Taking Notes with Invisible Ink

Can you read this?

Of course, you can read the text when I type it clearly, but in the above picture if I were to grab the black light and sprint off in the opposite direction, you’d probably be pretty hopeless in reading that statement.  Unless you happen to have a large supply of black lights, which if you do you’re just really cool and I approve.

Now, on a scale of 1-10 (1 being ridiculous, 10 being useful), how beneficial would it be to take notes on stoichiometry in invisible ink?  I think I heard a “-3” shouted from the back, and you’re probably right.  Taking notes in invisible ink is not the smartest idea.  “Invisible” notes are just not useful.

What about invisible thinking?

In the book, “Making Thinking Visible” by Ron Ritchhart, we look at different ways to show students how they are thinking so that they can understand not only the curriculum but how they’re understanding the processes.  Why is this important?  Because just like invisible notes, invisible thinking leads to more work and less comprehension for the students.  If students aren’t able to see why they’re coming up with their knowledge, then it’s likely that they won’t grasp the information as well.  This can be detrimental for student learning and for the environment of your classroom.

So how can we make thinking visible for our students?  Ritchhart gives several strategies in his book (which I highly recommend), but I’m going to include my three favorites, along with situations in which they’d be best implemented.

  1. Tug of War


Tug of War is a MTV strategy that I absolutely love.  Start with a topic–for example, in a biology classroom, we might look at GMO’s.  Students are given time to research the topic a little bit, and formulate their ideas before coming back together as a class.  Students then come up with two sides for the issue, and I as the teacher would draw a long line across the white board (or, since I’m a pretty extra teacher, I would have a tug of war rope that I’d hang up every time we do this activity), and would write the two sides of the argument on each side of the rope.  Then, students would write their thoughts on post-it notes and come put them up on whichever side of the rope they side with most.  This can be done anonymously, and after students get all of their thoughts on the board as a class we would look at which side won the tug of war and what thoughts went on each side.  Students can then see how their thoughts fit into a larger debate, and how all of these ideas come together to create a conclusion at the end of the day.

2. 3-2-1 Bridge

3-2-1 Bridge is a strategy that is particularly useful at the beginning of a lesson (in the 5 E’s, it would probably be an engage or explore).  Students are given a statement, such as “polar”, and are told to write three thoughts/ideas, two questions, and one analogy that pops into their heads at this word.  It doesn’t have to be science related–it’s just whatever they think of.  Then, I would give students some sort of content–a comic strip, a reading, a video–and following this students would develop three new thoughts, two new questions, and one new analogy.  I used a comic called, “The Bare Essentials of Polarity” (if you Google this, you’ll be able to download it) to explain to students what polarity is.  After students have their new thoughts, we as a class “bridge” our ideas–how did our original thoughts relate to what our new thoughts are?  How do polar bears relate to polar bonds?  These questions allow students to visibly see how they are constructing knowledge off of their prior experiences with words and phrases.

3. Chalk Talk


Chalk Talk is a teaching strategy that allows students to have, in essence, a silent debate.  This is also a perfect activity to do outside, if the weather is nice (because we all know science is best done when out of the classroom and into the real world!).  This activity starts with a number of prompts written on large pieces of paper or on the ground outside in chalk.  Students are then told to grab a marker of their choice (their color) or a piece of chalk and go around to write their thoughts near the prompt.  If it is an original idea, they put a box around it, but if they are branching off another thought or responding to another person’s idea, they put a circle around it.  This allows students to remain anonymous and share their ideas, while also giving them an opportunity to see how their thoughts are developed both individually and as a class.

Overall, it is clear that making thinking visible is not as hard as it may seem.  Giving students opportunities to see their thoughts helps them understand what they’re learning and why they’re learning it.  It’s also very helpful for students who aren’t as talkative during class, as they have a chance to voice their thoughts by writing them down and sharing them that way.

Visible thinking can truly change the classroom.  If you have any more thoughts or ideas, I challenge you to pick up Ritchhart’s book and give it a read!  He has so many great strategies for using this in the classroom, and his thoughts are easily applicable.  Leave your questions and comments in the section below.  Until next week!




About Naomi Patten 13 Articles
Future Science Educator Miami University Class of 2019 Follow me on Twitter @MsPattenScience


  1. Naomi,
    I really liked your analogy with invisible ink. I think it does a great job of describing the significance of making thinking visible (and I just really like analogies). I really enjoyed your explanation of tug of war. This is a great strategy to use to get students thinking, especially about controversial issues within science i.e. GMOs, climate change, etc. I do have one question regarding that strategy, which kind of piggybacks off of Meghan’s question. For the discussion at the end, would it be more of a debate based on the ideas on the board, or would you just discuss the ideas individually?

  2. Naomi,
    I loved your polar bear idea for the 3-2-1 bridge! I think the way you summarized each of the strategies made them very clear for your readers. I liked all of the visuals you included, but some of them were really big (I don’t know if its just me or not). I love the way you write and how you keep it super informal. From a chemistry education standpoint, what kinds of topics would you use for tug of war or chalk talk?

    • Shay–
      I know, the pictures end up being randomly big and I don’t know why, hahaha! Anywho, I would probably pick topics that are more controversial, such as the use of chemicals in daily life. For example, when looking at the chemistry behind certain medications, it would be interesting to hear student perspective on these “selective poisons” and whether or not they’re better than natural substitutes. I could also bring up topics such as nuclear reactors and their involvement with bombs for chemistry! All are interesting topics that students would be able to analyze morally and chemically.

  3. These sounds like really great strategies, Naomi!
    For activities like Chalk Talk and Tug of War, would you just have students read all the responses, would you have a class discussion, or would you just briefly summarize the activity findings yourself? I think these strategies are wonderful, especially for students who are more shy or who get overwhelmed by debates. I’m just curious what the best way to wrap up the activity would be, in your opinion.

    • Meghan-
      I would probably have a class discussion about them! I as a teacher would initiate the discussion by reading off a few of the student comments, and then as a class we would look at the results and get a general class opinion on things. I would probably pick the statements that are most controversial (a little teacher interference, lol) just to get the conversation rolling! I might also post results in a general summary board somewhere in the classroom so that students can reference it throughout the lesson to see how their thoughts might change.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.