Real Reading Begins with Metacognition

Metacognition, or thinking about one’s thinking, is the foundation for other reading comprehension strategies. Proficient readers continually monitor their own thoughts, controlling their experience with the text and enhancing their understanding. As Tanny McGregor explains in Comprehension Connections, “Text plus thinking equals real reading!” Teachers can help students develop this skill by modeling and providing concrete experiences to help students understand and apply the strategy to fiction or nonfiction text.


What does this type of thinking look like? A reader uses metacognition when she:

  • Previews the text and makes predictions
  • Makes connections to personal experience or other texts
  • Asks clarifying questions
  • Identifies difficult sentences or passages
  • Restates in her own words
  • Reacts to the text


While some students naturally think about their own thinking, taking the time to formally name and practice metacognition is important for all types of instruction. Mini-lessons and opportunities for practice allow students to develop confidence and purposefully apply this type of reflective thinking to their reading practice.

As with any comprehension strategy, it is important to name and model metacognitive thinking. Teachers should “think aloud” as they read aloud, demonstrating the interplay between the actual text and their own thoughts. Next, teachers should provide opportunities for guided practice, and finally, independent practice. This gradual release of responsibility ensures that students are confident and successful.

In Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading, Tanny McGregor devotes an entire chapter to metacognition, explaining that she doesn’t “know how to teach thinking strategies unless [she begins] with metacognition…. In making kids aware of how they think about their own thinking, [she opens] a channel through which purposeful conversation can flow.” McGregor provides a “launching sequence” for metacognition that includes concrete experiences, wordless picture books, a graphic organizer, and easy-to-obtain tools (in this case, free paint chips from your local home improvement store) to help students become metacognitive about their reading. She also includes “thinking stems,” or sentence starters that can prompt reflective thinking such as “I’m thinking…”; “I’m wondering…”; or “I’m noticing.”

When students are thoughtful, reflective readers, comprehension and motivation improve. By taking the time to name and explicitly teach metacognition, you are ensuring rich conversations around text throughout your school year!


Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading. Tanny McGregor, Stephanie Harvey. Heinemann.
This professional book provides creative, concrete experiences to help students master reading comprehension strategies.

Best Practices in Metacognitive Strategies
This site provides an overview of metacognitive strategies with respect to reading and includes steps for teaching, language prompts, and a sample lesson.

A House of Snow and Ice
Use this month’s Feature Story from Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears to practice metacognitive reading and thinking!

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright October 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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