Meta-Cognitive Reading

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons
Editor: Scott R. McDaniel

Time: 1 class period
20 minutes
Materials: Short clip from a movie of your choice that the students probably have not seen, TV/VCR, copies of a compelling news or magazine article on environmental health, post it notes (optional)


In this introductory lesson, students will take an in-depth look at what goes on in their minds while they read. The instructor will model and help students practice techniques that will help them uncover the mental processes behind reading.

Purpose – The goal of this lesson is help students get engaged in meta-cognitive reading.

Students will be able to:
1. Define the term “meta-cognitive” and explain its significance to reading strategy.
2. Speak aloud the thoughts that pass through their minds as they are reading.
3. Write down thoughts that come to their minds while reading.

National English Education Standard
Standard 3: Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

Teacher Background
The instructor should be familiar with various reading strategies used for improving reading comprehension. If you wish, you may use the handout “Reading Strategies” as a reference guide, which you may also copy and share with students. The term “meta-cognitive” as used in this lesson refers to “thinking about what you’re thinking”. This process encourages students to monitor what goes on mentally while they are reading in order to help them become more aware of their reading strengths and weaknesses. As students learn to monitor their mental processes, or “think about their thinking," you will show them how to articulate these processes verbally and in writing. This helps students to share their mental reading process with teachers and other students, who in turn may be able to help them overcome their reading roadblocks.

Related and Resource Websites



1. Before students enter the classroom, write the following journal prompt on the board:

“How often do you read outside of school? Do you enjoy reading? What kind of reading do you most enjoy? What goes on in your mind while you are reading? Describe this process and answer these questions in a journal entry of no less than 1 page.”

Give the class enough time to write a substantial amount, at least 1 page, which should take about 10-15 minutes.

2. As students are finishing writing, you might ask a few to share their responses.

3. Begin a short discussion about reading and review some of the reading strategies that students learned about last quarter. You may make a list of these strategies on the board if you wish.

4. Explain to the class that they are going to learn about another reading strategy called “meta-cognitive reading." Ask the class what they think “meta-cognitive” might mean. You may allow a student to consult a dictionary, which may not offer an immediate definition. Examine and define the words “meta” and “cognitive,” helping the class understand that “meta” means “beyond” or “behind,” and “cognitive” means “thinking.” If we put these two words together, “meta-cognition” means what goes on behind the scenes when you are thinking. A simple way to remember this definition is to simplify it into “thinking about thinking."

5. Ask the class why “thinking about your thinking” could help you be a better reader. Do you think while you read? What kinds of things happen in your mind while you read?

6. Demonstrate for the class two techniques which help them discover what they are thinking while they are reading. Explain that the problem with meta-cognition is that we can’t really see what goes on in the brain while we are reading. What we want to do is make these “invisible” processes become visible to ourselves and to others so we can identify our reading strengths and weaknesses.

7. The first demonstration the teacher will do is with the TV/VCR. Have a film clip ready to show the class, preferably from a film not immediately recognizable to teenagers. Instruct the class to watch the film clip and to listen carefully to you; you will watch the clip with no sound and say aloud the thoughts that come to your mind as you watch. This is one representation of meta-cognitive thinking.

8. Explain to the class that this same process can be done with a text. Proceed to read a section from an environmental health article you have chosen, and after reading aloud each sentence, articulate your thoughts on what you are reading and how you are reading. (Feel free to pause frequently in between phrases and sentences to insert your thoughts, such as emotional responses, reflections, or what you do when you come across an unfamiliar word).

9. Give students time to ask questions about the process, and then hand out copies of a high interest article you have selected. Place students in pairs and have them practice reading and thinking aloud.

10. After about 5 minutes, switch to thinking on paper and have students write down their thoughts on post-it notes, note paper, or in the margins of the article.

Students may still be a little confused about the process of meta-cognitive thinking at the end of the period. Some may feel it is silly or embarrassing. Encourage the class to keep an open mind and to try this technique as a way to make their invisible thoughts become visible. Explain that this will help them to identify more of their reading strengths and weaknesses, which will be an asset to them as they strive to become better readers.

None today.

Embedded Assessment
The assessment of this lesson will take place during the pair-work at the end of the hour. Float around the room to make sure that students are really trying to articulate their thoughts as they read. Ensure that they are not only relating feelings and general thoughts but also reflecting on the process of reading. You should hear statements such as “I think what I’ve just read is terrible! I don’t agree!” as well as “What does that word mean? How can I figure this out?”

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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