Introduce Reading Voice and Thinking Voice

In many respects, reading is harder to teach than writing, mainly because it’s invisible. Writing has a product. After a student writes, the teacher has something to look at, point out, and talk about with the student.

Because reading does not include any visible product, and students drop their heads and look at the text, there is no way to know what’s going on inside their heads until they look up and share their thinking. Consequently, teachers must work diligently to make the reading process and their reading instruction concrete and visible.

Make reading visible

An effective way to make reading visible is to use a graphic icon to explain that readers listen to multiple “voices.” These include the Reading Voice and the Thinking Voice.

Smekens Education Reading Voice & Thinking VoiceSmekens Education Reading Voice & Thinking Voice
Smekens Education Reading Voice & Thinking Voice headphones

Explain that the Reading Voice takes in each word on the page, looks at the pictures, and reads anything printed in the text.

If a student only utilizes the Reading Voice and simply reads the words on the page, he will NOT understand what was just read. That’s because, in order to make meaning, a reader has to use his Thinking Voice.

You read a little (Reading Voice), and you have a thought (Thinking Voice). You read a little more, and you have another thought.

  • Readers think in connections: Hey, that happened to me before or That’s like the last chapter when–
  • Readers think in questions: How come–? Why did–? Where is–?
  • Readers think in visualizations: Now there’s no pictures, but I totally can see this happening in my mind.
  • Readers think in retellings/summarizations. So to recap,–happened, then–, then–.
  • Sometimes readers think about the main ideas. This part was all about–.
  • Sometimes readers synthesize. When I really think about this, I’m realizing–.

It’s the combination of the Reading Voice and Thinking Voice that creates reader comprehension. It’s the invisible conversation in the reader’s mind.

Model a reader’s voices

After introducing the graphic icon that represents the “voices,” plan to model it with a Think Aloud so that students can see and hear the teacher’s voices in action. Using a short text/excerpt, explain that when your finger moves under each word and you read it aloud, this will represent your Reading Voice. And, whenever your finger pauses, you physically lean to the side and whisper aloud, that represents the thoughts of your Thinking Voice.

Below is a sample of such a Think Aloud:

READING VOICE: [Point at each word while reading the text aloud.]
Thinking Voice: [Pen pauses on word as you lean to the side to whisper.] Okay, so that reminds me of the last chapter when he got in trouble for doing that. I’m predicting that he’s going to get in trouble again.
READING VOICE: [Continues.]
Thinking Voice: I was right; he did get in trouble again.
READING VOICE: [Continues.]
Thinking Voice: Okay, I don’t know that word, so I will back up just a little bit to see if I can use context clues to figure that out.
READING VOICE: [Continues.]
Thinking Voice: Okay, I’m thinking that word means–.
READING VOICE: [Continues.]
Thinking Voice: Now there are no pictures on this page, but I see the steam coming out of the mom’s ears. I see stomping. I hear the stomping of her foot. I’m totally visualizing this.

Clarify that readers are thinkers

After the Think Aloud, anticipate student’s expressions. Many will be shocked at how many thoughts you had within that short passage. Some students may even question if they have such a Thinking Voice. Assure them that they do, although it may be on mute! They need to turn up the volume and tune into it to hear it.

Reiterate that the Thinking Voice is a whisper. Caution students against speeding through the text simply word calling with their Reading Voices. When readers pause to listen to their Thinking Voices, they will achieve greater comprehension of the texts they read. To encourage students to listen for the whispers of their own Thinking Voices, provide them their own mini-signs or Thinking Tubes.

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