Teachers and students use the talk-aloud and the think-aloud approaches, as well as activating
prior knowledge and undertaking formative assessment, to support metacognitive learning.
What is metacognition?
Metacognition is developing awareness of one’s own thinking and learning. The metacognitive
student knows and understands about learning. It is the process through which students
become aware of how they think and learn and the strategies they use to help them think
In the context of reading comprehension, metacognition involves students knowing the
strategies and skills used by skilled readers to make sense of the text they read, learning how
to apply these independently and as needed to support their own reading, and reflecting on
what they have learned in order to be able to self-monitor and further develop their own
Students are actively encouraged to talk about their thinking, understanding and learning,
both during reading and after reading. Talking aloud during reading enables the teacher to
monitor the students’ developing comprehension of text. Talking aloud after reading provides
an assessment of how effectively students have understood the main actions, ideas and
themes in the text.
A slightly higher metacognitive behaviour than the talk-aloud approach, the think-aloud
approach is where students explain their thinking as they read. They explain what they are
thinking, why they are thinking, the connections they are making between ideas and the
questions they may have. They clarify their own understanding as they share what they are
thinking with themselves, their peers and their teacher.
Activating prior knowledge
Activating prior knowledge is critical in helping a student to understand and remember the
content of what they read.
During reading comprehension instruction, teachers deliberately provide a prior knowledge
activity to find out what students know about a topic before they read about it, to engage
students in thinking about the content and structure of the text before reading, and to prepare
them for comprehending the key ideas in the text.
The prior knowledge students have will be drawn from a range of personal experiences,
including cultural experiences, social experiences and academic experiences, developed
through what they have read, seen, heard and been involved in. Activating students’ prior
knowledge provides a preparation for students to meet the challenges and ideas in the text
and also an opportunity for teachers to find out what information students already know
about a topic.
When students know very little about the content or topic, teachers can choose to adjust
instruction in one of the following ways:
- Discussing the title and the photographs in the text to develop knowledge of some of the
main ideas before reading
- Providing instruction on some of the key content-specific vocabulary before reading in order
to prepare the students to understand the content
- Reading the text aloud to the students before commencing the lesson so that students have
some idea of the gist and content of the text prior to instruction
- Taking the lesson over two or more reading sessions to spend greater time on developing
knowledge of the main ideas and content of the text
In this resource, suggestions for activating prior knowledge are linked to the content of each of
the texts. The prior knowledge activity should be used before the text is read.
Through formative assessment, students learn to know the goal of each lesson, and what
they need to know and do to be successful. They also learn to know if they are achieving the
learning goals of the lesson and if not, what is causing the difficulty. For more on Assessment
Research background for vocabulary instructions