Gotta See it to Believe it! Make Thinking Visible in Your Science Classroom

Making Thinking Visible by Karen Morrison, Mark Church, and Ron Ritchhart is a text the EDT431 cohort women have been studying lately. Sometimes it’s hard to be 100% engaged by a book, but I found that this book has grabbed my attention with its interesting strategies for making thinking visible in class. Making thinking visible is so necessary because teachers can’t read students’ minds and need to be able to see their thought process. The strategies I have referenced in this post are just a few good ways to make that thinking visible. We’ll start with the activity Sentence-Phrase-Word.


This strategy works great when you have a text that you’d like the students to read closely and make a lot of meaning from it. This activity guides students toward the core ideas of a text and helps them find the most powerful messages from the passage that they can then share with the class. Here’s how it works:

  1. Give the students the text and allow them to read, after instructing them to keep an eye out for particularly attention-grabbing elements (a sentence, a phrase, a word)
  2. Students are looking for powerful, engaging, provoking, interesting, and meaningful parts of the text. Encourage them to look for a sentence that captures the main idea of a text, a phrase that gives them pause, and a word that makes them wonder or think critically.
  3. Students share out their sentence, phrase, and word. Allow the students to lead the discussion, eventually talking about the overarching themes of the text.

I have created an example of a Sentence-Phrase-Word activity that you are welcome to download. It deals with geology and the lithosphere as a general theme.

Zoom In

If you’re looking for a more visually engaging strategy, Zoom In is a great one. It encourages students to make hypotheses based on the information they have, and it allows students to see how their conclusions change once they get more information. Here’s how it works:

  1. Pick an image relating to the subject you want to teach.
  2. Zoom in on a small portion of the image. You should be able to sort of understand what is there, but not completely. Have students discuss what they see and what they think is going on.
  3. Zoom out slightly, to reveal some more of the image. This should be a significant enough change for students to make new observations and hypotheses. Give them a chance to discuss.
  4. Repeat the above steps until the full image is revealed.

I have made an example of Zoom In that introduces the concept of symbiotic relationships. You are free to download this file, but you’ll need to figure out a way to hide each of the images so you don’t ruin the surprise!

Step In

Step In is a strategy that encourages students to “step in” to someone else’s or something else’s shoes. It allows students to understand the relationships between different perspectives. There are many different lessons you can use this activity for, but I have made an example you are free to download that introduces the Earth, moon and sun relationships and how they affect the seasons and tides. Here’s how Step In works:

  1. Have the students examine a provided material, like a picture, story, video, sound, or prompt.
  2. Encourage students to pick an object or person involved in the situation whose shoes they want to “step” into.
  3. Here are some questions to help guide your students as they look at their chosen perspective:
    • What can this person or thing observe?
    • What might the person or thing know about or understand?
    • What does the person or thing care about?
    • What is physically happening to the person or thing?


Thank you for reading my post, I hope that you found these strategies genuinely helpful. Please feel free to use the documents provided throughout this post in your classrooms!


  1. This post is AWESOME! Not only is the attention to detail evident, but you have also provided readers with great examples and resources. Each of your examples is great and easy to follow along with your description. These methods are great at building skills for your students but they also provide ways for students to mess around. How do we determine if a student is being genuine or slacking off?

    • Thanks so much for your comment Katie! I really wanted to make this post even more meaningful than my other ones and put in those resources for my readers. I’m anticipating the students will mess around a little, but as long as it’s evident that they are taking something away from the activity I think I can accept a little goofing off.

  2. Hi Lydia, I really liked your post. I learned a lot about the strategies you included and I am excited to use them in my future classroom! Zoom-in, in particular, fits really well in a science class! Which of the strategies do think is the most useful in your future science classroom?

    • Thanks for your comment Audrey, I’m glad you like the strategies! I’m not sure yet which strategy will be the most useful but I’ll most likely try each one, and get back to you. 🙂

  3. Hi Lydia! I agree with the statement you made above saying that making thinking visible is so necessary because teachers can’t read students’ minds and need to be able to see their thought process. This is SO TRUE…if we don’t know what our students are thinking then how do we know that they are fully understanding the course concepts and making connections with it? This step of making their thinking visible is absolutely a necessary step in the process of making meaning of concepts. I also loved your examples!

    • Thanks Hannah! I put a lot of thought into these examples and I really like them, I’m glad you enjoy them too. I think its super important to use a variety of strategies in your classroom to make thinking visible because students express their thinking in more ways than just written word.

  4. Hey Lydia,
    I loved your blog. The images and examples made it so easy to understand. I can not wait to use them in my classroom! I love adding reading and writing into every class and the methods you included do this very well. Which method do you think would be best for digging deeper into the phenomena we discuss in class beyond the standards? How could you use these methods use as an assessment?

    • Thanks so much for your comment Trinity, I hope the strategies will be useful for you. I think all the strategies are great for going beyond the standards, but I especially think that Step In encourages students to look at something through many different lenses. I think that these methods are really great for introducing a topic because there is usually not a “correct” answer for any of these, I personally wouldn’t use these methods as an assessment although I’m sure it’s possible!

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