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Reading and Critical Thinking: Stop and Think, Then Jot!

By Danielle Mahoney on September 14, 2010
  • Grades: 3–5


Your classroom library is organized and well stocked. You're ready to launch your first unit in reading. Making decisions on the appropriate strategies to include in your unit is essential for the success of your students. This may happen during grade meetings or curriculum planning. Why not add some, "Stop and Think, Then Jot!" strategies to your reading unit to boost the level of critical thinking and comprehension in your classroom?




Reading Isn't Just Turning the Pages!

Some readers may chuckle as they read a book independently. Others may say, "The character in this book is just like the character in the book I was reading yesterday."  Signs that these students are thinking critically as they read are beginning to emerge. Other students may take a book off of a shelf, flip through the pages, and have a difficult time simply retelling what they just read. We have to make our students aware that reading isn't just turning the pages! Readers need to be actively thinking as they read. Modeling strategies on how to monitor what you are reading by stopping and thinking is essential to building comprehension. 



How Might This Look in the Classroom?


StwHere are a few examples of thinking stems that you can model for each strategy. Many more can be found in an amazing teacher resource, Strategies That Work. Encourage your students to use the same language in their Reader's Notebooks as they do in their conversations with a partner.



Readers Can Stop and Think, Then Jot About . . . 

What they picture in their mind.


  • I can see . . .
  • I visualized . . .
  • The movie in my mind shows . . .
  • I could see, taste, feel, hear, smell . . .

What they wonder.


  • Why? How? Will? Is? Who?
  • I'm confused . . .
  • I don't get . . .

What they think.


  • I think ________ because _______.
  • I'm guessing that . . .
  • I predict  ________ because ________.

What they feel.


  • I feel _______ because _________.
  • I can't believe . . .
  • I felt _______when _________ because ________.

What they find interesting.


  • Wow! ____________
  • It's incredible that __________ because _________.
  • I was surprised when __________ because ___________.
  • I didn't know that ____________.






What they can connect to.


  • I understand how ______ felt because I __________.
  • __________ reminds me of ____________.
  • In my book ____________. In my life ____________.
  • Words in my text / My connection to another text
  • Words in my text/ My connections to a person, an event, or an issue

Get a feel for the needs and strengths of your students and make adjustments to the strategies and thinking stems as needed. Before you know it, a common language will be heard throughout your classroom that shows just how much your students comprehend as they read.

Where Do You Stop?

When reading a picture book, you may want to model how to stop and think at the end of a page or two. If you are using a chapter book to model a strategy, you'll want to model how to stop after a paragraph and at the end of each chapter. Giving out a Stop and Jot Bookmark with the reminder to "Stop and Think, Then Jot," can help push students to practice the strategy you taught that day. Cut the bookmark template down the middle, and they'll have one to practice with their reading at home as well.  If you have students who continue to breeze through books without stopping and thinking, pulling them out for small group work can give them the extra support they need. Hand them a post-it note and model how to plan on where to stop before they begin to read.  They can place the post-it on the bottom of the page or at the end of a paragraph and then read until they get to the post-it. This will be their cue to stop and think, then jot! Once kids get the hang of actually stopping to think about what they are reading, they will get into their own rhythm and stop when needed. 

Reinforce With Positive Feedback!

At the end of each reading lesson, make your rounds to be sure that you give your students some feedback on their work. You may write comments like, "Great connections!" or "You were really thinking!" in their notebooks to let them know that they are on the right track. If you see the need for extra support or a lack of stop and jots from a particular student, you might want to use comments like, "Reread this part and imagine what might be happening," or "Let's work together on making connections."  This feedback is important and something they will look forward to each day.

I hope that you will try out some of these strategies in your own classroom. Angela Bunyi posted some incredible thinking stems for grades 3–5 in a recent post that you'll want to check out as well.  There are so many ways to encourage your students to be critical thinkers as they read independently. Come back and share some thinking stems that have worked for you!




Comments (9)

Hey Jen!

Your students were REALLY focused during the read aloud! I'm so glad that I had the chance to work with them last week. I think they did an amazing job. You may see the results in my next post- so stay tuned!!

=) Danielle

Hi Dan,

As I was walking out of the room I saw you teaching my class how to set up their post-its. How did it go?? I think that they have the potential to grow immensely. They love read alouds!


Kelly, I'll be waiting to hear all about it!

Great idea, Danielle. Thanks! I will let you know how it works out.

Hi Monica, A comment like this makes it all worth it. I am loving the fact that your students found the JOY in their reading work through this strategy. You must have been smiling from ear to ear when you heard them say that NOW they like reading! Getting them invested in their reading (and to have some fun while they do it) is a huge accomplishment. Congratulations! You did it!

=) Danielle

Hey, Kelly! Your post-it nightmare had me laughing! I totally thought the same thing when I started using post-its with my second graders years ago. It’s obvious that you’ve found a great way to organize their notes. Having students refer back to their post-its during conferences not only helps them to be responsible for their work, but shows that you care about what they have to say! Without a doubt, this makes your students put some effort in keeping the post-its in their books, rather than on their partner’s back!

The mentor post-it is a perfect next step. We always assume that our modeling of the strategy is enough. However, having students hold up their work against their peers is really powerful.

If you’re working on connections, you will have a wide range of responses from your students. Creating a T-Chart with two categories, such as: “I Made a Connection” and “I Made a DEEP Connection With Evidence” can get kids started with pushing themselves to think more critically. A few students can read out their post-its at the end of the lesson and work together to place their post-its in the appropriate category. A jot like, “The character lives in a big city and I live in a big city,” would go under the first category. “When the character moved to a new apartment he felt terrible. I understand how he felt because I moved to a new school and I was so scared to make new friends,” belongs in the second category. This type of reflection on their thinking will encourage them to make deeper connections the next time around.

Enjoy the bookmarks! I hope they help!

=) Danielle

Danielle, you are simply fabulous...and famous. Lol. Today I taught my students how to create a picture in their mind as they read and I can't tell you how much of an impact this strategy had on their feelings and view of reading. After I modeled and had students practice stopping and making a picture in their heads based on what they had just read, two of my students said to me and the rest of the class, "Wow, now I really like reading. It's fun!" It was so amazing and rewarding to hear that coming from students who otherwise might not be as enthusiastic about reading. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with the rest of us.


Thanks for writing up tomorrow's minilesson for me! LOL I really did just sit down to write down some notes for tomorrow's reading lesson and was so excited when I opened up your page to see a new post. :)

Stopping and jotting has become a great tool to assess student thinking while reading. I am going to recreate your chart as this is a valuable tool for my students to use on a regular basis.

I cringed at the idea of stopping and jotting on post-it notes when I first began the Teacher's College workshop model. I envisioned post-its all over my room, on the kid’s shoes, and even placed on their reading partners' backs as jokes. However, in time I have learned how to manage all these stop and jots on post-its. I require students to put the page number on their post-it and keep all of the post-its inside their book until they finish reading it. This way when I pull a child for a conference, I can look back to see the level of thinking that they are doing while reading. It helps provide me with some insight on what my next steps are for that child. When they are finished their books, they are taped neatly into their notebooks so when I can collect their notebooks I can look back at their thinking across books. By doing this, I can see where their strengths and weaknesses are.

This year, I plan to start using my students' post-its as mentors for the entire class. If a child shows strengths in a certain skill or strategy that I taught, I figure why not highlight it for the entire class to see and use as a model.

In your experience, have you seen other ways teachers have used the stop and jots as valuable tools in their classroom?

Thanks for sharing! Love the bookmark!

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