Using thinking tools is one way to “make thinking visible” and help our students explain their thoughts in a simple and explicit way. As the team from Project Zero themselves say “Visible Thinking includes a large number of classroom routines, easily and flexibly integrated with content learning, and representing areas of thinking such as understanding, truth and evidence, fairness and moral reasoning, creativity, self-management, and decision making. It also provides tools for integrating the arts with subject-matter content. Finally, it includes a practical framework for how to create “cultures of thinking” in individual classrooms and within an entire school.”

Here are just a few, many with links to further, more detailed information. Harvard Visible Thinking Website



What do you SEE?

What does it make you THINK?

What do you WONDER?

This is a very easy tool for students of all ages and is most useful for looking at and reflecting on a variety of visual artefacts such as YouTube and other clips, cartoons or an individual or sequence of images. It encourages students to make careful observations and thoughtful interpretations. It helps stimulate curiosity and sets the stage for inquiry.



  How are the ideas CONNECTed?

What new ideas have EXTENDed your thinking?

What is still CHALLENGING your thinking? What do you wonder about?

     This is a great routine for encouraging students to make connections between prior knowledge and new ideas, extend thinking and reflect on their learning. It works well individually, in small groups or with the whole class.



While students are collecting information (reading, watching or listening) they make notes of the things they find interesting. Then select the 3 most significant points from  their list.

Choose a COLOUR for one point, a SYMBOL for another and an IMAGE for the third.

This is valuable as a reflection tool or to facilitate discussion if students are encouraged to share and explain their choices.



What do you THINK?

What PUZZLES or question do you have?

How can you EXPLORE the topic?

This is a very effective way to excite students about a topic and encourage them to think about their prior knowledge and plan future investigation.



What HEADLINE would you write to capture the most important aspect of this concept, event, or topic. It is great as a synthesising activity after some specific work.

Then perhaps to record changes in thinking over time……How would your HEADLINE look now? How has it changed? Why?



Students reflect on their changing thinking by answering the question stem

I used to think…But now I think…

Not only does this routine help students reflect but it also helps to consolidate learning when they explain how and why their thinking has changed.



Choose a WORD, a PHRASE and a SENTENCE from their reading that they think are important.

A great routine to help students capture their thinking and identify what is important in what they have been reading or viewing. If students work in groups to share and justify their selections they can then determine common themes and the write a new HEADLINE for the item.



Students answer 2 questions

 WHAT’S going on?


Students are asked to describe something, such as an object, historical artefact, poem or concept, and then support their answer with evidence. This helps develop evidence-based reasoning and to help them understand alternatives and different perspectives.


 To encourage active involvement, students are asked a question and given a few moments to think of their response. Then they pair up to discuss their responses. Lastly answers are shared with the whole group. It helps to set a time limit for each step.



 Students work in pairs. The teacher asks a question, one partner speaks for a set amount of time while the other listens then the partners switch roles.

Questions might include:

What is the main point of what you have just seen/read?

What is the main message?


M.I.P. Most Important Point

 Students are asked to identify and justify what they think is the most important point.




This strategy is one of my favourites as it makes students thoughts and opinions very visible.

Designate one side of the room AGREE and the opposite side DISAGREE (you can hang signs if you wish).

The teacher makes a value statement; students decide on their response and stand along the continuum. If they completely agree or disagree- stand at the relevant end, or somewhere towards the middle. Ask a couple of students to explain their choices and discuss.


This is a powerful way to get students to look deeply, to take time to think about what they see and could be used at any time in the learning process and in virtually any subject. Select a key image or piece of text  but display only one small key part.

Ask students what they see and discuss the elements. Then show a larger section and continue the discussion. Repeat the procedure until the whole image is visible You could use almost anything for this routine – words from a story, maths equations, images from books or works of art (I especially love the paintings of Escher)



This is a routine for students to “step inside the skin” of a person, problem, event or issue. It encourages students to think creatively about different perspectives and viewpoints. For example, how might the chariot feel in the Colosseum? Or  Mona Lisa in the Louvre?

Students need to consider 3 key questions

  1. What can the person or thing perceive?
  2. What might the person or thing know about or believe?
  3. What might the person or thing care about?


This routine is to encourage students to think through issues, using evidence to get to the truth. It is best done in groups or as a whole class as students can then question each other to clarify student thinking.

Look at the data and information collected and have the class work through the following process

  1. Make a claim  (an explanation or interpretation) about the topic
  2. Describe the evidence that supports the claim
  3. Ask a question about something that is still unclear or interesting

After everyone has had a turn, ask student how this has changed their thinking, what new ideas or thoughts do they have?


A great routine when you want students to think about a topic from different perspectives. It could be used as part of an introduction, to “hook and hold” student interest or at any point in the learning process.

Look at the information, images, sounds or video that has been collected and explore the topic using the following prompts:

  1. I am thinking of  ( the topic) From the point of view of  (the viewpoint you’ve chosen)
  2. I think  (imagine you are the character or object and describe you thinking)
  3. A question I have from this viewpoint is  (ask a question from this viewpoint)

Then pull it all together by asking students what new ideas or questions they have about the topic.


This routine is very useful to help students look at an idea from a variety of angles, evaluate it and then plan the next step such as form an opinion, conclusion or to take action.

Students consider

    1. What excites them?
    2. What worries them about the idea, issue or information ?
    3. What else do they need or want to know?
    4. What is their current stance or suggestion for the next step?

Thinking Tools & Routines posters