Using Visible Thinking Routines in the Classroom (1/2)

Using Visible Thinking Routines in the Classroom (1/2)

Using Visible thinking RoutinesBefore you read this post, make sure you have read my post I Can Do Better  to know how and where to donate, get informed, support, and follow the Black Lives Matter movement and people from the Black community. Si hablas español, y especialmente si vives en Colombia, lee mi publicación Puedo hacer algo mejor para enterarte cómo puedes apoyar a la Comunidad afrocolombiana. 

Hello and happy Saturday. Today I’m excited because this is a topic I really like to talk about and recommend to other teachers. I’m talking about visible thinking routines, and let me tell you, they are game-changers. I learned about them because I worked at a school that followed the Teaching for Understanding model, which uses thinking routines. I’m going to talk about a few that I’ve tried and I’ll tell you how I’ve used them, but if you want to explore this a bit further, click here.

Visible thinking routines (or VTR’s) are exactly what they sound like; they are ways in which you and your students can visibly represent their understanding or appropriation of a topic. I love them for many reasons. First, they are a way in which students can condense and organize information. Many of these VTR’s use graphic organizers that you’re already familiar with, like T-charts. I also love them because you can structure an entire lesson around them. They are easily adaptable and modifiable to suit the needs and learning strategies of virtually any group of students.

Think, Pair, Share

I’m sure you already do this in class because it’s a really simple way to get students to talk about a topic. First, you prompt them by asking a question and giving them time to think about an answer. When I tell you this VTR works in any context, I mean it. After the students have thought of their answer, they will turn to their “elbow partner” and share it with them. Then, you’ll let students share with the class, but instead of saying their own answer, they will talk about their partner’s answer. They can simply retell it or they can go beyond that and say what they thought was interesting about that answer or whether they agree with it and why. I prefer it as a warm-up activity when I’m introducing a new topic.


KWL charts are awesome, especially if your students are conducting some type of research or inquiry project. I’ve worked at IB schools and it perfectly aligns with the PYP. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you about working at an IB school some other time. A KWL chart is divided int three columns: What I Know, What I Want to Know, and What I Learned. I start by introducing a topic to the students, one that is broad enough for them to each come up with different questions about it. I give them some time to complete their K column with things they know about the topic. I then allow a few kids to share their ideas. If I have a small class and enough time, I’ll let each kid tell me one thing they wrote. I have my own version of the chart on the board, so I copy their ideas as they share them. You can follow the same steps for the W column, or you can simply have students share their questions and fill that column collaboratively. Then, it’s time for the students to do independent research. If you have a school library or a media center, take them there. If you have iPads or tablets in your classroom, I’m jealous, but use them. Students will write their findings in the L column. And there you have it, a beautiful lesson that revolves around research.

See, Think, Wonder

I’ve used this one with my third graders, and it was sort of chaotic but also sort of awesome. I did this when we were working on daily routines around the world and the conditions in which some people live. For this, I showed them a video. First, we went through the video, once without stopping and then another time pausing after each step of the routine was depicted. The video showed many women and their morning routines. We would all take notes on what the children saw. It was a bit tough for them because they would say things like “I think that…” and of course, this was another step of the routine. I reminded them to focus on what they could see with their eyes without imagining other things. Then, we moved on to “I think,” and here the students had to be more reflective. They would say things like “I think some women have more resources than others.” Finally, for the “I wonder” part, the students asked questions. They then wrote a text in which they answered one of the questions they asked, based on what they had seen and their own reflections.

I’ll bring you part two some other time. Which of these routines do you use or are you interested in using? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy teaching!

Love, Miss Camila


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