Using the Think Aloud Strategy with ELL Students

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, you will learn about using the think aloud strategy with your English language learner (ELL) students. The lesson will cover benefits of the strategy as well as different methods for incorporating it into your classroom.

Engaged Readers

Before you start this lesson, pick up a book and spend a few minutes reading it. Now, what went through your mind as you read?

If you're like most people, you probably had some thoughts. Perhaps you had a question that needed clarification. Or maybe you made a connection to something you saw in a movie. This intuitive process helps with comprehension and makes reading more enjoyable.

At some point, you've most likely learned, either from a teacher or from personal experience, that engaging with a text helps you to better understand it. However, not all students are privy to that information. Many readers experience a text passively, not pausing to reflect or check for understanding. When they come across difficult concepts or unfamiliar vocabulary, they forge ahead, hoping the more they read, the more sense the text will make.

Difficult concepts and unfamiliar words can be especially challenging for ELL students who are already at a disadvantage because of their language barrier. The good news is that you can teach students how to engage with their reading by modeling your own think-aloud process in front of them.

Benefits of Thinking Aloud

Thinking aloud is a good strategy to use with ELL students because it shows them how to engage with a text. It models the process of thinking about what you read. It also exposes students to the language of metacognition, or awareness of one's thoughts. The more students learn to self-monitor their comprehension by thinking about what they're reading, the more their comprehension will increase. As an added bonus, not only will they better comprehend the content, but their English language proficiency will also get a boost.


A think-aloud can include any thoughts, questions, or ideas you have as you read a text. Some specific think-aloud techniques include asking questions, making connections, evaluating a text, and clarifying meaning.

Ask Questions

Asking questions while reading shows that you're engaged in a text and curious about it. It also helps establish a purpose for reading, as readers are likely to pursue answers to their questions.

The following are some examples of questions you might ask while modeling a think-aloud:

  • Why did the author end the chapter that way?
  • Is the character going to accept the invitation?
  • Which one of these characters is the protagonist?
  • What's going to happen next?
  • What is the author trying to tell us?

Make Connections

Making connections helps readers become more invested in what they're reading. Here are a few examples of connections you might share with students during a think-aloud:

  • This character reminds me of my best friend.
  • I read about this story in the news.
  • I have a similar relationship with my brother.
  • I've always wanted a dog like Max.
  • The same thing happened to me once.

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