Students are Always Thinking…let’s Celebrate that In the Classroom!


Sometimes it can seem like students are not thinking in science class. They usually are, whether or not it’s about the lesson depends on how engaging your lesson is! Regardless, as teachers, we want to know what our students are thinking about! How can we do that? In this post, you will find three strategies designed to help make thinking visible in the science classroom!

Image reads "Claim Support Question" with a cartoon penguin next to the text. The penguin has several question marks above its head

Overview of Claim-Support-Question

  • Have students make a claim about a topic
    • A claim is an explanation or interpretation of some aspect of the topic
  • Have students identify support for their claim
    • What things do they know that provide evidence supporting their claim?
  • Have students ask a question relating to their claim
    • What isn’t fully explained? What further ideas or issues does their claim raise? What might make them doubt their claim?

Purpose of Claim-Support-Question

  • This thinking routine is designed to help identify and explore claims 
  • Finding claims will help students look for patterns, spot generalizations, and identify assertions 
  • The support and question steps help students identify claims that hold up to scrutiny 
  • Supporting claims provides the opportunity for students to show their thinking beyond just their opinions or feelings on a subject

What content works best with Claim-Support-Question

  • This thinking routine fits any content in which various interpretations or explanations exist that are worthy of further exploration and justification
  • Teachers can use claims students have already brought up to ensure they know how to find evidence
  • Teachers can also find potential claims in the public sphere, for example newspapers, magazines, political cartoons, etc

Steps for Claim-Support-Question

  1. Set up: Idea of claim is introduced
  2. Identify Claims: With student feedback, write out claims identified about the subject for the class to see
  3. Identify Support: Have students research support and write support next to claims where class can see
  4. Raise Questions: Have students be skeptical and ask questions about the claims and support generated
  5. Share the Thinking: The process is documented, have students reflect on the process of C-S-Q and rank confidence in claims or give positions regarding the issue

What to think about when assessing students

  • Notice how often and in what context students are making claims
  • See if the students are able to recognize when claims are made based on insubstantial evidence
  • See if students recognize generalizations and conjectures
  • Pay attention to the strategies students use to gather support and make sure their evidence is solid and not based off of opinion or personal experience


Have students generate claims about renewable energy. Some example claims could be:

  • It costs more to create new sources of renewable energy than it does to continue using nonrenewable energy
  • It is more cost efficient to make the switch to renewable energy
  • Renewable energy is better for the environment
Image is a circle with five sections and a smaller circle in the middle. The small circle reads "Renewable Energy Sources". The five sections read 'Hydro", "Geothermal", "Biomass", "Wind", and "Solar". Each section contains cartoon images depicting each type of renewable energy source.

Write claims on the board or on chart paper at the front of the classroom. Give students 10-15 minutes to generate evidence supporting a claim on the board. Have students share their evidence with a small group or the entire group, and write the evidence underneath the claims. If students have any questions, write them as well. Discuss the evidence as a class.

Image depicts six children, three on the right and three on the left, playing tug of war by pulling on a rope.

Overview of Tug-of-War

  • Label the ends of a rope with two opposing sides of a dilemma 
  • Generate support for each side of the rope, write the evidence on individual sticky notes
  • Determine the strength of each piece of evidence (or “tug” on the rope) and place each sticky note accordingly on along the rope, with the strongest ideas towards the end of the rope
  • Any “What if…?” questions should be written on sticky notes and places above the rope

Purpose of Tug-of-War

  • Have students practice taking a stance on an issue and supporting their stance
  • Show students that taking a stance too quickly can lead to narrow thinking and oversimplification of the issue
  • Helps students understand that there is evidence of varying strengths “tugging” the rope in both directions
  • Have students avoid taking an initial stance and give them the opportunity to explore the arguments for both sides

What content works best for Tug-of-War

  • Best for dilemmas with two clear and opposing stances
    • Can be from school subjects, current events, or everyday occurrences 
  • Dilemma must be complex and involve exploration of multiple supporting ideas
    • Make sure it is not simply a quick selection of a preferred stance (like in a debate)

Steps of Tug-of-War

  1. Set up: Identify a dilemma for the class to examine, draw a line on chart paper/board to represent the rope and have students name the opposing sides, label the sides
  2. Consider the “tugs”: Have students generate as many “tugs” (or support) for each side of the dilemma in small groups, large group, or individually. Write each “tug” on an individual sticky note
  3. Place the “tugs”: Have students discuss where each “tug” should be placed on the line. Recall that stronger “tugs” should be further from the center and weaker “tugs” closer to the center.
  4. Ask “What if?” “What about?” Questions: During discussion, if any questions arise have students write them on sticky notes and place them above the line. Questions should capture issues, factors, or concerns that need exploration.
  5. Share the thinking: Have students discuss their process and if their stance changed.

What to think about when assessing students

  • Consider how students perceive or frame an issue, can they comprehend complex dilemmas?
  • Can students step outside of their own experience and consider both sides of a dilemma?
  • Pay attention to the discussion regarding strength of ideas, see what reasoning and justifications are used
  • Are students able to articulate a richer understanding of the dilemma following the activity?


Have students define two opposing sides of an issue. For example, if the topic is using CRISPR, the students might identify the opposing sides of the issue as…

  • Why not?
  • Who are we to play God?
Image has a light blue background with a strand of DNA pictured. One hand cuts a section of DNA, another hand inserts a new section into another place on the DNA strand. There are various decorative designs in the background.

Now give the students 10-15 minutes to find evidence to support both sides of the issue. Come back together as a class or in small groups and discuss the strength of each “tug” of evidence. Place each “tug” post it note of evidence accordingly on the line. Discuss, and have students pick a stance at the end!

CSI: Color, Symbol, Image
Image has a title that reads "Color - Symbol - Image". Underneath the title there is a 3x2 grid. The boxes read: "Color, what color best represents this?", "Symbol, what symbols best represent this?" "Image, what image best represents this?" and then the bottom three boxes all read "Why did you choose this color/symbol/image". There is enough space in each box for a response.

Overview of CSI

  • Based on what the students just read, saw, or heard, have them identify a color, symbol, and image that reflects the essence of the idea

Purpose of CSI

  • Have students identify the essence of ideas in nonverbal ways
  • Students have to develop their metaphorical thinking and enhance their comprehension

What content works best for CSI

  • Ensure the content is rich with complexity, nuance, and ambiguity.
  • The content could be a piece of literature, a poem, or a short film
  • It is best to select short bits of content that include something you want students to interpret

Steps for CSI

  1. Set up: Have students read, listen, or watch the selected content, then have the students make note of anything they found interesting, surprising, or important
  2. Choose a color: Have students individually select a color that represents the core idea of the content to them
  3. Create a symbol: Have students select a symbol that represents the content, remember a symbol is a thing that stands for something else
  4. Sketch an image: Each student will sketch a simple drawing that represents the content
  5. Share the thinking: Have students share their CSI with a partner or group, and make sure each student explains the reasoning behind their selections

What to think about when assessing students

  • Look at the student’s abilities to capture the essence in their colors, symbols, and images
  • Pay particular attention to their reasons for choosing what they did
  • Check the quality of their metaphors, encourage students to go beyond obvious metaphors (such as black to symbolize sadness)


Have students watch this short video, which discusses the immortal cells of Henrietta Lacks. This is a good introduction to the concept and a discussion about scientific ethics.

TedEd video about the immortal cells of Henrietta Lacks

After watching the video, have students identify a color, symbol, and image that represents the content. Then, have students share with a small group or the large group!


As teachers, and in fact especially as exemplary science teachers, it is our job to ensure our students are learning. One way to see that students are learning is to make their thinking visible to us. Remember, even when we cannot see it, students are always thinking! Employ some of these strategies to make the most out of the thinking every student is engaging in every day!

Find me on Twitter for more about making thinking visible!


  1. I absolutely loved the images and thought put into this blog post. Not only have you utilized great informational videos, but you have also deeply outlined each tactic of teaching in a valuable way. Claim-Support-Question provides students with a variety of skill-building activities and gets them to be scientifically literate! How should I best manage these skills if students begin to slack off during these activities?

    • Hi Katie, I’m glad you found my post helpful! If students are slacking off during these activities you might need to reevaluate the topic. Students are more likely to be engaged if the topic is something that personally interests them or is relevant to their daily lives!

  2. Hi Audrey! I love the format and flow of the information you provided. This post included so many great examples of ways educators can make their students’ thinking visible. All three thinking routines you discussed can be easily infused into the science classroom. Of the three you investigated, which one do you see yourself using the most in your own classroom?

    • Hi Hannah, I’m glad you enjoyed the post and found it helpful! Out of all the strategies I mentioned my favorite was Tug-of-War! I think it would be especially helpful in a science classroom to discuss specific complex dilemmas in the scientific community to help encourage critical thinking and scientific literacy skills!

  3. Hi Audrey, this post is super informative and I love your examples for each strategy. I really enjoyed that you included a video on Henrietta Lacks, it’s a great lesson for students to understand the importance of medical consent and ethics. My favorite MTV strategy is Color Symbol Image so I was very excited to see your take on it. 🙂

    • Hi Lydia, I’m glad you found my post helpful! I also liked CSI and I am excited to utilize it in my future classroom!

  4. Hey Audrey,
    Great post! the examples are great! I love how all the methods allow the student to express their thoughts in a creative way. The method Claim-Support-Question is a great way to bring the scientific method into the discussion as well. Is there a method you would suggest as a summative assessment? Would the Tug-of-War be a good method for the engage phase of the 5E or would it fit better into another phase?

    • Hi Trinity, I’m glad you liked my post! In my opinion, a good making thinking visible strategy for summative assessment is I used to think…now I think. This strategy is great for the end of a unit and it’s good for student reflection. Tug-of-War could reasonably be used in a few of the 5E phases, I think it would be especially useful in engage as you mentioned, or in explore.

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