(Crossposted to the Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary Professional Development website.)  

Thinking is intricately connected to content; and for every type or act of thinking, we can discern levels or performance.

Making Thinking Visible: Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison

A lot of the new curriculum is about engaging deeply with content. The learning outcomes have been reduced, and the Ministry has introduced “Big Ideas” that are central to the discipline. This means that we need to move our students out of the habit of reading/viewing and regurgitating knowledge and into the habit of constructing and creating understanding.

In Making Thinking Visible, Ritchhart and some of his colleagues identify the following list of “high-leverage thinking moves that serve understanding well”:

  • Observing closely and describing what’s there
  • Building explanations and interpretations
  • Reasoning with evidence
  • Making connections
  • Considering different viewpoints and perspectives
  • Capturing the heart and forming conclusions
  • Wondering and asking questions
  • Unconvering complexity and going below the surface of things

The bulk of the book provides routines that teachers can include in their classroom to promote a culture of thinking. This are useful and easily implemented routines that can be used with a variety of different disciplines and topics. I’ve included some of the ones I’ve found most useful behind the cut.

Routines for Introducing and Exploring Ideas

See, Think, Wonder p. 55
Looking at an image or object:
• What do you see?
• What do you think is going on?
• What does it make you wonder?

I use a version of this with the visual literacy assignments from the New York Times that I do each week. It encourages students to start paying close attention to detail and use evidence to draw conclusions.

Think-Puzzle-Explore p. 71 (could also be interesting and revealing at the end of a topic)
Consider the subject or topic just presented.
• 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?

This – particularly the first question – helps my students start to consider potential inquiry questions. I also use the first question – What do you think you know about this topic? – on its own on occasion, when we’re beginning a unit. By framing it this way (instead of “What do you know?”), it takes some of the pressure off for students, because they don’t have to worry about whether they’re right or not. It’s also an interesting question to ask when examining issues around stereotypes and similar topics.

Routines for Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas

The Micro Lab Protocol p. 147
Reflect individually on the issue or topic being examined, then working in triads:
• Share: The first person in the group shares for a set time (usually 1-2 minutes). The other members listen attentively without comment or interruption.
• Pause for 20-30 seconds of silence to take in what was said.
• Repeat for persons two and three, pausing for a moment of silence after each round.

The thing I really love about this particular thinking routine is that it also helps students become better communicators. It teaches them that we need to actually listen to what others have to say before framing a response. Sometimes I will give students time to make notes on what was said in between speakers, sometimes not.

Routines for Digging Deeper into Ideas

What Makes You Say That? p. 165
In follow up to a statement, assertion or opinion expressed by someone, ask the question above.

This is an almost constant question in my class, to the extent that sometimes I catch the students repeating it to each other. It’s non-judgmental and inquisitive, and it can prompt conversation. It’s also sometimes very difficult for students to answer, because they don’t always understand their own thinking – which is why it is also one of the most important routines in my classroom. It’s important, though, to use it both when students have a correct answer and when they are showing some sort of misconception – otherwise they realize immediately when you say it that they’re “wrong.”


In the end, we’re all trying to stimulate students’ thinking and help them construct their understanding of the concepts we teach. For me, this was an excellent resource (including both theoretical underpinnings and practical strategies) to help me improve how I do that in my class.