Making Thinking Visible for your Students

Thinking is something that’s invisible, it’s in our mind and we can’t see it. Wouldn’t you like to make it something that is visible though? By making thinking visible, you will allow your students to better comprehend their material and internalize it on a deeper level. By writing out their thinking in words, they will be forced to better articulate their thoughts and make it more comprehensible to them.

There are many strategies that help to make thinking visible, and they all will help your students’ learning. Many strategies are well-known, including graphic organizers like Venn diagrams. In this blog I hope to introduce you to more strategies. Here is a quick list of some awesome strategies I’ve found that will help your students learn.

I Used to Think… Now I Think

This is a great strategy to use in your classroom. It is great because it shows where a student is currently at in understanding a certain topic, and also documents a students’ growth. In this strategy, students write down what they used to think about a particular topic, and after completing the unit or lesson they write down what they now think. This lets them see the misconceptions they previously held, and helps them to understand the reasons why these misconceptions were incorrect. By doing so, they see that holding misconceptions is ok, and that dismantling them is apart of the learning process!

I Used to Think / Now I Think" How Teacher Mindset Impacts Equity in PBL  (Part 1) | PBLWorks

This strategy is also great because it enforces the concept in students that already knowing something is not the point of education. There no virtue in already knowing, instead there is virtue in NOT knowing. Students should be proud to see that they were misinformed at the beginning of the classroom period. Students should be proud in their NOT knowing, because this way they can eventually move to knowing. This diagram documents this transition.


Tug-of-War is not only a great game to play, but its also a great strategy to make your thinking visible. For this strategy, students assemble information supporting both sides of an issue. For a science classroom, there are many topics or questions you could choose from. Is bioengineering good or bad? Are nuclear weapons ever justified? There are many interesting questions you could choose from. The steps for this strategy are listed below.

  • Identify and frame the two opposing sides
  • Generate as many tugs (reasons) that pull you towards
  • Determine the strength of each tug – placing the strongest reasons at the farthest end
  • Capture any “What if…” questions that arise and place them above the tug-of-war rope

This strategy is great to organize thoughts on an issue, and can even help in decision-making. Incorporating this strategy into your science classroom is a great way to get the whole class involved and engaged, and allow them to think deeply on a current issue.

This strategy is also great because it is very intuitive. The game of Tug-of-War is something that is very well-known to your students, it is most likely something that they participated in. By making a strategy that uses this game as a model, students can easily see the relationships between these ideas. They will understand that putting the strongest reasons on the end is similar to the game of tug-of-war, because often times the strongest person on the team has the “anchor” position at the back. Students will enjoy using a strategy that is well-understood by them, plus they will find it fun!


This strategy is a great way for your students to practice critical thinking. For this strategy, students can practice making strong claims, supporting them with strong evidence, and then critically examining their claims and then asking questions. This is an important skill to develop, especially in the realm of science. Science is about creating a hypothesis, or a claim, and then supporting that hypothesis with evidence. Scientists continually ask questions about their work, and then repeat this process again and again.

  • Create a claim over the subject the class is examining. This claim is some sort of explanation or interpretation over the topic the class is looking at.
  • Find support for the claim you created. What supporting points can you identify that back up the claim that you created?
  • Think if a question about the claim you created. Is there anything that makes you wonder if your claim is true? Do you have any doubts, is there anything that requires more explanation?
Peter Pan's Shadow: Claim-Support-Question - LEARNING WITH K1AC . . .


There are many strategies that can make your student’s thinking visible. All these strategies are used to organize your student’s thoughts, and also can be used to engage the classroom in a group activity. This small list of strategies can all be used within a science classroom to enrich student learning. I hope you found this list helpful and will utilize some of these strategies in your own classroom!


  1. Hey Nate,
    Really strong points are presented in this blog! I think you did an awesome job explaining the strategies you posted. I can tell that you pulled the information from Duckworth and clearly executed it in this post. I think that these strategies could all help you visualize your students learning and better prepare you to guide their learning experience. I was wondering how do you think I could use some of these strategies in a biology classroom?

  2. Hi Nathan!
    I liked your post a lot! I thought it was important how you mentioned that there is virtue in students not knowing the answers to everything. This is very reminiscent of the Duckworth chapters we read about wonderful ideas. I think that you chose some really good strategies that would be really applicable in the science classroom. Can you give me some examples of how you might use the claim support question strategy in your future physics class?

Leave a Reply

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