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Unlock the Power of Verbal Processing

I have been sharing a lot lately about the game-changing practice of Commentary Driving. What started as a useful technique for coaching teen drivers with ADHD or Autism has become an everyday tool in my team’s toolbox.

We have been continually impressed at what our students are grasping and retaining when they verbally process their time in the driver’s seat. The tried and true method of questions and answers is still very beneficial. But day after day, we’re noticing that our students are making more meaningful connections to the training when they express their own thoughts and experience throughout the lesson.

Speech as a Means of Thought Production

We’ve all been taught and reminded our whole lives to “think before we speak.” While this is good advice for maintaining polite conversation, it’s not always the right approach. As I research this topic - and observe my students - I’m finding that speaking actually helps us think. 

The author of this 2020 article in Psyche digital magazine claims that speaking her thoughts out loud has greatly improved her thinking skills. The article cites the work of speakers and writers from history who expounded on this topic. One German writer shared that the act of speaking is actually what turns thoughts into complete ideas.

When you consider your own internal thoughts, how often do you really focus on your words or remembering your ideas from start to finish? Usually, internal self-talk can meander quite a bit, and you may not always even be thinking in actual language. But if you speak out loud, that’s a whole different story, isn’t it?

Consider a toddler or preschooler at play. They narrate a lot of what they’re doing, sometimes talking, sometimes making up a song, sometimes incorporating it into their pretend play. We all know that at that age, playing is learning. As it turns out, talking is crucial to the learning aspect of play.

To speak out loud, or to verbally process our internal ideas, is to advance through the cognitive process. Children don’t stop narrating their world because it stops being useful. They do it because it stops being socially acceptable. So we adapt and manage our self-talk silently in our own minds where it may or may not move through the brain into long-term memory.

Use Language to Remember Thoughts

Teenagers have an extremely active thought life. Between hormones, family, the social labyrinth, cognitive development, school, and a looming future, their minds are operating on overload. And the truth is, they really don’t get a lot of chances to really talk through all of those thoughts. There isn’t enough time for them to verbally process all of their stuff, and they are also insecure about how others might react. So they think, and overthink, and keep a lot of it inside.

I can see those thought wheels turning in a driving lesson. Our teen drivers are saying a ton up in their heads, but unless we directly ask, none of it will come out of their mouths. Getting students to verbally process what they see, what they need to be paying attention to, what skills they are applying, etc., is just one way to offload some of that thought burden. 

The real proof is at the end of the driving lesson, when the car is in park and we take a few minutes to debrief. Teens who spent their lesson practicing commentary driving are consistently able to reiterate what they learned and recall details from the road. They seem to hold onto it really well by the next lesson as well!

Sharing Our Thoughts Out Loud is Empowering

There’s one more element to commentary driving that I think is worth mentioning. When my coaches and I engage in this style of lesson, the students seem to find it much easier to ask questions and talk to us in general.

Asking someone to express their thoughts out loud sends the message that their voice matters to you. It’s empowering! Once our teen drivers know that someone is listening in a supportive manner, they have more confidence to share what’s on their mind. They are less afraid to be wrong because the correction is always constructive rather than condescending. Now, I can’t pretend that these conversations are just as easy to have in the parent/teen dynamic, but I think there is probably a lot of value in giving it a try. Start with driving lessons, or some other task-based teaching topic, and see what you can grow from there.

Speaking of improved parent/teen communication, could you use some help in that department when it comes to coaching your teen driver? Our Parent’s Survival Guide for New Teen Drivers is an excellent tool for helping you communicate clearly and effectively through each driving lesson. Or consider taking it to the next level with Safe Driving Lessons with one of our professional coaches. We have multiple program options to support your teen in becoming an experienced safe driver.


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