Making Thinking
Visible: Using
Thinking Routines
in the Classroom
Maria McCoy
Three Ways to Look at Thinking Routines
 Simple Tools, used in
one’s learning to support
specific thinking moves.
 Structures and scaffolds
through which we explore,
discuss, document, and
direct our thinking and
 Patterns of behavior that
we adopt to help us use
our minds well in new
Identifying Thinking
Recall a lesson or activity
you’ve seen that you feel really
engaged students in
developing understanding.
What kinds of thinking did you
observe the students engaging
in during that activity or
Identifying the Thinking We Value
• Generating ideas
• Reasoning with evidence
• Summarizing
• Posing questions
• Observing closely
• Building explanations
• Synthesizing information
• Predicting
• Evaluating
• Visualizing
• Analyzing
• Making connections
• Interpreting & forming
conjectures about things
• Identifying and exploring
multiple perspectives
• Looking below the
surface of things
• Looking for patterns
• Clarifying
...and so on.
What Kinds of Thinking Do We Value?
 What does this remind you of?
 Where else have you seen something like this?
 How does this connect to the topic you’ve been
 Where does this fit within the grand scheme of
 What is it like? What is it not like?
 If you were to group these things, what would
go together?
 What’s a metaphor that might fit this?
Routines Sampler
Zoom In
Chalk Talk
Circle of Viewpoints
Looking at an image or object:
• What do you see?
• What do you think is going on?
• What does it make you wonder?
• Set up
• See
• Think
• Wonder
• Share The Thinking
Look closely at the small bit of image that is revealed:
• 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
• 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 the Reveal and Questioning Until the Whole Image Has Been
• What lingering questions remain for you about this image?
• Set up
• Reveal
• Repeat
• Share The Thinking
Looking at the topic or question written
on the chart paper:
• What ideas come to mind when you
consider this idea, question, or
• 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?
• Set up
• Present the Chalk Talk Prompt
• Circulate
• Facilitate
• Share the thinking
Think of the big ideas and important
themes in what you have been
• Write a headline for this topic or
issue that summarizes and captures
a key aspect that you feel is
significant and important.
• Set up
• Write a headline
• Share the thinking
• Invite further sharing
Identify the different perspectives that could be
present in or affected by what you have just read,
seen, or heard. Record these in a circle with the issue
or event at the center. Choose one of these
perspectives to explore further, using the following
prompts as a starting place:
• I am thinking of [name the event/ issue] from the
point of view…
• I think….[describe the topic from your viewpoint.
Be an actor – take on the character of your
viewpoint]. Because…[explain your reason]
• A question/ concern I have from this viewpoint is …
• Set up
• Identify viewpoints
• Select a viewpoint to explore
• Respond to the “I think…” prompt
• Respond to the “A question I have
from this viewpoint...” prompt
• Share the thinking
10 Suggestions for Getting Started with
Thinking Routines
1. Have great expectations. Students surprise us daily with
their connections, ideas, and the multiple languages
they use to make their thinking visible.
2. Do the routines pretty much as is initially. It may feel
uncomfortable but wait to see what you learn from
using them before adapting them.
3. Match the routines with topics and projects that are
significant to students. The routines aren’t the content,
they are vehicles for exploring the content.
10 Suggestions for Getting Started with
Thinking Routines
4. Model the language for younger and less language able
students. Build up the language over time and by
modeling your own thinking.
5. Use the language of thinking as often as you can. Name
children’s actions like “you made a connection” or “I
find your point of view very interesting,” and so on.
6. Document students’ thinking. It send a clear message of
how much we value students, their thoughts, and work;
and it allows revisiting, reflecting on and re-enforcing
the topics later.
10 Suggestions for Getting Started with
Thinking Routines
7. Give yourself permission to be a learner and
experiment with the routines in a variety of ways.
8. Understand this is a process that takes time. Be patient,
consistent and a risk taker.
9. Focus on the thinking you want to promote and why it
is important. This will help you attend to students‘
thinking as it emerges.
10. Include parents in the process, they are your allies and
it is amazing how they become the first advocates for
the use of thinking language at home.
“At the core of Visible Thinking are
practices that help make thinking visible:
Thinking Routines loosely guide learners’
thought processes and encourage active
processing. They are short, easy-to-learn
mini-strategies that extend and deepen
students’ thinking and become part of the
fabric of everyday classroom life.”
• Project Zero
• Making Learning Visible
• Visible Thinking