Culturally Responsive Teaching and Think Alouds

Hi Everyone,

Last week, Susan Roberts (Teaching and Learning Community) and I did a live event on culturally responsive teaching (CRT) and learning. We based much of the event on the work of CRT expert Zaretta Hammond. She says, "“In a nutshell, CRT is about helping culturally and linguistically diverse students who have been marginalized in schools build their skill and capacity to do rigorous work. The focus isn't on motivation but on improving their brainpower and information processing skills. Ms. Hammond also says, "The best [CRT] strategy is to teach students to read well."

One overlooked but important reading strategy that can build students capacity to do rigorous work is the think aloud. In a think aloud, an instructor says out loud what they are thinking as they read.  A think aloud makes the invisible thought process visible by showing students how good readers get meaning from texts. As we plan think alouds, think about the questions students will ask and the challenges they may face when learning a new skill.  Be prepared to discuss what you are doing, how you are doing it, and why you are doing it. The goal is for a learner to replace their uncertainty as they learn a new skill with an instructor’s expertise.

For reading think alouds, go over the text and stop frequently to talk about how meaning is being made. Always explain what is noticed and how and why decisions are made.  To see a think aloud modeled for a reading passage, please visit here

How are you doing CRT in your classroom?

How have you used the think aloud technique in your teaching?


Thanks in advance for your comments,

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing CoP


Hi Steve and all, Zaretta Hammond's work on culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is so valuable since she aligns brain research with her culturally responsive instructional recommendations. I love the point Hammond makes that teaching reading well is the best CRT!

You identify one of the most valuable teaching techniques, i.e., think aloud. Thanks for linking us to the video demonstration. The video is helpful because I don't think it's that easy for us teachers to model thinking aloud. What is easy for teachers is explaining a text rather than actually making our own thinking visible. I think this is true because as good readers we easily understand what we are reading-- unless we are reading the tax code! When we explain everything, this can be like spoon-feeding which is likely to be counter-productive to engaging learners in thinking for themselves. 

I sometimes visit the Reading Rockets site to get ideas for teaching. Even though this site focuses on teaching reading to children, many of the strategies are relevant for teaching adults, too. Here's a link to the Reading Rockets page on think alouds. I like how they refer to thinking aloud as kind of like "eavesdropping on someone's thinking." There's a read aloud checklist on the site that teachers may find useful.

I'd love to hear other techniques for teaching reading that help us to ensure our instruction is culturally responsive. Thanks for engaging us in this great topic!

Take care, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

This was a helpful push for me to get back to my copy of Zaretta Hammond's book!

A think-aloud is a type of cognitive routine, right? Hammond says, "When students couple metacognitive or self-regulation strategies with structured cognitive routines, they are able to monitor and evaluate their comprehension" (pp. 131-132). 

How might we encourage adults learning English as an additional language to engage in metacognitive strategies? We could ask questions like these (Knowles, 2020, pp. 136-137): 

  • How did you complete the activity?
  • What was easy for you about the activity? Why?
  • What was difficult for you about the activity? Why?
  • What could help you do this activity better?
  • Could I do something differently to help you?
  • How does this activity help you learn English?

Not surprisingly, Dr. Knowles found that students could express much more about how they processed the text when not limited by an English-only classroom. Inviting use of the native language is, I think, a more affirming and validating experience than an English-only approach. If the teacher doesn't speak the learners' native language(s), the questions could be posed for pair/small group discussions in same-language groupings. 

What are some other ways to use think-alouds with learners in the early stages of developing their English?


Reference: Knowles, S. Y. (2020). Translingual practices in an adult ESL literacy class in the U.S. In P. Vinogradova & J. K. Shin (Eds.), Contemporary foundations for teaching English as an additional language: Pedagogical approaches and classroom applications (pp. 135-138). Routledge.