Visible Thinking

Making Thinking Visible... What is it?

Educational research conducted by Project Zero at Harvard Graduate School of Education has led to a flexible and systematic approach to teaching and learning for understanding. Using an extensive collection of practices, called “thinking routines”, learners’ thinking is made visible through active processing, and in turn, deepens content learning across subject areas.

Thinking Routines are mini strategies that guide learners' thought processes. They help extend and deepen learners' thinking, becoming part of the make-up of everyday classroom life.

Creating a culture of thinking enables visible thinking to take place. To value thinking, we have to unpack it and identify what it involves in different teaching and learning situations. In this was, learning results in connecting new ideas to one’s own thinking. Integrating thinking routines into teaching and learning practices deepens our understanding and drives further inquiry... 

Ron Ritchhart is the Principal Investigator for the Cultures of Thinking Project and the Senior Research Associate for Project Zero at Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is also one of the authors of Making Thinking Visible. Visit his upcoming events page to see when and where he'll be presenting in 2014.

Visible thinking in action... 

What do you See-Think-Wonder? How could visible thinking be part of your daily classroom practices?

Thinking routines are useful for encouraging students to go deeper into their work

This is an example of how we use the thinking routine Tug of War in my middle school classroom

Introducing the thinking routine See-Think-Wonder with 4 year old children

Creating a culture of thinking that extends across boarders

Visible thinking in high school science at Graded School

Creating more of a visible thinking rich environment in PE

More visible thinking resources to help create a culture of thinking in your classroom...

Making Thinking Visible Facebook Site for Teachers

Extending Cultures of Learning through Visible Thinking

Making Thinking Visible Routines

Stronger Thinking and Learning Through the Power of Art

Additional Resources

Resource Book

So... What is thinking NOW?

From the perspective of a teacher... John Zorovich, Grade 6

In what ways have student's thinking shown growth in their understanding of a topic, concept, idea, etc.?

I've only really started using visible thinking since returning from the break. It's still not a consistent routine in my classroom, but I'm working towards using it more frequently. I've focused mainly on using the routine for introducing and exploring ideas. One of the routines involved students doing a See-Think-Wonder about a political cartoon related to Apartheid and poverty. In activities like these, I've seen student engagement increase as they work together to develop possible interpretations around a concept. The variety of possible interpretations also further increases our collective understanding a a class.

In what ways have the use of thinking routines help shift your thinking about teaching and learning for understanding?

One of the sections that stood out for me in the book [Making Thinking Visible] was on page 9 about the teacher who considered himself successful because he we was skilled at delivering content to his students. What I've come to realize is that the transmission of knowledge isn't at the heart of good teaching. Requiring students to really wrestle with ideas and giving them a more active role in making meaning is the key to true understanding

What further wonderings do you have about thinking routines?

What would it be like if these routines were common practice across a school? Since the routines are transferable across subjects, I think both teachers and students would benefit from incorporating them into their lessons and thinking. I think it would be great to be able to have a common dialogue around their practice.

How has your thinking shifted about THINKING?

I used to think THINKING occurred if students could deliver the right answers, but now I think THINKING is about how students interact, reflect, revise, transfer and grow their ideas.

What do students have to say about THINKING?

I used to think THINKING was reflecting about something, but now I think THINKING is looking at every possible aspect of something and try to really understand it. It's also trying to apply to other things you know.  - Sofia, Grade 10

I used to think THINKING was just thinking of the facts about something, but now I think THINKING is completely analyzing a topic and trying to change your way of thinking by seeing different perspectives.  Daniel, Grade 10

I wonder, how has visible thinking shifted your view as a learner, student or teacher? Share your shift in thinking in the comment box below.


  1. I used to think THINKING was just getting your ideas out there, but now I think THINKING enables us to share our connections, wonders, perspectives and positions in a way that provides meaningful opportunities for collaboration to take place.

  2. I used to think that THINKING was imagining things in my head, but now I think THINKING is so many other things: imagining, contemplating, planning, predicting, deducing, comparing, visualizing (and many I mean MANY more....).


  3. I used to think that I was odd, when I felt the need to create visuals (and waste time) to explain my own thinking to others, now I think that I was on the right track and making my thinking visible is a critical component of my own learning.

  4. I used to think that cultivating my students thinking was important but I wasn't sure what the best ways to go about it might be, now I think it's even more important then I thought before AND that there are tools out there to help make it happen.

  5. I used to think that THINKING was a natural extension of unit activities, but I now realize that it is a culture of the classroom with a specific language and built in routines...and I plan to add this important dimension right away!

    Grade 7 Humanities Teacher, Graded School

  6. I used to think that THINKING was noticing something, real or fictional, and taking note a mental note of it. By thinking of that something, you are categorizing it into existence. Now I think that THINKING is analyzing something to gain a better understanding. Granted, this can still just be making mental note of it, acknowledging that it exists but what this usually is is taking mental NOTES of it. You try to understand what exactly this thing, you take in details more than others to try and figure it out. By thinking, we are trying to gain a better understanding on why things are around us, rather than just what is around us.