I abhor a silent classroom. I understand that silence has its place in language learning, but it doesn’t sit we’ll with me. Especially in a conversation classroom, silence means wasted opportunities for speaking English, listening to English, and interacting.
Lately, I’ve been using a think aloud method with my students during pair work practice. When students are doing any work that would be traditionally silent (for example, grammar practice or assessment à la fill in the blank, matching, or sentence writing) I ask them to work with a partner and think aloud. Essentially, this means they need to discuss why and how they are choosing their answers. By doing this think aloud procedure they are not only practicing speaking, but also reinforcing language points, self-monitoring, doing self- and peer-assessment, and doing peer teaching.
- Reinforcing language points: students are actively applying the points they have just learned. The cognitive work required to not only think about these points but verbalize them (in English or their L2) is more likely to move them from working memory to long-term memory.
- Self-monitoring their language usage – Thinking aloud, especially with a partner, requires students to pay more attention to their language choices. They must be more cognizant of what language they are using. They have to pay attention to why they are making certain choices, and explain why they may or may not be correct.
- Assessing themselves and their partner – This is similar to above. They must not only pay attention to what they say but must also check their work and their partners work to ensure accuracy.
- Peer teaching – By discussing why and how they are choosing their answers they are inadvertently re-explaining (re-teaching) language points to their partner. If there is a gap in their partner’s knowledge, they are filling it. Conversely, if they don’t know the correct answers or why they are wrong, their partner is there to help. If neither student knows, they have found a deficiency in their knowledge and can now attempt to fix it by checking their notes, textbook, or the teacher. In addition, this peer teaching extends beyond just learned language points. There may be other grammatical or lexical factors that are inhibiting comprehension, all of which are likely to be discussed during pair think alouds.
All of these reasons create a winning combination for learning. So, give pair think alouds a try!