Science Teaching 2.0: Visible Thinking in Learning and Teaching

Usually, thinking is an internal process that is invisible to both students and teachers. And yet, thinking is at the core of learning. So, what does it mean to think and why should thinking be made visible? A student, Maeve Zamuner, shares her perspective on making thinking visible in the TEDx presentation below:

Making thinking visible is important to both students and teachers in several ways.

For students, visible thinking is useful for developing the skills to clearly identify problems, consider alternate ideas and solutions, and creatively solve problems that collectively deepen content learning (TASIS Portugal, n.d.).

For teachers, making thinking visible allows teachers a window into what students understand and how they are understanding it, provides evidence of students’ insights and misconceptions, and creates opportunities to enhance student engagement and exploration of ideas (Ritchhart et al., 2011).

As teachers, we must create opportunities for thinking that will take student learning to the next level. Three routines and strategies that provide students with the opportunity to make thinking visible include the Explanation Game, the 4C’s, and Circle of Viewpoints.

Routine for Introducing and Exploring Ideas: The Explanation Game

This MTV strategy helps students generate causal explanations for an object or occurrence by looking closely at its features and details. In this routine, students focus more on the parts than the whole. Here’s how to utilize The Explanation Game for introducing and exploring ideas:

  • Set up: draw students’ attention to an object you want them to better understand.
  • Name it: name a feature or aspect you notice on the object.
  • Explain it: what could it be, what role or function might it serve, why might it be there?
  • Give reasons: what makes you say that or why do you think it happened that way?
  • Generate alternatives: what else could it be and what makes you say that?

(Ritchhart et al., 2011).

Routine for Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas: The 4C’s

The 4 C’s is an MTV strategy that encourages students to go beyond the first impressions and contend with information read in a text in a purposeful and structed way. To guide students in synthesizing and organizing ideas, use the 4C’s:

  • Set up: students read the selected text either before or during the session. List the 4C’s in a place visible to students to indicate that it is the framework for the discussion.
  • Connections: what connections to you draw between the text and your own life or other learning?
  • Challenge: what ideas, positions, or assumptions do you want to challenge or argue with in the text?
  • Concepts: what key concepts or ideas do you think are important and worth holding on to from the text? Changes: what changes in attitudes, thinking, or action are suggested by the text, either for you or others?

(Ritchhart et al., 2011).

Routine for Digging Deeper into Ideas: Circle of Viewpoints

Using the Circle of Viewpoints, students can identify different perspectives that could be present in or affected by what was read, heard, or seen. These perspectives are recorded around an issue or event at the center, where one of the perspectives is further explored using the prompts below to dig deeper into the ideas:

  • I am thinking of [name of event/issue] from the point of view of…
  • I think… [describe the topic from your viewpoint. Be an actor – take on the character of your viewpoint]. Because… [explain reasoning]
  • A question/concern I have from this viewpoint is…

(Ritchhart et al., 2011).


Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making Thinking Visible. Jossy-Bass, A Wiley Imprint. TASIS Portugal. (n.d.). Visible Thinking.

TASIS Portugal. (n.d.). Visible Thinking.


  1. Hey Lauren!
    I think the circle of viewpoints is a really interesting strategy that could be used in a science classroom. For one, it seems like it forces students to look at topics from different perspectives, which is great! That’s an example of how science classrooms teach more than just their content. By having our students look at things from different perspectives, we help them improve their empathy. Plus it reinforces the idea that not everything in science is set in stone. By having this discussion we can show that there are many different arguments to certain science topics. The more we show our students that science is still developing, the more inspired they’ll be to take part in the scientific process!

    • Hi Tommy,
      Thanks for reading my post! As I was reviewing the MTV strategies we didn’t cover in class, I thought the circle of viewpoints to be a great one to highlight on the blog because it is very applicable to the science classroom. It not only allows students to gain deeper insights into ideas/concepts/topics, but it also promotes active listening skills – which are important in all facets of life.

  2. Hi Lauren! I really enjoyed your post! You did an excellent job explaining the importance of using MTV strategies in the classroom in a way that no one could ever argue with! I think there is a really interesting connection to The 4 C’s and increasing science literacy in our students. It is increasingly important for teachers and students to engage with science literature in the classroom due to the increasing popularity of pseudo-science and the easy accessibility to simply false information.

    • Hi Colleen,
      Thanks for reading my post! I agree that promoting science literacy and critical thinking is more important now more than ever – students need to develop the skills necessary for distinguishing between scientifically credible information and false claims and pseudoscience. The 4C’s routine would be a great way to get students thinking visibly about information presented to them regardless if they encounter the information inside or outside of school.

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