Using Visible Thinking Strategies in the Classroom

What is Visible Thinking?

  • Having students externalize their thoughts through speaking, writing, drawing or other methods

The Ted Talk below goes into more detail about visible thinking, why it is important, and some ways to incorporate it into the classroom.

Now, let’s go into more detail about 3 specific strategies that can be used in the science classroom!

1. Step Inside

  • This strategy can be used to help students “get inside” another person, or thing in history, or current events.
  • Students hypothesize what they think the person, or thing was/is thinking, or how they perceive the world around them.
  • Students are asked questions such as… “What might this person/thing care about or wish would happen?” “What might this person/thing believe?” or “What can this person see or notice?”

2. What Makes You Say That?

  • This strategy encourages students to voice their reasoning for how they are thinking.
  • Students are also encouraged to accept and explore alternative explanations to why others are thinking the way they are.
  • Students are presented with the questions of “What’s going on?” and “What do you see that makes you say that?”

3. I used to think… Now I think…

  • This is a great way for students to get a sense of how their knowledge and perceptions, or opinions about a concept, change over time.
  • It can be used with a variety of different works such as creative writing, a news article, a video they watched or a book they read.
  • The instructions are very simple. Simply ask students to reflect either on paper or verbally (can use words, pictures, diagrams, etc.) about what they used to think and what they now think.
  • A way to get the entire class involved is to have students write their answers on post-it notes and stick them on the board. This can be followed by a class discussion.


  1. Hi Shelby! I really liked how you emphasized the externalization of thoughts. In the classroom the explanation of thoughts can be just as important as the thoughts themselves. How would you approach a situation in which a shy student refused to participate in a MTV strategy due to their social anxieties?

    • I think when it comes to dealing with shy students the best way to approach these MTV strategies is to have the students answer anonymously. For example, have them use sticky notes or have them write their answers at the same time (similar to a chalk talk). This way the student doesn’t have to feel embarrassed when it comes to sharing answers.

  2. Hi Shelby! This was a great post! I really like the what makes you say that strategy! It’s so useful and can be so effective in a classroom. But, I’m worried that students might feel uneasy about sharing their opinions in class, especially science where they might have never been asked to before. Do you have any advice for introducing these strategies into the classroom? Thanks!

    • You bring up a very good point! Not all students are extroverted and willing to share their opinions with the class. I think a way to solve this is to pair up with students because one student may feel more comfortable sharing with a partner instead of a whole class. Another idea is to use sticky notes, so the answers are anonymous.

  3. Great post Shelby! The part that I enjoyed the most was the “step inside” strategy. I thought that it was really valuable to teach students to observe things from other perspectives. I also think that this allows science to be multidisciplinary because it could allow you and the students to talk about social issues. Im wondering if you think this too. Maybe i’m just reading too much into it! Let me know!

    • Having students understand that ideas and concepts have multiple perspectives is very important and valuable, I completely agree. I also agree that this strategy can allow for students to talk about not only science, but social issues too. This could be an excellent thing in teaching students that subjects are connected to one another.

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