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English Language Arts Blog

The home of Vocab Gal and other educational experts K–12 resources

January 25, 2017 CL Teaching Strategies Charts & Org, ELA PD - Literacy, ELA PD - Thinking Routines, ELA K-5, ELA Focus - Reading, ELA Resources - Graphic Organizers, Core Literacy

How to Use the CSI– Color, Symbol, Image Thinking Routine

This article outlines how educators can use the CSI– Color, Symbol, Image Thinking Routine to engage students in visible thinking and includes an awesome printable graphic organizer!

Download the CSI– Color, Symbol, Image Graphic Organizer now! 

This article outlines how educators can use the CSI– Color, Symbol, Image Thinking Routine to engage students in visible thinking and includes a printable graphic organizer!

The book Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding and Independence for All Learners, by Ron Ritchard, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison, features strategies to develop students’ thinking dispositions and to shift the classroom culture toward a community of enthusiastic and engaged thinkers and learners.

Here is a brief synopsis of the text: Beginning at Harvard's Project Zero, Visible Thinking is a research-based approach to teaching students' thinking skills. Visible Thinking is about teaching students thinking "routines" to improve thinking and comprehension abilities. By making thinking visible students can discuss and reflect on their own thinking, as well as, the thinking of their peers. Through reflective thinking and discourse, deeper understanding of the topic or subject should increase.

To learn more about how I got started using Making Thinking Visible, read the first article in this professional development series.

How Teachers Can Use Visible Thinking Routines

If you are a teacher, each individual visible thinking routine will help your students deepen their comprehension. The book divides the “thinking routines” into three categories:

1. Routines for Introducing and Exploring Ideas

2. Routines for Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas

3. Routines for Digging Deeper into Ideas

There are 21 “thinking routines” suggested in the book, with seven in each of the three categories. Every month I will highlight a visible thinking routine from Making Thinking Visible and how I have used it with my classes.

How Principals Can Use Visible Thinking Routines

If you are a principal, this text would be a great choice for a school-wide professional book study and/or a staff development project. Not only would you provide your staff with an invaluable resource, you will most likely increase the level of thinking within the student body. Here's how it will benefit you personally:

  • As you do school walk-throughs or observations, Making Thinking Visible will give you something to target as you enter classrooms.

  • By focusing on the “thinking routines” you should find that your teachers observations are easier, because the staff will know what is expected of them.

  • It will also help you provide feedback to your staff as you focus specifically on the “thinking routines.”

Thinking Routine of the Month: CSI– Color, Symbol, Image

The purpose of CSI is to have students express understanding in a nonverbal way. CSI requires students to think about a concept metaphorically, however, understanding metaphors is not required for this “thinking routine.” The goal of CSI is to have students show understanding and deep thinking in a creative way.

CSI is my favorite and most frequently used “thinking routine.” As a literacy specialist, I regularly analyze characters with my students. CSI is a fun way to encourage students to think more deeply about a character by selecting the color, symbol, and image that best represents the character. This “thinking routine” makes for a great assessment, discussion starter, and bulletin board.

Introducing the CSI– Color, Symbol, Image Thinking Routine to Students

Have students think of the themes or critical concepts in something they have just studied.

Instruct them to:

  • Select a color that best represents the essence of that concept.

  • Construct a symbol that best represents the essence of that concept.

  • Draw an image that best represents the essence of that concept.

It is important to encourage students to really think outside of the box when doing CSI. For example, after reading the popular Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare many students (when thinking about the tortoise) are inclined to pick the color green, which serves both as the symbol of a tortoise shell and as the image of a finish-line. This is a very literal interpretation of the tortoise. A better CSI for the tortoise would be the color red, which symbolizes determination, a symbol of a heart for believing in oneself, and an image of a mountain to represent perseverance.

CSI– Color, Symbol, Image Organizer

Available for download is the CSI– Color, Symbol, Image Organizer. This template is available for you two ways. One version has the students record only the color, symbol, and image for a specific character. The second requires students to explain the color, symbol, and image they selected to represent the character.

This article outlines how educators can use the CSI– Color, Symbol, Image Thinking Routine to engage students in visible thinking and includes a printable graphic organizer! Download a CSI- Color, Symbol, Image Graphic Organizer

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