Power of the Post-it

Making thinking visible is one of the best strategies for science classrooms.

Whether it’s checking for comprehension after reading an academic journal or having a discussion revolving around if viruses are alive, this strategy does it all.

Making thinking visible has many advantages

  • Engages students by having them physically doing something (moving to corners of the room, writing on a white board or placing post-it notes in different parts of the room)
  • Facilitates discussions by the inclusion of everyone (quiet students have no problem writing on a post-it note)
  • Encourages abstract thinking
  • Activates Collaboration skills
  • Students must justify their responses
  • Students critically think about what other students responses are

Overall, making thinking visible ensures that all of the students in the classroom have their voices heard, it makes cognitive processes tangible and motivates students to use higher order thinking, which are all GREAT things!

Here are three strategies that I feel are excellent methods to use in the classroom

#1 – Explanation Game

  1. Get an object (like the one below) or a phenomena and have students try to individually write down observations and a name for that object or phenomena
  2. (If this is a phenomena, like a demonstration, perform it now)
  3. Have the students, in their groups, try to explain what happened. They can come up with as many possible explanations as possible
  4. Have students justify their explanations with reasons
  5. Press the students for other possible explanations for the object or phenomena

I think that this would be an especially rich method because the students are making observations and coming up with hypotheses about what is taking place (in the case of a demo) or what the object is (if you are presenting an object to the class.

#2 – Concept Maps

This would be done close to the end of a unit

  1. Ask the students to generate a list of words or key ideas from the unit
  2. Have the students get together in groups and sort these words (could work really well on chart paper or flashcards)
  3. Students will then connect these terms with lines
  4. Students will then justify their connections with connecting phrases such as “leads to”, “inhibits” or “increases the production of”
  5. Have students present their list of words with their connections and their justifications

I believe that this is a powerful making thinking visible activity because it challenges students to engage with the vocabulary in a deeper way. By doing this activity, they are demonstrating that they can manipulate, connect and explain vocabulary and their relatedness to other key concepts in the unit.

#3 – Microlab

  1. Split students up into groups of three and tell them what key idea or topic you would like them to discuss during this discussion (ex. if viruses are living)
  2. Each student in the group will share their thoughts one at a time (for an assigned time) about the topic with their other two group members
  3. In-between each student, allow for 20-30 seconds of reflection/digestion time
  4. Open the discussion with the groups of three students (all the students can talk freely with one another). Encourage students to make connections with what their peers stated.

This is an outstanding making thinking visible strategy because it really pushes students to take a stand about the topic and put themselves out there. The students must make a claim and back it up with reasoning and evidence. The students are also practicing active listening and reflection time. They are also working on their collaboration skills and how to properly disagree with someone who believes differently than you. Very Mr. Rodgers.

I believe that Making Thinking Visible is an excellent tool to have in your teaching toolbox and I would encourage all teachers to learn about different strategies to implement. I remember doing some of these in high school and I really enjoyed those days. Those were the days where I felt the most engaged and active with the content as well as my peers.

Citation: Ritchhart, R., Morrison, K., & Church, M. 2011. Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, andIndependence for All Learners.


  1. Hi Mason! I like the emphasis you put on post-its and how this helps the quite kids engage in the class discussion. However, I do not know how to incorporate this strategies into all MTV strategies. For example, in the explanation game it would be difficult to utilize post its. How would you ensure that in these cases the quite students are still heard?

    • I think that in those cases the teacher would need to be intentional with having everyone participate in the class. The teacher might need to take a more facilitative role and invite students who may to quieter to participate in the discussions that are going on. You can never really make a student talk so you, as the teacher, should create and environment where they feel comfortable doing so.

  2. Hey Mason!
    I love how fun your blog posts are. You always make each teaching strategy or teaching theory seem so fun and exciting, which is going to be so wonderful for your students! I definitely agree with all of the advantages that come with making thinking visible strategies. Is there a strategy that you mentioned here or you read in the book that captures these advantages the best and that you will utilize in you classroom the most or do they all capture these advantages?

    • Hi Anna! Thank you very much for your words of praise. To answer your question, I think that each strategy has its certain strengths and advantages. The one from my post that I think is one of the strongest and is something that I will definitely use in the future would be concept maps. I think that this strategy is great for having students engage with the vocabulary and concepts from the unit in a deeper manner.

  3. Hi Mason! I too, remember doing MTV strategies in school and enjoying those days way more than the days where we just completed a bunch of worksheets. Which ones did you do in school? I really liked the strategy you posted about called “Microlab” because students can get many take-aways about a topic when discussing with their peers. They’ll pick up on concepts or information that they may not have been able to pick up on, on their own.

    • Hi Shelby, thanks for the comment! I remember using the one where each corner of the room represents either “strongly agree”, “agree”, “disagree” or “strongly disagree” and you would go to the corner that represents what you think based on a statement that was given to the class. We used that one a lot but I also remember doing concept maps and chalk talks pretty frequently as well.

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