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Everything becomes a little different as soon as it is spoken out loud.
Herman Hesse, 1877-1961
German author

Learning to learn series

Thinking aloud/private speech

When we learned as infants and children,
thinking aloud or saying what we are thinking was accepted as a way of demonstrating our knowledge, or of opening ourselves to "get it right."

We sounded out words, expressed ideas, formed sentences.
When corrected, we practiced until we imitated correctly, or conformed to the model of our family, neighborhood, school, etc.

Thinking aloud was essential to our early learning.
Thinking aloud is also called private speech.

As we grow older and mature, thinking aloud is internalized, and speech shifts to communicating with others.

"Nevertheless, the need to engage in private speech never disappears. Whenever we encounter unfamiliar or demanding activities in our lives, private speech resurfaces. It is a tool that helps us overcome obstacles and acquire new skills". 1

We tend to use only phrases and incomplete sentences in private speech. What is said reflects our thoughts, but only what is puzzling, new, or challenging. We omit what we already know or understand. So also private speech decreases as our performance or understanding improves.

Applications of private speech in learning include planning, monitoring progress, or guiding ourselves in working through challenging tasks and mastering new skills. It can help us manage situations and control our behavior by verbalizing our feelings, or venting to ourselves.

Private speech is a useful tool in learning. The more we engage our brain on multiple "levels," the more we are able to make connections and retain what we learn. We read, create images or diagrams, listen, use music or motion, talk with others (collaborative learning) and with ourselves. Some of us like to talk things through with someone or in a group, either to help us understand or to remember better. And some of us don't need another person around to talk with in this process! This can be a learning style, and a very effective one.

We use multiple senses and experiences to process and reinforce our learning, and the combination of these strategies is very individual.

Applications of private speech in learning include;

  • memorizing vocabulary by saying the words
  • appreciating poetry by "dramatizing" it
  • editing papers by reading the text aloud
  • talking through math problems to arrive at solutions
"Nevertheless, the need to engage in private speech never disappears. Whenever we encounter unfamiliar or demanding activities in our lives, private speech resurfaces. It is a tool that helps us overcome obstacles and acquire new skills".
Berk. L.E, "Why Children Talk to Themselves", Scientific American, November 1994, pp 78 - 83 as seen at http://www.abacon.com/berk/ica/research.html 10/23/00
"In a think-aloud activity, the teacher shares with students the thinking process..." U.S. Department of Education, 4. Modeling is an important form of classroom support for literacy learning. (http://www.ed.gov/pubs/StateArt/Read/idea4.html, October 30, 2000) State of the Art: Transforming Ideas for Teaching and Learning To Read, November 1993
"Adults who are not smooth readers also read out loud, but they have learned to muffle it for social purposes - they subvocalize, or just move their lips when they read, because they know that other people will think less of them if they read out loud. However, it is the easiest and most natural way to absorb concepts."
Wenger, Susan, Image-Streaming, http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/1179/ 10/25/00
"As stated in Child Development, “Research has confirmed that children, like adults, use private speech when they find tasks difficult or when they made errors, and that when they use task-relevant private speech, their performance on a variety of tasks improves” Agres, Jaime, Why do Children Talk to Themselves?, http://cla.calpoly.edu/~jbattenb/ling/ Student Research Papers, 10/25/00

Thinking and recall series

Concentrating | Radical thinking | Thinking aloud/private speech |
Thinking critically | Thinking critically | Thinking creatively |
Mapping explanation | Make your own map I | Make your own map II |
Thinking like a genius: Creative solutions | Famous thinkers | Blog