Classroom Environment Lesson Structure Assessment Sample Comprehension Lessons

ModelingProbably every teacher has experienced times when what we taught didn’t match what students learned. Children have to interpret, through the filter of their own background knowledge, what we are explaining to them. Modeling is a tremendous help in synchronizing what children infer from our instruction with our intentions. By showing them our thinking, we provide them with many more ways to absorb information than explanations or directions provide. “In short, modeling minimizes the guesswork in learning how reading works.” (Duffy, et al., 1988).

In comprehension lessons, teachers model “the invisible mental processes which are at the core of reading.” (Duffy et al., 1988). Second grade teacher Apryl Whitman puts it this way: “The first thing is the students have to see me as a reader, that we’re in this process together, and I’m not just the teacher telling them how to read…So my modeling what is going on in my head helps them to see what they need to be doing, to pay attention to – oh, yes, I do the same thing in my head, just like Ms. Whitman does…Thinking aloud is very vital to show them an example of what good readers do.” (Teacher Commentary, Building and Using Schema Sample Lesson)

Creating effective think-alouds

Creating effective think-aloudsTo be successful in showing students how to use strategic thinking, our modeling needs to demonstrate how we arrive at our thinking, as well as the ideas themselves. Then children can apply the same type of reasoning to their own thinking. Notice the difference between the two examples below. The teacher in a first grade classroom has read aloud from Orangutans by Joanne Mattern (2010) that “Orangutans make a new nest every night,” and is thinking aloud her question about this information.

  1. “I have a question: Why does the orangutan make a new nest each night?”
  2. “A new nest every night! I like to sleep in the same bed every night! I wonder why the orangutan finds a different place to sleep each night.”

The first example may simply teach children to formulaically ask “why” after every fact they learn. The second example will help them to ask their own questions based on authentic curiosity and thinking about the text in relation to their background knowledge.

Creating strong think-alouds is challenging, and takes a lot of practice. It is crucial to read the whole text prior to the lesson, decide where the most useful places to think-aloud are, and plan what to say. A few tips for effective think-aloud are:

  • Show a genuine, authentic response to text.
  • Include the process of arriving at thinking as well as the thinking itself.
  • Use clear language and a conversational tone – not a lecture.
  • Do not quiz the students!
  • Pace the think-aloud so that it is quick and to the point but sufficient for students to see the strategy(ies) in action.
  • Select text points for think-alouds that contribute to making sense of what’s important in the text.
  • Leave tracks of thinking visibly (using Post-its, notes chart, etc.)

Modeling how to record our thinking
How to record our thinking

Our modeling in comprehension lessons also includes showing how we record our thinking through writing or drawing. We teach children to jot down their thinking (later in the lesson and when they use the strategy independently in their reading) for many reasons:

  • To help them formulate their thinking;
  • To help them remember their thinking;
  • To help them learn to use writing and drawing to express their thinking;
  • To help us assess their thinking by having a written record.

Sticky NoteAs we model recording our thinking, we show children how we capture the gist of it. Over time, this supports children in learning to paraphrase and summarize. We model drawing our thinking so that children who aren’t yet using letters to approximate words will draw their thinking too. We continue to model drawing even after children can write, because drawing often leads children to express ideas they wouldn’t have expressed in as meaningful ways through words, or through words alone. Because of this type of modeling, at right, a kindergarten child expresses his thinking that “leaves need sunlight” through a combination of writing and drawing.

Additional Tips for Modeling

  • We suggest not handing out clipboards or other writing materials until after modeling, so that children keep their focus on what the teacher is doing.
  • We usually insert opportunities for children to turn and talk after we have shown them our own thinking. This accommodates their attention spans, provides them with an active role during modeling, and helps us assess what they are learning from our modeling so we can clarify any misconceptions and decide when it’s time to move on to guided practice.


Duffy, G.G., Roehler, L.R., & Herman, B. (1988). Modeling mental processes helps poor readers become strategic readers. The Reading Teacher, 41, 762-767.

Mattern, J. (2010). Orangutans. Capstone Press.