Visible Thinking Routines – Boost ideas, engagement, and organization.

Visible Thinking Routines

Long back, when I started my teaching career, I always used to suffer in making my class interactive for my students so that they feel interested and engaged. With time I realized that effective planning is the key to make any class interesting and engaging. I understood that in my lesson planning, I have to include opportunities to promote deep thinking among students. They should be able to share their thoughts, ideas, and understanding related to the topic of discussion. When I read Dr. Ritchhart’s “Making Thinking Visible”, I came to know about the concepts of ‘Visible Thinking’ and ‘Visible Thinking Routine’. I find these routines are very helpful in developing deep thinking, engagement, and metacognition skills in the student. As I have already shared my understanding of ‘Visible Thinking’ in one of my earlier posts, here I am going to share my learning and thoughts about the ‘Visible Thinking Routines’.

What are Visible Thinking Routines?

To put it in a simple way, thinking routines are the strategies that teachers can repeatedly incorporate in their lesson planning to promote critical thinking in the classroom. These routines can be used across a variety of subject areas and grade levels to promote a deeper understanding of content and support student’s ongoing learning. They are simple to implement in the classroom and have a great impact on making the teaching-learning process more effective. Through a variety of graphic organizers, teachers guide students to structure their thoughts and make them visible to others. I feel one of the benefits for teachers in using visible thinking routines is being able to see learning through the eyes of students.

There is a wide range of Thinking routines with different objectives. Amongst all some of my favorites are:

3-2-1 Bridge

This thinking routine is mainly used to introduce and explore new concepts. This routine shows how much students already know about the current concept and their transition from prior knowledge to new understandings that have been built throughout the unit. Here bridge is the metaphor. The way a bridge connects two sides of land, this routine also connects student’s prior knowledge with their new understanding.  The first part of the 3-2-1 bridge routine is activating prior knowledge before a learning experience begins. Here, first students must write 3 words to share their prior knowledge related to the topic, 2 questions they have about the topic, and finally, one metaphor or simile to test how they are understanding and framing the topic. This routine works well when the topic is one where all learners have some prior knowledge. With concepts like planets, habitats, maps, fairy tales, this routine works really well. This routine challenges learners ’ thinking and helps to broaden and deepen their understanding.

See, think, wonder

This is one of the most widely used thinking routines I believe. The purpose of this routine is to emphasize the importance of observation. I have seen art teachers using this routine with grade 1 students to spark their interest and thinking. She showed one artwork to them and asked them to share what they can see, their thoughts, and wondering questions related to the image.

Chalk Talk

© rcsthinkfromthemiddle – Students used a Chalk Talk while applying the 6 traits of writing to a personal narrative.

I believe all the teachers always want to ensure that everybody in the class is actively participating in the group discussion. Chalk Talk was developed to achieve this objective in the classroom. It is actually a conversation conducted silently on the paper. Normally the prompt/s for the Chalk Talk is a single word or a phrase related to the topic of study. Students can share their thinking, reactions, questions, and their prior knowledge about the given word nor phrase. It is a routine for open-ended discussion on paper that ensures all voices are heard. Here everybody’s thinking becomes visible and students learn to consider other’s points of view.

Think, Puzzle, Explore

The purpose of this thinking routine is to invite students to connect to their prior knowledge, to be curious, and to plan for an independent or group exploration. If this thinking routine is done at the beginning of any unit, in the ‘think’ section students will share their prior knowledge on a given topic. Then they will push their thinking further and share in the ‘puzzle’ section, what puzzling or wondering questions still they have on that topic. In the ‘explore’ column, they will share some exploration strategies to solve those puzzles. This routine can be used to introduce a wide range of topics; be it shape, time, measurement, living things, light, and its properties, sound and its properties, matter, etc.

Think, Pair, Share

This is a very simple routine that can be used almost daily in a classroom setting. This routine ignites students’ deep thinking about questions, respect for others’ opinions, and the benefits of considering a variety of responses. This is a collaborative activity where students have to work with a partner. While doing think, pair, share; students are allowed to think about a topic/question before sharing their thought with a partner. Once the pair is done discussing their ideas with each other, they are given the chance to share their thoughts with the whole class. Social teachers have used this routine with grade 2 students when they were learning about the Past and Present Family Life. They were shown some old family pictures as a provocation and were asked to think about how families have changed over time. They were also asked about the advantages/disadvantages of living in a big family.

I used to Think…Now I Think

This is a very useful thinking routine to help students reflect on their perspectives about a topic or issue and explore how and why that perception has changed. I have recently used this routine with grade 2 students when we were doing our Project-based learning on The Great Wall of China. Before exploring the topic in details, most of the students used to think that The Great Wall of China is visible from space, it is filled with the dead bodies of the workers, it is impenetrable and could keep the invaders away, it is one long continuous wall, it is made up of earth and stone, etc. But different learning engagements helped them to explore The Great Wall of China in detail which in turn changed their initial thought, opinions, and beliefs related to this World Heritage Site. When the whole process was over, in the exit slip they shared their current understanding explaining how their thinking grew, shifted, and changed over time. This visible thinking routine is very helpful to develop students’ metacognitive and reasoning skills and recognize the cause-and-effect relationship.

Mind Map

This visible thinking routine can be used to organize information systematically. This is a very helpful practice to unpack the central concepts into smaller categories. Once the organization of the ideas related to the central concept is done, it looks almost like a map of students’ thinking. Through the mind map, students can share their thoughts, ideas, and understanding about a given topic.

Concept Map

A concept map is used to organize students’  thoughts and ideas related to a topic but it also shows how different ideas are connected. Students connect their ideas with arrows to show the association between them.

Though Visible Thinking Routines have become an essential part of my lesson plans, many a time the execution of the routine was not as per my expectations. Still, I keep on using them with my students to encourage them to be more interested and committed to their learning. And I always feel practice makes us better.

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