Head Spinning

Thinking about thinking can really make your head spin. Thinking about other people’s thinking can be even more daunting. This daunting task is something that teachers must do on a daily basis in order to know how their students are processing the information.

So how can you make thinking visible for your students? After reading Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart, I picked three strategies that I felt were really interesting and useful at different points in a learning cycle to share.


Introducing a topic

For introducing a topic, I really like the Think-Puzzle-Explore thinking routine.

What is the Think-Puzzle-Explore Routine?

  • Think
    • Students are asked what they think they know about a certain topic
  • Puzzle
    • Students are asked to record what questions, or puzzles, they have about the topic
  • Explore
    • Students are asked how they can explore the puzzles and learn more.

How is it used in a science classroom?

Topic: Earthquakes

  • Pass out student TPE sheets
  • Write THINK, PUZZLE and EXPLORE on the board on large sheets of paper
  • Ask students to fill out what they THINK THEY KNOW about earthquakes. Tell them there is no wrong response.
    • They are all going to fill out their own sheet, but they can discuss with the teammates
    • Once they are done with the think portion, hand out sticky notes and have each student write at least one thing they think they know and post it up front
  • Once they are done posting their notes, ask them to fill in what puzzles they have about the question.
    • They are all going to fill out their own sheet, but they can discuss with the teammates
    • Give them additional prompts such as what are you interested in about earthquakes, what confuses you about earthquakes and other prompts like that
    • Pass out a different color stick note to each student and have them write about one puzzle they have
  • Ask students to look at what puzzles they have and decide on ways to explore the puzzles
    • They are all going to fill out their own sheet, but they can discuss with the teammates
    • Give them prompts about deciding who they could ask or where to look
    • Pass out sticky notes of a third color and have students write one way to explore and post it on the board.
  • After the have completed their individual sheets and posting, talk about what they posted
  • Proceed with a lesson/unit about earthquakes
  • After the unit, give students a knew TPE sheet and have them fill it out again.
  • Hand them back their old one so they can compare their thinking from the beginning of the unit to the end

Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas

For synthesizing and organizing an idea I liked the Color, Symbol, Image routine.

What is the Color, Symbol, Image (CSI) routine?

  • Color: students pick a color that they relate to the topic
  • Symbol: students pick a symbol (+-=><) they they relate to the topic
  • Image: students pick an image that they relate to the topic
  • This routine is deeply based in emotions and reactions so there is no wrong way of thinking
  • This is a great way for you to see how your students react and relate to the subject you are teaching

How is it used in a science classroom?

Topic: Genetically Modified Organisms

  • Pass out the CSI sheets
  • Show the Herd Immunity Gummi Bear video

  • After they watch the video ask them to fill out the sheet
    • Ask them to pick a color that they feel a connection to this topic with. They write why they decided on this color below
    • Ask them to pick a symbol that they feel represents this topic. They will then write why they picked this symbol.
    • Ask them to draw (or write) a picture that represents how they feel about the topic. They will explain their decision below.
  • After they finish the sheet, ask students to share within small groups.
  • After they finish discussing, ask a few volunteers to share their responses with the class
  • Be sure to maintain a level of respect between the students. No answers are wrong, students are just choosing things that they relate to the topic.

Digging Deeper

I really liked the What makes you say that? thinking routine for pushing further into ideas.

  • This routine really doesn’t have to be planned into a lesson
  • I feel a good time to use this is when you are having students give answers to a more complex question. You can follow up their answer by asking them “what makes you say that?” This then gives the student the chance to support their answer by providing their evidence.
  • This routine is very useful when placed into discussions at the appropriate times. It lets the teacher see how students are using evidence to form answers.


Why are these strategies critical for to understanding how our students are thinking?

  • It is hard to know what they are thinking without using strategies to get them to share
  • If you cannot figure out how they are thinking, you will not be able to figure out the best way to teach them
  • Knowing how they think will help you find ways to relate the topics back to things they are interested and peak their interest to get them to think

There are many other routines to use in your classroom and each of them can add value to any lesson. No get out there and help make your students thinking visible!


  1. Shay,
    This is a greatly laid out blog and organized perfectly. You did a great job dissecting the strategies and showcases what they would look like in our science classroom. The gummy bear activity was really awesome and would be easy to do in our classroom! I also talked about the CSI method because it is an exemplary way for students to make a deeper connection to a topic and express their understanding in a unique way. The rest of the blog is awesome as well!

  2. I love how you organized this blog into different parts of a lesson plan! These activities seem to be well thought out, and would be useful where you planned them in the unit or lesson.
    “What makes you say that?” is an EXTREMELY important question in the classroom. Many students are used to memorizing and repeating facts. By asking, “What makes you think that?” you encourage students to move from the “What” to the “How.”
    That gummy bear herd immunity video was a great, visual way to show students why herd immunity works and why vaccines are beneficial!

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