Saturday, October 9, 2010

Teaching Metacognition

I never realized how much I was talking about my lessons until my husband came home one day from doing business down in Cincinnati. He said, “If I didn’t know any better, I could have sworn I saw you driving down 77 today.” I gave him the stink eye, because I guessed that he was trying to set up one of his trademark punchlines. I played along. “Oh yeah? Why is that?” Brad looked at me and noncholantly replied, “Oh, because I saw a bumper sticker that said, ‘Metacognition is Cool’. You probably want that bumper sticker now. Don’t you?” This made me realize two things. For one thing, despite my general repulsion to bumper stickers, I actually might consider purchasing that one. Also, I definitely talk a lot about my job. Brace yourself. Here I go again…

I truly do love metacognition. I even love the way it rolls off of my lips! Metacognition is thinking about your own thinking. It’s that self-talk that we all engage in every day, especially as we read or problem solve. How can you teach an internal process to intermediate students? Well, the trick is to try to make it as visible and tangible as possible. I have borrowed ideas from Tanny McGregor’s Comprehension Connections to teach my students how to think metacognitively. After a discussion of the term, I begin by doing a think aloud. I have a student stand behind me with a large poster-board thought bubble that says, “I’m thinking metacognitively!” As I read, I hold the book up and show the pictures. Any time I have a question, prediction, connection, observation, or any other kind of thought, I put the book on my lap and talk about what is swirling through my brain at that moment. While I am reading, another student volunteer is tracking the process by placing either a “thinking” card or a “text” card in a pail labeled “The Real Reading Salad”. At the end of the activity, we pull out the red “text” and green “thinking” cards and discuss how much thinking was interwoven with the actual words in the book and how it enhanced our understanding or appreciation for the story itself. I generally like to model metacognition using Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman because it’s relatable.

During the next step of this lesson, I ask three more volunteers to come up. One holds the “I’m thinking metacognitively!” bubble while another student reads Shiela Rae the Brave by Kevin Henkes. As the student conducts a think aloud as they read, the third student is in charge of tracking their reading of the text and their thoughts by using the”text” and “thinking” cards for the “Real Reading Salad”. Afterward, we discuss how we all do thinking as we read, and we may not even realize that we do it. I ask the reader if he/she ever realized that they had that many thoughts as they read, and they almost always say no. It’s a big realization to them. I discuss how, this year, I am going to teach them how to think more deeply about what they are reading. I also mention that I want to peek into their brains and see the things that they already think about.

In order to have a glimpse of what their thinking processes as they read, I send them out to find a book to read. I tell them that they will use Post-It notes to write down any thoughts they have as they read. I tell them that ANY THOUGHT is acceptable. They stick the Post-It notes directly to their page as they read and have an “A-ha” moment. Afterwards, the students do a pair-share. Then, a few students share their thoughts with the class.

In future lessons, when I ask students to share their thinking, which is typically more structured and strategy specific, we use a thought bubble that the kids can place their heads into while they share their metacognition with the class. It’s a prop we use all year, and the kids love it. It definitely ups the engagement factor. Thank you Tanny!

Here's another idea for teaching metacognition. Gather paint samples that show a range of shades and use them as a thinking scale. Students can track their thinking as they read using the "Thinking about my thinking" strips. They can describe their level of comprehension in common language during conferences and partner reading as well. This is also especially helpful in the other content areas or as an introduction to rubrics.This is an idea I tweaked from Tanny's book... which again... is a must read!  This is only scratching the surface, folks! :)


  1. I love Tanny!!! I just got some gorgeous paint sample strips that can be cut so there isn't any print (names of the colors, I'm a total dork and love the clean look) and I'm just typing the metacognitive labels and laminating the strips on top, FUN! :)
    Your blog has consumed much of my time lately, since discovering it, and I wish you taught at my school, we are complete kindred spirits! Thanks for all you do!!! :)

  2. What do the cards say that are in the pink buckets? Do you write your thoughts on the card before placing it in the green bucket?

  3. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you'll be able to see what I'm talking about, but the cards in the "Text" bucket say "text", and the cards in the "Thinking" bucket say "thinking". They are different colors so that the kids can easily see them mixed together in the green bucket. As I read aloud, I think aloud, so I might comment about the text, and put in a text card. If I make an inference, make a prediction, or do anything that comes from my own thoughts, I put that card in. It helps kids see how we pay attention to the text and also how we add to it with our own schemas and opinions. Hope this helps. Let me know if you have more questions!

  4. Amanda,

    I saw your post on Pinterest over the summer and was super inspired! I finally created some thought bubbles for my class.

    Check them out :) (I gave your post credit of course :))

    ❤ Mor ❤
    A Teacher's Treasure

  5. I just found you through Pinterest and was so excited to find someone else obsessed with thinking Strategies! We became a thinking strategies school this year and we are have so much fun using the workshop method to teach metacognition, schema, and all the other fun and so very useful strategies! And I think to myself why wasn't I teaching like this five years ago! I was fortunate to go to the PEBC Thinking Strategies training which was AMAZING!! I loved every bit of it and bought ALL of their books! Anyways I'll stop talking your ear off, but I just had to tell you I am so excited to explore your blog and all your great ideas! I also have to share that at Parent-Teacher conferences I had a number of parents tell me that their child uses the word metacognition daily and they had NO idea what it meant until their first grader taught them what it meant! Made me smile ear to ear:)

  6. Yay, that's so awesome! :) Something to be proud of for sure! Thanks for stopping by!!!! It's nice to know I'm not the only one!

  7. My husband uses the word schema on a regular I had a connection to your post. :-)