Visible Thinking… The Visible Guide to Student Growth

As teachers, we always want to see student growth in our classrooms. Whether that be with writing skills, critical thinking, creativity etc. However, classes today are not set up that always these skills to grow. Students memorize vocabulary and spit all this information back to the teacher while never really being given the chance to to express their own ideas and opinions in classrooms. In Dr Ritchhart’s book Making Thinking Visible, he argues that helping student’s visualize their own thinking and synthesizing their ideas on paper is essential in student growth in the classroom. This way student can see connections between topics, find ways to think critically about an article and develop their own viewpoint through careful research and argumentation.

This Ted Talk below provides a wonderful argument with why pushing kids to be creative and think outside the box is so valuable classrooms. Here, Eddy Zhong argues that school today makes students less intelligent by not giving them the opportunity to think critically and creatively. When we make thinking visible in classrooms, we are showing our students the power of creative thought and critical thinking. Eddy Zhong also argues that schools must support this creative thought from a young age so that it can grow within a student. This is what making thinking visible does. Making thinking visible allows student to not only explore and synthesis but to think deeper so that they may use critical and creative thinking to better understand any topic they find.

Making thinking Visible Strategies

Making thinking Visible can be applied into any classroom, especially classroom. Here I will demonstrate how three thinking routines of introducing and exploring ideas, synthesizing and organizing ideas and finally digging deeper into ideas can be used in a science classroom. I will be using the concept of Newton’s laws as my example into showing the wonders of making thinking visible

Introducing and Exploring Ideas: The See-Think-Wonder Activity

This strategy is used to begin to spark wonder and thought inside of a learner before studying the topic deeper. To start, students will watch this short clip below:

After watching this video student will answer the question: what did you see? Students will then share with the class or a partner. Some students might say they saw a movie clip, or they saw Walle using the fire extinguisher as a propeller etc. There are NO WRONG ANSWERS. Next the class will be asked: Based on this clip what do you wonder? Some students might wonder what this has to do with physics or why the fire extinguisher helped Walle fly. Again, THERE ARE NO WRONG ANSWERS!

But why does this matter? This strategy not only begins to engage the students on the topic but it also turns on the wonderment in their brains so that they are prepared and curious when the topic is discussed later on.

Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas: The Headlines Strategy

The next step up in making thinking visible is synthesizing and organizing the ideas that the students have learned. Headlines is a great way to push your students to synthesis the most important concepts into one concise phrase.

Here, students must make a fake headline for the concept they have just studied. Students will these work as teams to edit their headlines so they all show they have a clear understanding of the concept. For example, during my Newton’s laws example, a student might write: “Newton’s first Law just keeps doing!” or “Is your mass and acceleration effecting your force through life? Newton’s Second law Says Yes!” This activity is a great way to allow students to show that they really understand what the concept is all about. It is also a great activity that you can hang on your walls and students can enjoy reading other’s headlines. Below is a blog that shows headlines being used in a science and social studies classroom. This blog alter’s it and allows students to use only 140 characters like in a tweet. This a great alternative for students who are more internet oriented.

Digging Deeper into Ideas: What makes you say that?

The last section that making thinking visible includes is pushing students to think deeper into ideas and ask why this is the way it is. One strategy this can be done with is known as “What makes you say that?”. This strategy encourages in class discussions over comments and conclusions that students make. Simply ask a student after they make a statement: what makes you say that?. And thats it! This is a great way to push discussion and class collaboration. For example, if a student says that when we step down the earth is pushing back, and you say what makes you say that?, the student will explain is reasoning using Newton’s third law.

This activity is so easy and so spontaneous that it can create wonderful discussions in class that normally would not happen. Below is a link to extra tips on using this strategy. This sit also includes tips and help for dozens of other visible thinking strategies.

Making Thinking Visible is essential for students to be able to begin to think outside the box and develop their own creative and critical thinking skills. By using these strategies we can see student growth as they become critical thinkers that will some day change the world!


  1. Hi Natalie! Thanks for the comments! That’s a great question. It’s important that we can ease students into these techniques to that they can see that they are creative without realizing it. This could be done by different MTV strategies such as Zoom in. Here students make predictions about an image and alter their predications as the photo is zoomed out. This way students have to be creative with what they think is going on in the image and are also beginning to unlock that creative side that we all have.

  2. Hi Caitlin! I totally agree that allowing students to access their creativity throughout their education is key. This allows students to make connections they make never have if they did not have this opportunity. However I think many students that believe they are not artistically inclined are very hesitant to allow themselves to be creative. How would you address this in your classroom should that situation arise?

  3. Hi Mason! Thanks for the comments! There are so many different clips that can be used for this strategy! For sound, you can use any clip that uses echos! For Biology, you could even use finding Nemo! For Environmental science you can use the end of happy feet! There are so many options! Just make sure that the clip you are using accurately depicts the topic and isn’t science fiction, that can be a big issue when looking at clips for DNA. AKA Jurassic parks, Superhero movies etc. Thanks for your comments!

  4. Hi Caitlin! Great post! I really enjoyed the Wall-E clip! Very entertaining but the thing that I enjoyed about it is that you connected it to physics concepts! I was wondering if you had another other movie references that could work with the See Think Wonder strategy. I would love to use some in the future! Great Work

Leave a Reply

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