Do You See What I See? – Making Thinking Visible

Have you ever given a presentation and asked for questions at the end to which no one responded? Are you frustrated when you aren’t sure whether or not your audience is understanding the topic? Do you want to be able to know what your students are thinking in the classroom?

By using strategies for making thinking visible, you can see where your students are at in their thinking and understanding of the content.

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What are some strategies for MTV?

Strategy 1: Chalk Talk

What is it?
A chalk talk allows students to explore questions or ideas in a silent way while sharing ideas with each other through a stream of consciousness type way.

How does it work? What do I do?
First, set it up. You will need to put large pieces of paper on each table and write a different question or phrase on each. Leave markers out for students.
Second, allow students to write their initial thoughts about the prompt on the paper after having time to think about the topic.
Next, allow students to circulate either in groups or individually to the other tables to expand, comment, or respond to other students thoughts on their topic. This should continue until everyone has made it to all the tables.
Last, have students share the thinking. Have them return to their original table and see what others have written in response to their original thoughts. Have a discussion and try to establish what themes they may have seen emerge. Discuss how their thinking developed throughout the process.

How can I use this in my classroom?
You can use this with a large variety of topics. You can specifically use it if you are discussing a topic that has ethical concerns or is controversial. These can include designer babies, medical ethics, HeLa cells, etc. In addition to controversial topics, you can also have students write responses to claims such as “An ecosystem approach should be taken rather than a species approach in regard to conservation.” This allows the students to show what they know and how to back up opinions with evidence.

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Strategy 2: CSI – Color, Symbol, Image

What is it?
This strategy allows students to boil down the essence of an idea to things that don’t have to do with words. This is especially useful for ELLs and more visual learners as well as encourage metaphorical thinking in all students.

How does it work? What do I do? 
 have students think about what they have just read/watched/listened to etc. They should be thinking about the core idea of things.
    Next, have students either individually or in groups choose a color, symbol, and image that represents this idea. They should sketch these out.
    Last, students should share with the class what they chose and why they chose them.

How can I use this in my classroom? 
Easy! CSI can be used with tons of topics. You can use it specifically to see if students understand the concepts such as evolution, cell organelles, ecosystems, anything! Since this is getting students to make connections and delve deeper into the material, they can use almost any concept and relate colors, symbols, and pictures to it. They are metaphors. There are no wrong answers, but this gives you good insight into where your students are in learning.

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Strategy 3: Red Light, Yellow Light

What is it?
This strategy allows students to critically examine texts to help them to learn to dive deeper than what is written on the page. It also allows for teachers to see what concepts keep coming up as a red or yellow light.

How does it work? What do I do?
      First, you need to very briefly introduce the material. You do not want to say too much about it to sway the students’ opinions.
     Next, students should work either alone or in groups to identify red lights or yellow lights in the text. When analyzing the source, students should be looking for things like bias, overgeneralization, credibility, etc. The glaring things that make them stop are red lights and the things that are less glaring but still should be noted are yellow lights.
     Last, students should share what they found from analyzing their source. Try to draw conclusions about themes or recurring red or yellow lights.

How can I use this in my classroom? 
This can be used when introducing a new topic so that the red lights can become words or concepts the students don’t know and the yellow lights are things they’ve heard before but aren’t quite sure what they are. This allows the teacher to gauge where students are at. This also can be done when teaching students to critically analyze scientific articles to determine if they are credible or not. You can do this throughout many topics and throughout the whole year.

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These strategies are critical to understanding where your students are at in their learning. This shows you what they know and what their thinking process is. They allow for every type of student to participate and facilitates critical thinking.

This video shows some of the strategies actually happening in a classroom and how the students participate and interact!


  1. I like the addition of the TED presentation for clarity and further questions. Even though it’s with younger kids, I think it is fairly easy to adapt the activities for older students.

    • Thanks Will! Yeah I think that its easier to show the strategies and explain what they are when you see it in action with younger kids and less challenging material, but these can all be adapted to fit any grade and level of learning.

  2. Margaux, this is a really great blog post. I really love the title that you used. I really like how you will use the MTV strategy of the chalk talk in your classroom. This allows students to have share their own ideas about certain topics. I also like the red light, yellow light strategy. I like that this is a fun way for students to analyze text. Some students have a hard analyzing text but this makes it fun for those students. The pictures that you used really helped make this blog so interesting. Do you think any of these strategy’s can be unsuccessful in the classroom and if so, why? Once again great blog blog post!

    • Thanks Bailey! I like chalk talk too because some students just don’t feel totally comfortable participating but will write something down if it’s anonymous. Also, yes, anything that can become a game instead of “schoolwork” will be greatly beneficial in participation in the classroom. I think that red light, yellow light can be unsuccessful if you don’t explain it correctly. Students need to understand what all of the words like bias, credibility, overgeneralization,etc all mean if they are to analyze text in this way. Students could just be highlighting things they don’t understand or random phrases that they think may use a word that hyperbolizes something. This can still be successful, but in a different way. I think if you really explain it correctly though, you won’t have any issues.

  3. Hello Margaux,
    Great post! I personally like the first two the most. I remember when Dr. Ann did the second strategy. This helped me out a lot. I agree that this could be used really well when talking about cellular organelles. I think drawing them out and drawing a symbol would really help in remembering all of the different functions of the parts within a cell. I like the chalk talk as well. I would, however, stay away from controversial topics that cause too much emotion or are political. These can turn the wrong way, but the ones you chose were excellent. You should also make sure the students are respectful and tolerant of opinions differing from their own. This can be a problem and lead to bullying. If you do that, a chalk talk would be great! I like it because it gets the shy kids to speak up. For your introduction, I have had this happen to me too many times. Has it ever happened to you? I felt like I could have done one of these strategies to spice things up a bit. I have learned, the hard way, that kids like engaging activities that cause them to think. Lecturing isn’t one of them! I learned this the hard way. The truth about me is that I am a person who focuses too much on the details and not the whole picture. This can be a problem, don’t you think? Any tips for me with my presentation today. I will take everything you say with gratitude. Excellent post! I love the video. The only thing that I might add is describing what Making Thinking Visible means more and describing how it is important. Other than that…awesome!!!
    Delaina (:

    • Thanks Delaina! Though I do agree that some topics could be very political and controversial, I think it’s important to discuss these things in a constructive manner in school so that students learn how to back up claims they make and opinions they have with actual facts and evidence so that it doesn’t become a conversation for the lunchroom with wild claims being thrown around. So often, especially in the media, we see bold claims backed up with nothing about controversial topics that spark heated debates. Instead of students seeing these things in the media and just believing them without looking into the actual facts, students should be learning how to actually analyze things critically. If students are discussing controversial topics in school and learning to respect each other’s opinions, there will be less hatred, intolerance, and violence in the world. You’re right that it can lead to bullying, but I think that as long as you as the teacher are aware of what is going on in your class, school, and area and can correctly facilitate a discussion, not an argument, there won’t be any problems. And to answer your question, yes, those things I listed in the introduction have happened to me, but once I started rephrasing the question to more open-ended questions, I got responses. I think you had a great presentation today! The only thing I would say is to be very careful with your phrasing of what the actual question is because “GMOs pros vs cons” is a different question from “GMOs have benefits vs GMOs do not have benefits.” Just something to keep in mind. But again thanks so much!

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