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English Language Arts Blog

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

January 20, 2016 CL Teaching Strategies Pro Reads, ELA PD - Literacy, ELA PD - Thinking Routines, ELA K-5, ELA Focus - Reading, ELA Resources - Graphic Organizers, Core Literacy

Using Visible Thinking Strategies in the Classroom; A Professional Development Series

Here is a post for all you teachers AND principals out there. Last June, you might have read a post where I shared a few books that I thought would make good summer reading material. The professional book I suggested was: Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding and Independence for All Learners by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison.

visible thinking strategies Here is a brief synopsis of the book: 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 a deeper understanding of the topic or subject should increase.

We used Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding and Independence for All Learners by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison as a book study at my school last year. I enjoyed the book because I have always considered that my job as a literacy specialist is to teach students strategies that will allow them to better comprehend literature. One way I do that is by making my thinking visible. I try to explain to my students exactly what I do (my thought process) as I work through a text. Making Thinking Visible has been a valuable resource because the book models "thinking routines." These are thinking activities to use with students in order to increase their understanding of a topic by analyzing their thinking.

How Teachers Can Use Visible Thinking Strategies

If you are a teacher, these “thinking routines” are an excellent way to 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 “thinking routine” from Making Thinking Visible and how I have used it with my classes. This month I am sharing: See–Think–Wonder.

How Principals Can Use Visible Thinking Strategies

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: See–Think–Wonder Graphic Organizer

The first "thinking routine" you can introduce to students is See–Think–Wonder. To start, have your students look at an image or object. Then have your students ask themselves:

  • What do you see?

  • What do you think is going on?

  • What does it make you wonder?

“Seeing” helps students look more carefully at an image or object before “thinking,” or making an inference about it. “Wondering” allows them to focus their learning. It encourages them to ask, “What do I want to learn or understand better?”



I like to do this “thinking routine” with my students before starting a unit and then to revisit that thinking again at the end of the unit. We then discuss how their thinking has deepened or changed upon completion of the unit. Download the graphic organizer for the See–Think–Wonder Thinking Routine. Try this visible thinking strategy with your students at the start of your next unit or lesson.