The Things Hiding Among Us

Have you ever really sat down and took the chance to just think? What about thinking about your thinking?  Most people will probably answer no, and I’d understand why.  I never really thought about sitting down and thinking about my thinking.  But I’ve come to understand the importance of just thinking in general, and making sure you know you are thinking.

There is no point where if you keep thinking, you’ll just stop.  There is so much to think about, and students often don’t show how they are thinking.  We as educators have to get that thinking visible, because once we can see it, we’ll never be able to stop.  In Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison’s book Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners, they give us lots of tips, strategies, and tools to recognize this thinking and to get students to begin thinking.  Once the students start thinking, they start learning.

Strategy for Introducing and Exploring Ideas

This is where it begins, this is when you get your students thinking and then we just keep encouraging their thinking.

Chalk Talk

Chalk Talk is a wonderful way to get students thinking about their previous knowledge and past experiences.  To begin Chalk Talk you set up areas in the room for students to do a silent conversation or discussion based on each topic/question that you create.  The best questions are ones related to controversial or complicated topics, such as cloning or climate change because everyone has something to talk about.

The students will wander around the room and write out responses/questions to the initial question posed.  This allows a silent discussion between the class as they will be able to give their points.  This is a great way to get students that are quiet to share their responses with the class.  Students start thinking about what they feel and what they know.

Strategy for Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas

This is where students take all their thoughts and ideas and then place them together in an organized fashion.  This is how they can get a better understanding of the main ideas and concepts they are thinking about.


This strategy has students stop and think about the central idea of what they are learning or have learned.  The goal is to get them to produce some kind of tangible thought that they can present.  There are multitudes of ways to do this, including just having the students write out the central idea.  To make this more creative, the students are supposed to create a “headline”.  Something that is attention seeking like from a newspaper that will draw a reader in or at least give them a good summary of what everything is about.

One way to do this in a classroom is to go through a learning cycle, then towards the end in the evaluate have the students come up with a central idea to the entire learning cycle. For example, if talking about forces, students could sum up what they learned in a headline they create.  They would then share it with a small group, and provide justification and reasoning behind their choice for the headline title.  This is an easy way to assess students as well, as they are providing the reasoning behind their choice, which can show their understanding.

This video shows a great demonstration of headlines in a 2nd Grade Music classroom!

Strategy for Digging Deeper Into Ideas

This is when the students take everything they have learned so far and put it into a new light.  Maybe it is a new scenario that they didn’t have before with much more complicated situations, which forces the students to think about each decision that they make.

Circle of Viewpoints

The goal of this strategy is to get students thinking in more than one perspective.  Often times students will only be able to see things from their own view, but in this activity they start to take on a role that they are given or they choose.

First, an event, situation, or question is posed to the students.  Most likely with a complicated scenario where more than one “right” answer is possible.  These students then will form a circle where they can see things from a different angle.  They are prompted to take on a role in the situation and provide the viewpoint of the role.  They must explain this viewpoint and be prepared to defend it.  The students are encouraged to question based on the role they are in, as that role may not be able to understand another role’s perspective at all.

The best part of the strategy is the flexibility of when it is done.  It could be done at the beginning to get new ideas flowing or at the end to extend the learning and thinking.  For example, a teacher could do this at the beginning of a lesson on deforestation.  The students could be given roles that they must portray in the event of a forest being taken down around a village.  This would show them a perspective they may not have ever had before or even recognized, because not everyone sees a problem and situation in the same way.

Why It’s Important

It might be easy to just write off the strategies as more random ideas that people throw out in the education field, but they are tangible activities that make thinking visible.  It’s very important to make sure you can see when students are thinking and what they are thinking, because if it isn’t visible they may not get a clear scope of what they must do or what they are supposed to be learning.  If their thinking is visible then you can help them expand their thinking or even catch them if they get lost along the way.

Comedian, TV man, and writer John Lloyd summarizes the entire concept of making thinking visible with multiple examples and other invisible things in our lives.  Most of these invisible things are just as important or more important than the visible.

I encourage you to look at more strategies from the other wonderful bloggers on here, as I only gave you one example of each kind!


  1. @Katin
    Thank you! John Lloyd’s TEDTalk was my favorite thing to be honest. It was a great way to present all the wondrous things that we can’t see. This ties in perfectly with the entire topic of being unable to see thinking, but we can make it visible!

    Thanks! I loved the TEDTalk too! I’m so impressed by how great all these strategies/activities are for the students and how they truly bring their thinking out. It really does let us educators make the experience better for everyone once we see their thinking!

    Haha, I’m glad that someone likes to think constantly about their own thinking. I know I struggle to do it, even now. Thank you! I feel the same way, I think it’s so important to relate things in the classroom to their everyday lives, I’m saddened that I forgot to include something like that in my post! Making thinking visible would be good outside the classroom for getting students to think about topics important to them. Something like Chalk Talk would be really good to get people thinking about important issues in various places. It’s good for the students to be able to recognize thinking in others to help them understand their own thinking better.

    Thanks! I know many of the examples I used would be a way I could put it in my classroom. I would definitely introduce these kinds of activities to help students summarize what they had learned or even get them thinking about a topic. Circle of Viewpoints is a wonderful way to see student understanding in a discussion as well as get them thinking about how different people see the subjects!

    Thanks! There was a reason I made that section it’s own piece. I could have made it scattered throughout the blog, but by putting it alone and dedicating an entire section to it, it becomes more visible and powerful for the reader!

  2. Dillon,
    I really liked the structure and layout of your post. It was very easy to follow and flowed very effectively. I also enjoyed the strategies you included. They are all great examples of making thinking visible, yet are relatively different from one another.
    However, the thing I enjoyed most about your post was the section about why it is important to make thinking visible. This section was very powerful, and really shows that making students’ thinking visible really does allow them to expand their thinking, or allows you, the teacher, to catch them if they get lost along the way.

  3. Dillon,
    I think all of the social media that you included fit really well with the topic. I think you picked three great strategies and summarized the steps in a really easy to follow way. My one question for you is how you would implement some of these strategies into your own classroom? I think al of these have a great place in a science classroom and I just want to know how you would use them!

  4. Dillon-
    It’s funny, because I’m the type who thinks about my thinking CONSTANTLY. But hey, that’s probably just how my brain works–it’s a weird one, that for sure! Anywho, your post gives excellent description about why thinking about thinking is so beneficial for students, and I loved your ideas on different types of MTV strategies. I would ask, though–how does MTV apply outside of your classroom? As in, how can students take these strategies into the outside world? Because that’s something that I think would be critical for students beyond a classroom–it’s something we use daily in our lives.

  5. Dillon,

    I really like this TED talk! I think it does a great job of emphasizing the sheer value that an understanding of students’ thinking process truly has in the classroom. Teachers have so much freedom to get creative and tailor experiences for their students once they have that information. Also, I liked the emphasis you put on the purpose for each activity you described. Great work!


  6. Dillon,

    Great blog this week! I like how you gave us examples of each type of routine from MTV. I think that your reasons why MTV routines are important to implement into the classroom were spot on. You explained that these activities will help students master the topic without memorizing. Your media graphics where helpful in understanding your post. I loved John Lloyd’s TEDTalk. Overall, good job!


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