Critical Thinking on a Visible Scale

Traditional-style classrooms today still do not emphasize the importance of metacognition as an important trait to develop. Students are taught and expected to be able to perform “x” task or be able to recite “y”, but these types of classrooms fail to inspire students to develop as better learners in the long run. Research on the education field have shown that the growth of a student is positively affected by actively challenging their ability to critically think through inquiry-based projects and open-ended activities.

One way to nurture an environment that allows for “open-endedness” and scientific inquiry requires us, the (future) teachers, to encourage MAKING THINKING VISIBLE (MTV). These methods invite the student to develop, display, and verbalize their thought processes. Similar to practicing free-throws on the basketball court in order to improve your accuracy, we must allow our students to practice thinking about how they approach critical thinking in order to nurture their growth as lifelong-students.

Obtained from:

3 MTV Strategies That Will Promote Inquiry in a Science Classroom:

1. ) Connect-Extend-Challenge

This strategy encourages students to access their background knowledge in order to help them better understand and expand upon the information that will be presented to them. Being able to identify challenges to the learning process also helps you identify your own limits and work towards improving on your weaknesses as a student.

2. ) The Micro Lab Protocol


Students often feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information traditional classrooms try to bank into their minds or feel too anxious to participate in assessing their knowledge in front of the whole class. The micro lab protocol allows students to have meaningful discussions and display what they know in a smaller group while allowing them time to digest the information on their own. This strategy is also an efficient way to allow for equal participation of every student and allow for every student to develop their own voice in discussions

3. ) The Explanation Game


The explanation game is a great way for your students to practice assessing qualitative data in order to explain a scenario or object similar to how scientists observe and explain unknown phenomena. Students are encouraged to look at a situation in parts and build up a strong, well-explained argument on what is happening based on the relationship between those parts.


  1. Jay,
    Awesome post! I like how you brought up the importance of inspiring students to be better learners in the long run. For the connect-extend-challenge strategy, is there a topic or concept that you feel it would work particularly well with?

    • Hi Evan,

      I think this strategy works well with any conceptual part of science, whether it’s physics, chemistry, biology, etc. It’s a great way to apply students’ background knowledge to their readings/observations, then take it a step further and apply that to real-life situations.

  2. Hi Jay,
    It was great reading your insights on making thinking visible. You clealy demonstrated why visible thinking is important for students and three useful ways to make thinking visible in the classroom. The graphic organizers were a helpful way to concisely summarize each routine. After reviewing each routine, what would be an example of how you would potentially use one of the MTV routines discussed in your post in your future classroom?

    • Hi Lauren,

      I think for physics, I would show my future students a video example of an object undergoing examples of projectile motion, torque, rotational inertia, etc. and ask students to play the “explanation game” in order to explain what is occurring in these examples. This would allow students to practice analyzing phenomena in physics qualitatively as a class that typically focuses more on quantitative information.

  3. Jay,
    Great blog post! I have not heard of the micro lab protocol MTV strategy so thanks for sharing about that one! I would agree with you, this MTV strategy definitely encourages all voices and thoughts to be shared. I feel like this strategy would work well with abstract science concepts because it gives students that processing time. What do you think this strategy would work well with? Any particular topics?

    • Hi Riley,

      I think that the micro lab protocol can work with any topic that students are learning for the first time. Micro labs can theoretically be utilized in math and history classes as well. It’s a great MTV strategy for encouraging students to participate equally, connect ideas, and show respect to the speaker!

  4. Hi, Jay! Thanks for sharing such a great blog post! The imagery you used throughout really helped with understanding the context portrayed. Could you please provide an example of what kind of topic you would utilize the Explanation Game for?

    • Hi Brooklyn,

      An example of what I would use the explanation game for would be teaching students concepts of torque. I would show them a video of something like two people of relatively same physique on opposite sides of a door trying to push the door one way or another. Afterwards, one person will shift closer to the hinges of the door and notice that the person farther away from the hinges of the door will find it easier to push the door away from him. Since torque would be a relatively new concept to students, they will be asked to play the explanation game to explain why this particular case happened.

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