Learning Center


Teach Explicitly–I do, You Watch & Listen

December 2, 2019

The most important part of any lesson is the teacher’s explicit instruction. Teachers must reveal how to execute a new skill as plainly, clearly, and precisely as possible. Although this term explicit is often mentioned in professional development settings and PLCs, it’s imperative to know what makes a lesson explicit–or not.


When a new skill is introduced, teachers typically reveal samples, examples, or models. This provides students a vision of what a good (or correct) one looks and sounds like.

Although valuable, showing samples is not teaching. In fact, explaining an idea with 1-2 examples only exposes students to the skill in a couple limited and isolated instances. Consequently, students aren’t learning how to execute the skill universally, but rather what it looks like only in these unique situations.

Knowing this, many teachers incorporate a demonstration into their instruction. This typically includes standing in front of the class and showing students step by step what to do. This is considered the I do, you watch portion of a mini-lesson.

While both strategies of modeling–showing models (i.e., the noun form) and modeling examples (i.e., the verb) are important facets of instruction–neither component makes a lesson explicit.

Think Aloud: I do, you watch | I do, you listen


Best-practice instruction requires that teachers provide Think Alouds. More than just telling students what to do, this is when the teacher shares her expert thinking to reveal when, where, how, and why you do it. This personal journal of thoughts accompanies the teacher’s live demonstration of the skill. It’s the pre-planned, one-person monologue, where the expert captions every action being demonstrated. This added component reshapes this teacher-demonstrated portion to include I do, you watch and listen.

When teachers execute Think Alouds, students learn that the skill is not executed in a neat, simple, linear, step-by-step recipe. Rather, students see that reading and writing are complex processes that require problem-solving and decision-making.


To ensure efficient and effective Think Alouds, apply these tips:

1. Announce lessons will include an I do portion. This is the time where the teacher demonstrates, and students watch and listen. (For those eager to share, remind them not to help you, but assess if they are thinking what you are thinking.)

2. Do not make eye contact with the students. Instead look above them, beyond them, or through them. This reinforces that the I do is a one-person monologue.

3. Speak in first person. Rather than questioning What could you do? speak about what I could do. Use only I, me, and my statements during a Think Aloud. Download a set of I statements to guide the planning and delivering of Think Alouds.

4. Plan out every Think Aloud. Although teachers know how to execute various comprehension skills, most don’t know how they know how to do it. They just do it! Since the skill is so automatic, it requires teachers to slow down and carefully consider their thinking process before attempting to teach it to students. If the Think Aloud isn’t planned out ahead of time, it’s easy to overgeneralize the process and return to telling and cease truly teaching.

Think Aloud Cards

The Think Aloud portion of a lesson provides the explicit teaching students need. It showcases an expert’s thinking while students watch and listen.

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1 year ago

Great video! where can I get those cards?

Liz Shockey
Liz Shockey(@lshockey)
Reply to  Joanne
1 year ago

Joanne-Thank you for your kind words! And thank you for bringing to our attention that the Think Aloud cards didn’t include a link to The Literacy Store where you can purchase them. If you click on the image of the cards now, you’ll find that they’re linked and ready for you!

Joanne Walker
Joanne Walker
Reply to  Liz Shockey
1 year ago

Amazing. Thank you.

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