Reading is a complex act, whether we are reading silently or aloud, and during a read aloud session, the children have a lot of thinking to do to as they listen to us reading the book aloud. Here are some of the kinds of thinking needed for reading, and all this thinking needs to be combined to have a fuller picture of the book.
- Children need to use their knowledge of the language of the book to understand the words.
- Knowledge of grammar is also important, as grammar makes it easier to understand how the words fit together.
- Knowledge of the world helps children understand the setting and actions in the story.
- Knowledge of people enables children to understand the characters in the story.
- Knowledge of different types of stories is also useful. For example, if people in a particular story can fly and chickens can speak the same language as humans, children need to know that the story is a fantasy, not a realistic book.
- Books often have morals, and children need to recognize these and reflect on them.
Yes, reading helps children do the complex thinking needed to succeed at school and elsewhere in our complicated world. The dialog we have with children while reading aloud with them teaches a variety of thinking skills.
One of my favorite ways to promote thinking skills while reading aloud is to ask, “What do you think will happen next?” Then, when children make a prediction, I always follow-up by asking “Why? What is your evidence for that prediction?” After all, in fiction books, anything can happen; it all depends on the authors’ choices. Thus, the quality of a prediction depends not on what happens next in the book; it depends on the quality of the evidence supporting that prediction. I like prediction not just for how it encourages thinking. Prediction also motivates children to pay careful attention to the book, so as to find out what happens next.
Jerome Bruner, a famous educational psychologist, defined complex thinking as “going beyond the information given.” Thus, if we are reading a book about a cat, and the book says that the cat is a black cat, it is not a thinking question to ask, “What color is the cat in the story.” The information in the book already told us that they cat is black. Instead, we might ask children if the cat reminds them of any people or other animals they know, or what they know about how to take care of a cat, or what they would like to know about cats.
A great kind of question are hypothetical questions. In the story about the black cat, examples of hypothetical questions could be, “What if the animal was a chicken instead of a cat?”, “What if the cat could fly?”, or “What if the cat liked to play badminton?” Hypothetical questions can be difficult to answer; so, it is good for adults to give examples of answers to such questions.
Elaboration promotes thinking skills. There are many ways to elaborate. For instance, giving examples pushes children to think more deeply. If children say that someone in a story is kind, I might ask them to give an example of what the person did that was kind. Making connections offers another way to elaborate. For instance, children could say that a person in the book we read who carries his children on her shoulders is similar to their father, who also carries children on his shoulders.
Opinions are another type of elaboration. Children can agree or disagree with what someone in the book did or said. Children can also elaborate by giving reactions. Were they surprised, happy, scared, etc. during a particular part in the book? Questions are excellent ways to encourage elaborations, and it is not only us who can ask questions. Children’s question can add a lot to the dialog in read aloud sessions. Questions can be about something the children did not understand, or children can ask about questions sparked by the book. For instance, while we are reading a book in which people speak on their smart phones, children might ask if smartphones can be used to speak to people on other planets or people who live in the future.
When children use their thinking skills, the read aloud sessions become more fun, as there is more creativity. Also, when children go beyond the information given, the story expands. Books already grow children’s worlds. When children use their thinking skills as they dialog with us, children’s worlds grown even more.
Summary: Reading already provides great exercise for children’s thinking skills. The ideas presented in this booklet have suggested ways to strengthen children’s thinking skills even further.