“Making Thinking Visible” in the 5th Grade ELA Classroom

Below are two lesson ideas using strategies from Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison (2011).

LESSON IDEA #1: Teaching making and adjusting inferences using “Zoom In”

  • An important reading strategy that my students develop throughout the year is making and adjusting inferences about a text. In order to better comprehend, good readers “read between the lines” to make judgments about characters, themes, and key ideas in a text (Robb, 2010).
  • The “Zoom In” strategy (Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison, 2011) invites students to make inferences and adjust them regularly as they are shown a different part of the picture.
  • Lesson idea: I think using Zoom In as a launch to a sequence of lessons about inferring would be really helpful for my students. Actually, there’s a really

    Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young; Image from penguinrandomhouse.com

    great picture book called Seven Blind Mice (Young, 1992) that I would use as a read-aloud introduction. In the book, these mice are inferring about this mysterious object (an elephant) and making predictions. Each time they see a new part of the object, they adjust their predictions. In the end, they realize it is an elephant.

  • After a brief discussion about the thinking that the mice were doing, I think I’d group students and have them participate in Zoom In as described in the text. I would maybe cut up images into 8-9 pieces and have students take turns pulling the cut up pieces out of a bag and inferring/predicting.
  • Finally, because application to a meaningful context is key, I would have students turn to their group’s common novel and record their inferences, predictions, and adjustments in writing.
  • An important equity note here is the way I ask students to respond. The very LAST way they respond is in writing. This lowers the barrier for many students who, for a variety of reasons, see writing as burdensome. First, they listen to the read aloud, then we process the text orally. Next, students think aloud as they infer, predict, and adjust while participating in a hands-on Zoom In activity. Finally, they do some inferring and predicting in writing, still with the support of their peers.
  • This thinking routine aligns perfectly with the critical reading strategy of inferring. I think the hands-on element I described above after the brief read aloud has potential to make the process of inferring visible.

Click here to see a different lesson from ReadWriteThink using Seven Blind Mice to teach the skill of analyzing multiple perspectives!

LESSON IDEA #2: Wondering about gender identity with The 4C’s

  • In the past, I have had students explore concepts of gender identity and the gender binary. There are many great titles in children’s literature on this topic-I especially endorse works by Lesléa Newman. Of course, with topics that question the status quo, I have found it to be critical to structure the lessons and activities in ways that emphasize non-judgmental questioning, wondering, and idea playing. I think the 4C’s model could be another valuable tool for me and my students in this work.
  • One valuable text I always use is William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow (1972). In this

    William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow; Image from wikipedia.com

    text, William would rather play with dolls than a basketball or trucks. William’s parents attempt to socialize him to perform as a stereotypical “boy,” but his grandmother allows him to play with dolls. Actually, one of the most powerful points for my students is when the grandmother points out that playing with dolls (and practicing caring for young) is important if William is to be a dad one day!

  • In a lesson…
    • I would read aloud William’s Doll and then ask students to create a 2 x 2 chart in their notebooks, labeled “connections,” “challenge,” “concepts,” and “changes” as defined by Ritchhart et al. (2011).
    • I would have students work individually first so that they could process their ideas — working individually first in this case honors the knowledges and beliefs all students bring to the text. I have found in the past that when I ask the group to process difficult topics in groups first, dominant voices tend to drown out the diversity of perspectives in the room.
    • Finally, the 4C’s chart could be a great tool to structure a productive conversation among peers and then group members as a response to the text.
  • As I mentioned above, using the 4C model, students can reflect individually on their own thoughts. In my mind, this structure promotes equity in terms of honoring students local knowledges that they bring to school.

For more ideas on wondering about gender identity and other social justice issues, explore the resources available from Teaching Tolerance at www.tolerance.org


Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making thinking visible: How to promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Robb, L. (2010). Teaching reading in middle school. New York: Scholastic.

Young, E. (1992). Seven blind mice. New York: Philomel Books.

Zolotow, C. (1972). William’s Doll. New York: Harper & Row.

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