IDEAS: Visible thinking – Thinking routines part 1



Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 9.17.02 PM.png

Research has found that  teachers who are successful at promoting students’ thinking tend to develop, adapt, and make use of specific routines to scaffold and support students’ thinking (Ritchhard, R. (2002). Intellectual character: What it is, why it matters, and how to get it, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass).

Below are some of the thinking routines suggested by The Project Zero team and the Cultures of Thinking team. The routines are some suggestions of ways to make thinking visible in your classroom and for educators to be able to support students’ development of understanding.

These routines can operate in different ways in your classroom as they can be thought of as: tools, structures or patterns of behaviour.

If used as tools – as teachers we must first identify what kind of thinking we are trying to elicit from our students and then select the appropriate tool for the job.

If used as a structure – teachers need to think about how they will use student responses at each step of the sequential routine to set them up for good thinking in the next scaffolded step.

If used as a pattern of behaviour – once students have become a “way of doing things” then teachers and students can utilise the flexibility that comes with this knowledge of behaviour to greater serve their need.

The 3 categories used to organise the thinking routines reflect the inquiry steps that teachers often utilise during inquiries. For each routine there is a link to a youtube video showing the routine in action.


The first category of thinking routines is below, see part 2 and part 3 for the other categories, and the introduction.


Introducing and exploring

See-think-wonder – for describing, interpreting and wondering

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.35.24 PM.png

image from:

When looking at an image ask the questions: What do you see? What do you think is going on? What does it make you wonder?

Zoom in – for describing, inferring and interpreting

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.36.57 PM.png

For looking closely at a small bit of an image that is revealed, ask the questions: What do you see or notice? What is your hypothesis or interpretation of what this might be, based on what you are seeing?

Reveal more of the image and ask: What new things do you see? How does this change your hypothesis or interpretation? Has the new information answered any of your wonders or changed your previous ideas? What new things are you wondering about?

Repeat. Then when the whole image has been revealed ask: What lingering questions remain for you about this image?

Think-puzzle-explore – for activating prior knowledge, wondering and planning

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.38.28 PM.png

image from:

Thinking about the subject or topic that has been presented, ask: What do you think you know about this topic? What questions or puzzles do you have about this topic? How might you explore the puzzles we have around this topic? (Like a KWL chart).

Chalk talk – for activating prior knowledge, wondering and planning

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.43.40 PM.png

Looking at the topic or questions written on big pieces of paper, ask: What ideas come to mind when you consider this ideas, questions, or problem? What connections can you make to others’ responses? What questions arise as you think about the ideas and consider the responses and comments of others?

3-2-1 bridge – for uncovering prior knowledge and ideas, questioning

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.49.17 PM.png

image from:

Thinking about the key concept or topic, begin by identifying 3 words, 2 questions and 1 metaphor/simile. Later, identify 3 words, 2 questions and 1 metaphor/simile and bridge the difference: Identify how the new responses connect to or shifted from your initial response.

Compass points – for decision making and planning, uncovering personal reactions

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.55.02 PM.png

image from:

Considering the ideas, question or proposition before you: E = Excited – What excites you about this idea or proposition? W = Worries – What do you find worrisome about this idea or proposition? N = Needs – What else do you need to know of find out about this idea or proposition? S = Stance – What is your current stance or opinion no the idea or proposition? What should your next step be in your evaluation of this idea of proposition? What suggestions do you have at this point?

The explanation game – for observing details and building explanations

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.58.26 PM.png

Taking a close look at the object you are trying to understand: Name it – name a feature or aspect of the object that you notice. Explain it – What could it be? What role or function might it serve? Why might it be there? Give reasons – What makes you say that? Or why do you think it happened that way? Generate alternatives – What else could it be? And what makes you say that?





4 thoughts on “IDEAS: Visible thinking – Thinking routines part 1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s