University of Wisconsin–Madison

Field Notes: Thinking Out Loud

Thinking Out Loud during an Opening Question

One of our best practices is to start CARDS® meetings by asking an opening question. Some of our opening questions are just for fun while others get people thinking deeply about research, their own experiences, or the topic for the meeting. All of our opening questions give people an opportunity to share something positive about themselves.

At a recent meeting, we were helping a guest researcher pilot-test a cognitive interview process with the CARDS®. We wanted to give everyone a chance to practice the “think out loud” technique the researcher planned to use in her interviews.  We posed the following question and gave everyone a chance to think about their answer:

“Please visualize a home where you lived as a child. Think out loud about the home that you are seeing, and describe something specific about that home that is special to you, and why it’s special.”

We heard a remarkable range of stories. Many people shared memories that resonated with others, as well.

  • One member told us about her mother’s beautifully decorated front room, complete with a silvery white Christmas tree and the multi-colored bulbs her mother used to light the tree. Hanging on the wall was a photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Since the room was usually off-limits to children, the member liked spending time there, even to help clean the room. She described how it always seemed like Dr. King’s eyes were watching her when she was in that room, so she would flip the photo over before starting to clean.
  • Another member shared a lovely story about how she and her siblings would bring their mattresses and blankets out on the balcony at night in the summer. They would look up at the stars and savor the feeling of being the only kids outside late at night — until their mother found out and brought them all back indoors!
  • Someone else talked about his aunt’s precious collection of dolls and teddy bears. He and his cousin liked to sneak in and play with them when his aunt wasn’t looking. They would spend so much time trying to put them back just precisely how they had been, putting their arms at just the right poses… but their aunt usually found out, and they’d get in some kind of trouble.

Through this question, we learned something new about everyone in the room, even people who had been in the CARDS® for many years! Several CARDS commented at the end of the meeting that the opening question helped them “think out loud” more effectively during the meeting.