Three Strategies YOU WON’T BELIEVE Can LITERALLY Make Thinking Visible

Image result for making thinking visible

We teachers can often find ourselves jumping into new material or progressing from old material without really seeing how our students are thinking and feeling about it. Using these three strategies are methods to help assess where your students are in their level of understanding and if you should move on to new content!

1. See-Think-Wonder 

Image result for see-think-wonder

How is See-Think-Wonder done?

  1. Present an image/text/demonstration (whatever stimulus you want to choose that pertains to your content) in a way that students can observe in as much detail as possible. Provide time for students to see what it is they’re learning about.
  2. Prompt students to share what the see, not what they infer.
  3. Have students construct interpretations as to what they think is happening or going on.
  4. Have students use their seeing and thinking to pose questions about further exploration – have them wonder.

When should we use See-Think-Wonder?

  • Works great when introducing a new topic or subject matter.
  • Gets students directly engaged with something exciting and helps you as a teacher understand what they want to know about.
  • In the science classroom, this prompts inquiry and the start of the scientific process.
  • Can help you construct lessons better tailored to them. S-T-W is a phenomenal MTV activity in the science classroom and evokes the nature of science.
  • For instance, convection current demonstrations with food coloring for students at younger ages will evoke so much wonder from students. If you’re teaching older students chemistry, eye-catching reactions or videos of reactions would get them thinking about reaction mechanics and what reagents could be reacting that way.

2. Chalk Talk 

What’s the purpose of Chalk Talk?

  • Provide “silent conversations” where all students are able to engage equally and move at their own pace.
  • Provide a collaborative way of building understanding and asking questions.

How’s Chalk Talk done?

  1. Select one or multiple prompts (words, ideas, questions, phrases, etc.) and write them down on multiple pieces of large paper.
  2. Have each student, individually, consider their responses to each prompt and write them down – whatever they may be.
  3. Have students circulate and respond to both the prompts (if applicable) and other responses at each paper around the room.
  4. Prompt a discussion both in small groups and as a whole class – see what the class is thinking.

When should we use Chalk Talk?

  • Works well with large, critical questions.
  • Prompts reflection from students.
  • Illustrates the classes general train of thought on issues.
  • Can be done before, during, or after a content block.
  • A prompt in Earth Science simply might be “How can we prepare for the effects of climate change?” This elicits a wide variety of responses and interdisciplinary thoughts from students.
  • A prompt in Life Science could be “Do the pros of GMOs outweigh the cons?” (or vice versa). This sees students to consider both positives and negatives of the issue and weigh each side and make and ultimately defend their position.

Image result for engaged students

3. Claim-Support-Question

What’s the purpose of Claim-Support-Question?

  • As a science teacher, this is essentially what science is – making claims, providing support for them, and asking more questions to guide further research and inquiry.

How is Claim-Support-Question done? (In a science classroom)

  1. Provide groups of students with some sort of article with data, figures, etc. that has a theme and is coherent.
    1. Climate data is a good example. Another could be information and data regarding evolution/phylogeny.
  2. Have each group scour and dissect the material provided and come up with a claim the material can be used to make, or is trying to make.
  3. Have them use the material to support that claim as robustly as possible.
  4. Have them pose questions that the data can’t answer alone – what other evidence is there? Is there contrary evidence? What biases do these authors have?

When should we use Claim-Support-Question?

  • In an Earth Science classroom, this exercise lends itself strongly to analyzing data regarding climate change. Provide them with data, particularly graphs, that people frequently use to mislead others (on both sides). Test their skepticism and encourage them to look thoroughly at what’s there.
  • Use it with contentious issues if you feel comfortable – because a lot of them shouldn’t really be contentious, especially in the sciences.

Image result for climate change real

What’s the point of using any of this stuff?

As I said at the beginning, we too often feel rushed and can jump into things or move on from things without actually knowing if we’re ready.

“Oh, I just don’t have enough time to assess my students every week. And they don’t want to be assessed every week either; we’ll just move on.”

The truth is, understanding and knowledge build upon themselves. Students can’t learn about more difficult and higher-order things without having a solid foundation – an inverse pyramid isn’t very stable. Using MTV strategies both helps you as a teacher see where your students are in their thinking as well as allowing them to do the same. Don’t let them fall behind!


  1. Margaux,

    You’re totally right, it can potentially get dicey when having students read about controversial topics in a misleading way. I think it depends on the age group of students that we’re going to be teaching; you might not want to do that with younger, more susceptible to misinformation. A high school senior should (I’d hope) be able to read a paper about “How Vaccines Cause Autism” and know that it’s a load of bologna but a fifth grader probably won’t. It can also be dangerous because we don’t want to create a learning environment that’s hostile to anyone and it may potentially turn that way or make somebody feel alienated.

  2. Claire,

    Thanks for the kind words! I actually do a chalk talk in the EDT 182 Lab and – maybe it’s just because of the nature of the class – but those questions get discussed as a big group and a lot of the time not having an answer is fine. We can’t answer all the questions in the world and especially in science. But if we can come up with an explanation for something or a best practice for a tough question then that’s what we do, if that makes sense. It’s kind of like the animal testing example we did in class where there’s no real answer, there are a ton of answers. Some of those answers are better than others but there is no definitive “right” answer. I think at the end of the day all we can do is discuss them as a class and come to some sort of conclusion about it!

  3. Great blog Chris! I really liked all of your examples about ways to use the strategy. I especially liked your idea about using S-T-W for chemical reactions because this actually is showing how it can be used for very complex topics requiring a lot of background knowledge. I also liked the idea of providing students with data that is used to mislead people on either side of an issue. That really gets students thinking about what they may see. Do you think this could backfire at any point? Again, great blog!

  4. Chris,
    I love that, right away, you address teachers habit of jumping into the next topic, chapter, or unit without checking back with students. So often teachers hand students a test, grade it, and give it back and that’s the conclusion of student’s learning on that topic. During Chalk Talks, students often ask questions to other student’s comments, or to the prompt as a whole. How would you go about addressing these questions, especially ones you don’t have an answer to?

Leave a Reply

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