Diving into Thinking Routines
You might have heard about Thinking Routines, Making Thinking Visible, or Project Zero – but might be wondering what they all are, how they’re connected, or how to incorporate the ideas into your own context. Project Zero is an educational research group through Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, and there is a vast array of projects that they focus on, just one of which is Visible Thinking, often referred to as Thinking Routines. (To learn more about Project Zero, check out the resources at the bottom.)
A common worry about incorporating Thinking Routines is “But I have too much on my plate as it is, I can’t add anything else!” and yes, at first it can seem like you’re adding something new. But with time and a bit of practice for both you and your students, you might start to see that thinking routines are a powerful tool to develop thinking and become a way of being in your classroom, not just an activity that ticks a box.
[A quick note: I’m using ‘classroom’ and ‘students’ in the descriptions below, but any of these could be used with adults in team meetings, or other contexts that don’t necessarily involve students.]
Many ISB staff have participated in Project Zero workshops and courses and will have fantastic ideas about how to add Thinking Routines to your repertoire if you’re interested. An open invitation to anyone who would like to dive further into learning about thinking routines or Project Zero: contact me! I’m always happy to be a thinking partner and help determine which routines might be a great resource when you’re designing upcoming learning engagements, regardless of your context.
Questions to Consider When Choosing the Best Routine to Use
The first, and arguably most important, question to consider is, “What thinking are you hoping to bring out from your students?” The answer to that question will help determine which type of routine might fit best. For a terrific resource with loads of different routines listed out by category/type, check out Harvard Project Zero’s Thinking Routine Toolbox (here’s a screenshot of the menu)
A second question to consider is, “Are you hoping to bring out thinking from your students that involves independent thinking, partner or group thinking, whole class generating ideas or discussion, or a combination of those?” Routines can vary quite a lot and can be adapted to fit just about any context or need. Some routines are certainly more naturally geared toward capturing independent thinking and some are best with a small group, and some move from independent thinking to shared thinking and back again to independent consolidation or new ideas.
Another important consideration is, “Where are you in your unit/lesson?” Perhaps you need a routine that would be helpful for generating new ideas at the beginning of your learning; possibly you are looking for something to use as a check-in in the middle of your unit, or you might need something that will help consolidate or clarify thinking toward the end of your unit.
A Few Routines – Give Some a Try!
Here are just three of the many excellent routines to possibly spark an idea for how to implement deeper thinking in your classroom:
This routine can be a powerful tool for preassessment, as well as having students reflect after a lesson or unit about how much they’ve learned by the end.
The basic premise:
- Students complete a structured 3-2-1 response with prompts before they’ve done the learning. (All of the prompts can be adapted for what you need; here’s an example of how you might structure it)
- After the learning engagement, they complete the same 3-2-1 response prompts and see what they know now.
- Students reflect on how those before and after responses changed, or what they did to move their learning forward. This is the Bridge part of the 3-2-1 Bridge.
Have students complete the first half (left side of the example) before a movie, text, or before the start of a new unit. It’s a great way to preassess and capture what students know about your topic now, and later will serve as a powerful visual both for you and for them how their thinking has changed or deepened as a result of the movie, text, lesson, unit, etc. (For younger students I often adapt the Metaphor/Simile prompt and have the students write down a vocabulary word or an image related to the topic instead.)
This routine has become a new favorite go-to, not only because of its simplicity but also the potential for digging deeper into an idea.
The basic premise:
- See an example visual here; students reflect on three of the boxes – Experience, Struggles & Puzzles – independently. Adapt or change the language for each to match what your students need as a prompt for their thinking.
- Share (in partners, small groups, whole group, etc.)
- In the Insight box, add new thoughts or questions they have now, as a result of sharing and hearing others’ ideas. (This is the +I part of the routine.)
This is a great routine for when you’ve done something that might have stretched students’ thinking, such as a learning engagement or activity or experience that is new.
- Name Describe Act
This routine is useful for enhancing descriptive language, and for helping students understand the power and importance in noticing details and looking closely at something.
The basic premise:
- Choose an image that will provoke discussion or something that might require some close examination.
- Students look at the image for a minute, then the teacher removes the image from sight.
- Working from memory, students make a list. (I’ve used a 3-column format for this that has worked well in the past – see visual and student example below)
- Name – make a list of all the parts or features that you can remember
- Describe – describe each item in the list
- Act – for each item, tell how they act
- Put the image back up. Students write out questions they now have, or new observations they’ve made.
This has worked as a provocation to start off a unit or new topic, and as a way to generate some deep thinking, quite quickly. The second time the image is put back up for display, it’s amazing how intensely students look at the image again, and the new details that emerge for them.
Making Thinking Visible co-creator Ron Ritchhart recently posted some common pitfalls that you might be on the lookout for when using routines: Using Thinking Routines: 10 Ways You Could Die. A quick blurb is here:
“Although thinking routines are relatively accessible (admittedly, some more than others), they aren’t silver bullets, magic potions, games, activities, or tricks. Some teachers may be expecting routines to do all the heavy lifting in the classroom, and thus not experience much success. So, with much appreciation to my two colleagues, I offer my own list of ways you can die—or struggle, or flounder—focused on using thinking routines.”
Helpful Resources to Check Out
- Harvard Project Zero’s Thinking Routine Toolbox: http://pz.harvard.edu/thinking-routines
- Project Zero’s Visible Thinking site: http://pz.harvard.edu/projects/visible-thinking
- What is Project Zero? Check out a quick intro video here: https://pz.harvard.edu/who-we-are/about
- Office of Learning professional library also has Project Zero available for teachers to check out
- Check out the Fringe Festival reflection sheets created by Bec Taylor, which were based on many different thinking routines!
Need ideas of how to use these or other Thinking Routines? Not sure where to start? Have some ideas but would like to see an example or talk through the logistics of how to use a routine? Let me know – I’m happy to help!