, sharing the things they tried and discussing what worked well for them and what didn't. As they write about their findings, they can start a mutual learning log that they can refer back to. Assessment After students are comfortable with the think-aloud process, use the strategy as an assessment tool. As students think out loud through a problem-solving process, such as reflecting on the steps used to solve a problem in math, write what they say. This allows you to observe which strategies students use. By analyzing the results, you can pinpoint the individual student's needs and provide appropriate instruction. Assign a task, such as solving a specific problem or reading a passage of text. Introduce the task to students by saying, "I want you to think aloud as you complete the task: say everything that is going on in your mind." As students complete the task, listen carefully and write down what students say. It may be helpful to use a tape recorder. If students forget to think aloud, ask open-ended questions: "What are you thinking now?" and "Why do you think that?" After the think-alouds, informally interview students to clarify any confusion that might have arisen during the think-aloud. For example, "When you were thinking aloud, you said . . . Can you explain what you meant?" Lastly, use a rubric as an aid to analyze each student's think-aloud, and use the results to shape instruction. For state-mandated tests, determine if students need to think aloud during the actual testing situation. When people are asked to solve difficult problems or to perform difficult tasks, inner speech goes external (Tinzmann et al. 1990). When faced with a problemsolving situation, some students need to think aloud. For these students, if the state testing protocol permits it, arrange for testing situations that allow students to use thinkalouds. This will give a more complete picture of what these students can do as independent learners.

Think Aloud Strategy How Can You Stretch Students' Thinking? Reflective journals and learning logs are a natural extension of thinking out loud. By jotting down what you say, you can model the journaling process as you model thinking out loud. As students start to keep journals or learning logs, review them on an ongoing basis to monitor the students' metacognition and use of essential strategies. When Can You Use It? Reading/English The process of thinking out loud can be used in K-12 classes during all phases of the reading process. Before reading you may think out loud to demonstrate accessing prior knowledge or to make predictions about the text. During reading, model reading comprehension using fix-up strategies or examining text structure to maintain meaning. After reading, model using the text to support an opinion, or analyze the text from the author's point of view. Writing Thinking out loud can be used to model all phases of the writing process. In pre-writing, model the strategies writers use to get the process started; during the drafting process, model creating "sloppy copies"; during revision, model how to ask questions and think about readers' needs; and during the editing process, model how to use conventions to help readers understand the message. As students engage in reciprocal think-alouds, they dialogue about their texts. This dialoguing helps students to internalize their sense of audience and fine-tune their craftsmanship as writers. Math When teaching a new math process or strategy, think aloud to model its use. Ask students to work with a partner to practice thinking aloud to describe how they use the new process or strategy. Listen to students as they think aloud to assess their understanding. Social Studies In classroom discussions of difficult social studies topics, such as capital punishment or affirmative action, ask that students not only give their opinions but explain their reasoning by thinking out loud. Model thinking out loud yourself as you read a difficult text or express your own opinion on a complex issue. Science

Think-alouds can be used to model the inquiry process in science. During instruction, have students continue the inquiry process using reciprocal think-alouds and then reflect upon the process in their journals or learning logs.

Think Aloud Protocol: Summary and Instructions

Think Aloud protocol is a method that allows researchers to understand, at least in part, the thought process of a subject as they use a product, device, or manual. The researcher observes while the user attempts to complete a defined task. Ideally, the observer only speaks to remind the user to please keep talking should they lapse into silence.

By thinking aloud while attempting to complete the task, users can explain their method of attempting to complete the task, and illuminate any difficulties they encounter in the process.

Think Aloud is usually done with one subject and one or two researchers. To have two observers is optimal, because one will often notice things that the other misses. More than two observers often makes a subject nervous, which impairs their ability to complete the task. Think Aloud should only be done with multiple subjects if the task itself would normally require multiple users.

For the best data, test subjects should resemble actual users as closely as

possible. Try to match your subjects to users on all dimensions, including age, experience with the system, and experience with similar systems. In addition, the Think Aloud should take place in an actual environment where a user would need to complete the task. When testing instructions for classroom audio-visual equipment, the test should be done in a classroom.

Prepare your task Read through the document you are testing to ensure that the steps are in a logical order, and that it is free of spelling and grammatical errors Make sure you have all necessary materials for the task Prepare your subject Describe the goal of the task, but not the steps required to complete it. Briefly explain the Think Aloud procedure to your subject. Do a practice Think Aloud task to familiarize your subject with the procedure.

number of windows in their house or apartment. Make sure they are explaining their process in sufficient detail as they attempt this. Tell the user that:

are your fault, not theirs hey become uncomfortable

answer them

determine this on their own Begin the task Verify that the subject has no remaining questions about the task or process. Ask the subject to begin the task. If necessary, prompt the user with please keep talking. Take extensive notes: everything the user says or does is relevant. Debrief your subject When the subject believes they have completed the task, thank the subject for participating. Ask the subject if they have any additional feedback. NOTE: this data is usually not valid. However, if patterns appear across users, you might infer significance. Thank the subject again. Prepare for the next subject Reset all equipment, materials, or other components for the task to their starting state. Reduce redundancy in your data by correcting any errors in your document identified in one Think Aloud before beginning another.

Thinking Aloud: The #1 Usability Tool by JAKOB NIELSEN on January 16, 2012 Topics:

User Testing Summary: Simple usability tests where users think out loud are cheap, robust, flexible, and easy to learn. Thinking aloud should be the first tool in your UX toolbox, even though it entails some risks and doesn't solve all problems. "Thinking aloud may be the single most valuable usability engineering method." I wrote this in my 1993 book,Usability Engineering, and I stand by this assessment today. The fact that the same method has remained #1 for 19 years is a good indication of the longevity of usability methods. Usability guidelines live for a long time; usability methods live even longer. Human behavior changes much more slowly than the technology we all find so fascinating, and the best approaches to studying this behavior hardly change at all. Defining Thinking Aloud Testing To define thinking aloud , I'll paraphrase what I said 19 years ago: Definition: In a thinking aloud test, you ask test participants to use the system while continuously thinking out loud that is, simply verbalizing their thoughts as they move through the user interface. ("Simply" ought to be in quotes, because it's not that simple for most people to keep up a running monologue. The test facilitator typically has to prompt users to keep them talking.) To run a basic thinking aloud usability study, you need to do only 3 things: 1. Recruit representative users. 2. Give them representative tasks to perform. 3. Shut up and let the users do the talking. Think-Aloud Benefits The method has a host of advantages. Most important, it serves as a window on the soul, letting you discover what users really think about your design. In particular, you hear their misconceptions, which usually turn into actionable redesign recommendations: when users misinterpret design elements, you need to change them. Even better, you usually learn why users guess wrong about some parts of the UI and why they find others easy to use. The thinking aloud method also offers the benefits of being:

Cheap. No special equipment is needed; you simply sit next to a user and take notes as he or she talks. It takes about a day to collect data from a handful of users, which is all that's needed for the most important insights. Robust. Most people are poor facilitators and don't run the study exactly according to the proper methodology. But, unless you blatantly bias users by putting words into their mouths, you'll still get reasonably good findings, even from a poorly run study. In contrast, quantitative (statistical) usability studies are ripe with methodology problems and the smallest mistake can doom a study and make the findings directly misleading. Quant studies are also much more expensive. Flexible. You can use the method at any stage in the development lifecycle, from early paper prototypes to fully implemented, running systems. Thinking aloud is particularly suited for Agile projects. You can use this method to evaluate any type of user interface with any form of technology (although it's a bit tricky to use thinking aloud with speech interfaces see report on How to Conduct Usability Evaluations for Accessibility for advice on testing with blind or low-vision users who rely on screen readers such as JAWS). Websites, software applications, intranets, consumer products, enterprise software, mobile design: doesn't matter thinking aloud addresses them all, because we rely on the users doing the thinking. Convincing. The most hard-boiled developers, arrogant designers, and tightfisted executives usually soften up when they get direct exposure to how customers think about their work. Getting the rest of your team (and management) to sit in on a few thinking-aloud sessions doesn't take a lot of their time and is the best way to motivate them to pay attention to usability. (For more on how to motivate teams to deliver superior user experiences, see the UX Basic Training course.) Easy to learn. We teach the basics in a day and provide thorough training in a 3day course. Of course, this doesn't cover all the twists and advanced modifications needed to hang out your shingle as a usability consultant, but the point is that you don't need these extras to run basic tests for your own design team.

Think-Aloud Downsides Being cheap and robust are huge upsides of qualitative methods such as thinking aloud. But the flip side is that the method doesn't lend itself to detailed statistics, unless you run a huge, expensive study. You can certainly do this I simply don't recommend it for the vast majority of projects. Better to conserve your budget and invest in more design iterations. Other problems:

Unnatural situation. Unless they're a bit weird, most people don't sit and talk to themselves all day. This makes it hard for test participants to keep up the required monologue. Luckily, users are typically quite willing to try their best, and they quickly become so engaged in the test tasks that they all but forget that they're in a study. Filtered statements (vs. brain dump). Users are supposed to say things as soon as they come to mind rather than reflect on their experience and provide an edited

commentary after the fact. However, most people want to appear smart, and thus there's a risk that they won't speak until they've thought through the situation in detail. Don't fall for this trap: it's essential to get the user's raw stream of thought. Typically, you have to prompt users to keep them talking. Biasing user behavior. Prompts and clarifying questions are usually necessary, but from an untrained facilitator, such interruptions can very easily change user behavior. In such cases, the resulting behavior doesn't represent real use, so you can't base design decisions on the outcome. At the very least, try to identify those cases where you've biased the user so you can discard that small part of the study. (It's worse when you don't know that you've done wrong then you risk giving the design team bad advice.) No panacea. That this one method isn't the only usability tool you'll ever need is not a true downside, as long as you are willing to use other methods from time to time. Thinking aloud serves many purposes, but not all purposes. Once you get a few years' experience with usability, you'll want to use a wider range of user research methods.

Don't let the downsides get you down. If you haven't tried it before, go run a quick thinking aloud study on your current design project right now. Because these simplified studies are so cheap, weekly user testing is completely feasible so if you make a few mistakes the first time, you can always correct them next week.