Making Thinking Visible: Uncovering the Imagination






Introduction: What is Making Thinking Visible??

Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart is a must-read for all educators. I must confess that before I went into the classroom, I had a lot of misconceptions about teaching. The worst one that I had was that, to be a teacher, all you had to do was stand in front of the room and talk. After I did this a few times while teaching, I discovered that nothing makes the kid’s eyes glaze over faster than a lecture. I also learned that lectures are a lot of work for no real benefit. The kids do not like them, they do not teach kids critical thinking skills, and they require a lot of work! Now I know that engagement is very important and to teach is to instruct the students how to think, not what to think. This is very important in teaching. For my first couple of times teaching, I would just lecture to the students and they would slowly drift away…I needed a way to get them back, FAST!!!









After reading Ron Ritchhart’s book, I now know the importance of making thinking visible! But what does it mean? To me, it means that you are creating activities that not only teach your students how to be critical thinkers and see things from other points of view, but the activities created should show you the thought process of the individual and their imagination. It gives you a glimpse into their own world. What are they thinking? What are they building their knowledge on? How do they know the correct answer? By doing the various activities that I will discuss in this post, children will be able to bring their imagination to life and practice metacognition, or thinking about thinking. They will be able to understand their thought patterns, think critically, and even change some long-held misconceptions. The activities in this post are designed to do just that. With these activities, you should be able to build upon what children are learning, allow them to make connections, and allow them to understand their thinking. When you make thinking visible, you are entering into the child’s imagination, rather than your own, and learning about their needs. It is important that we, as a society, train individuals with not only the knowledge to succeed, but also the mind to succeed. This is very important. At the beginning of this post, I included an image of one of my favorite TV shows as a kid. It helped me learn how to read. It was called “Read Between the Lions”. Remember it? It not only taught me the skills to read, but also allowed me to enter my imagination and become a critical thinker. As a student, in any grade level, you must “enter” your mind and imagination to dig deep into your thinking. As a teacher, you must encourage the child to enter their imagination, much like how the lions “enter” every book they read to their audience!

In this post, I will discuss three major Making Thinking Visible Strategies. I will then describe ways in each of the three strategies to incorporate this into a Science classroom. I will focus on Biology and Chemistry. I will then end with a conclusion with how I think these strategies are critical to a child’s understanding of the concept.

Let’s GO!!!

Three MTV Strategies and Their Uses in My Classroom

Tug of War

Tug of war is a strategy that teaches children many different concepts. These include reasoning, considering differing viewpoints, critical thinking, forming conclusions, asking questions, and travelling below the surface of the topic. What is done is a topic is picked. This is a controversial topic that has two opposing viewpoints. A line is placed across the desk to represent the tug-of-war rope. One side will be one viewpoint and the other side will be another viewpoint. The students will then use sticky notes to generate the “tugs”. The “tugs” are the reasons for each opposing viewpoint. They will write these “tugs” on the sticky notes.  They will then place each “tug” in order of strongest to weakest argument. The strongest go at the ends and the weakest ones go towards the middle of the rope. They will use different color notes to ask “What-if” questions that might change their arguments. They will then share their thinking as a group. As a teacher, you should ask:

  • What were your arguments?
  • What were your strongest and weakest arguments?
  • Do you feel the same about the dilemma?
  • What arguments changed your thinking?
  • What are the What-if questions?
  • Summarize the complexity of each side.

After this is done and the discussion takes place, the children will be able to recognize and learn differing viewpoints. They will be able to have stronger arguments for their viewpoint, but also see things from other people’s viewpoints.

How Can This Be Used in the Classroom?

To use in my classroom, I would try to stay away from subjects that elicit too much emotion. For example, in a science classroom, I would not bring up political issues like abortion. This would be inappropriate. Instead I would ask questions that pertain to science and are lighter in nature. For example, If we were learning about Genetics, I would have a tug of war on GMO’s. What do you think about GMO’s, are they good? Are they bad? The students will each generate ideas on sticky notes and organize their arguments for each side. They will first research what a GMO is and the argument before they generate ideas. They will then ask what-if questions and discuss their results. I would ask, how did your viewpoint change after this activity? What is the complexity of the issue?, What arguments made you think twice?

Another good way to use Tug of War in the classroom would be to ask the question, “How do you feel about companies having your DNA when you take a DNA test?”. The children would do the same thing and generate arguments for and against this. This is relevant to what is happening today with 23 in me and Ancestry. This is an issue that can be discussed in the classroom. What do students think? Discuss the results.

See-Think-Wonder (STW)

STW would be great to use in a chemistry classroom! This method involves the use of an image, object, cartoon, or a picture of something occurring. The students will see the image and record what they see in their notebook. Questions to ask include:

  • What do you see?
  • What is happening?
  • What questions do you have about it?

The steps that a teacher must take include the following:

  1. Pick an image, video clip, artifact, or cartoon that involves thinking and is not obvious as to what it is.
  2. Let the students observe the item and record their observations in their notebooks. For example, what color is it?, What does it sound like?, What is happening?, How do you know?, What are the components?, etc.
  3. The next step is where students record their interpretations. “What is happening?” and “Why do you think this happens?”
  4. The next part is the wonder part. Ask them to record questions that they have about the image or artifact. Their questions can be anything, but must be relevant.
  5. Have the students share their answers in groups and discuss for their see, think, and wonder parts.

STW exercises the skills required for students to think rationally, come up with conclusions, ask questions, view opposing views, make observations, and pose questions that they would like to learn. It gives them a chance to think about their thinking. It gives sort of a road map of their thinking. Below show a video describing STW in more detail. Enjoy!

How Can this be Used in the Classroom?

If I were to use STW, I think I would use it in my chemistry class. One thing that I can use it for is an experiment. For example, I can add phenalaline PH indicator to a liquid and change the PH of the liquid to turn it pick and to turn it clear. The students could then record what they see me do in their notebooks. I will not tell them what it is and I won’t give them any clue as to what the substances are. After they record what they see, I will ask them to make interpretations. “Why does the liquid turn pink or clear?”, “What is happening to the liquid?”, “What do you think is being changed?”. I will have them share with their groups. I will then ask them to come up with a list of questions that they want to know more about. For example, “What makes the liquid pink?”, “What makes it clear?”, etc. We will then share as a group. They can do this by writing on a piece of poster board, on sticky notes, or on the white board. Children can add to everyone’s ideas as they see them.

Chalk Talk

This is by far one of my favorite strategies! The Chalk Talk gets kids to talk that might otherwise be silent. Even the silent kids can participate in this strategy. That is why I like it! For this strategy, the teacher will divide the students into about 4 groups. The teacher will set up 4 stations, each with a different prompt or question for the students to answer. This can easily be done virtually or on poster board. The question will go in the middle of each board and the students will come around to each board with a marker. They will write down the answer to the question directly on the poster board and then move to the next station. The students should get about five minutes at each station. The other kids can add to what the first group said by starring their answer or commenting on it. I usually put hearts next to what people say. After everyone has been to all stations. The students will be back to the station that they started at. They will then read off the responses of the previous groups.

After the students have all read off of the poster boards, they will discuss what they learned with the group. “What was the most common answer to your question?”, “What do you think of the responses?”, “How did the thinking develop?”, and “How are people responding to the question?” After this is done, each group will share their findings with the class and there will be a discussion. Chalk Talks get students to practive critical thinking skills, communication skills, going below the surface of a complex topic, reasoning, and forming good conclusions about data.


How Can This Be Used in the Classroom?

I would use this in that classroom after watching a nature documentary or video. I would use prompts that ask specifically about what was in the video. I would ask for explanations of concepts on the poster boards as well. For example, if I were to do a chalk talk on a botany video, I might ask, “How do plants get their food?”, “What is the process by which plants take up and or release water?”, “Describe what transpiration is., and “What is the most important part of a plant and why?”. If I were to do a nature documentary, I may ask questions like, “What is a biome?”, “What does biodiversity mean?”, “What biome do we live in and how do you know?”, and “What is the food cycle?” After I ask these questions, each on a separate poster board, we will discuss the results what the students found out about what the class thinks. I think this would be really helpful in a biology class, after learning about something new.

Here is a short video describing how a Chalk Talk can effectively be used in a seventh grade classroom. Enjoy!

Conclusion: Why do I see MTV Strategies as Critical to How My Students Are Thinking?

After reading about all of these strategies, I have learned that there is a lot of benefit in learning the how’s and why’s of what a student is learning. I have learned that having lecture and a teacher-led classroom can be detrimental to the learning of the students and cause them not to learn anything. I see how students’ eyes glaze over when you lecture! It is no fun for me or the students. I don’t get to understand the students better by lecturing and they do not learn much at all. With these strategies, we are teaching students metacognition, or thinking about what they are thinking. We are teaching them self-assessment skills, critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, and how to draw unbiased conclusions. These activities make thinking come alive for these students. They map out what the student is thinking and where they are heading. They are like a roadmap to success. If there is no plan, how do you get to where you are going? These activities teach students how to analyze data and their thoughts to come up with good conclusions. It allows them to dig deep into their knowledge and imagination, and build upon prior knowledge. The imagination of a student is a vast place! We can’t get there if we don’t have a roadmap. We must use activities in our classroom that monitor students’ thoughts and give feedback. That is a great way for them to learn!


Ritchhart, R. (2011). Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The Main Idea: Current Education Book Summaries. (2013). Retrieved from


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