Visible Thinking Routines

Routines to Make Thinking Visible

Introduction to Visible Thinking Routines

"Visible Thinking is a flexible and systematic research-based conceptual framework, which aims to integrate the development of students' thinking with content learning across subject matters. At the core of Visible Thinking are practices that help make thinking visible: Thinking Routines loosely guide learners' thought processes and encourage active processing.

Visible Thinking makes extensive use of learning routines that are rich in thinking. These routines are simple structures, for example a set of questions or a short sequence of steps, that can be used across various grade levels and content. What makes them routines, versus mere strategies, is that they get used over and over again in the classroom so that they become part of the fabric of classroom' culture. The routines become the ways in which students go about the process of learning. Routines are patterns of action that can be integrated and used in a variety of contexts. You might even use more than one routine in teaching a single lesson. Thus, you shouldn't think about the routine as taking time away from anything else you are doing; they should actually enhance what you are trying to do in the classroom.


What is Project Zero (PZ)?

Source: Sue Borchardt | What is PZ?Run Time: 5:08

PZ Thinking Routines

Source: Sue Borchardt | PZ Thinking RoutinesRun Time: 4:35

Using Thinking Routines with Distance Learning: by Ron Ritchhart

Click/Tap top View

Written By RON RITCHHART - April 67, 2020 - Source LINK

As we collectively move into the world of distance learning, we face a lot of questions and uncertainties:

  • How do I ensure that the tasks I assign students remotely are worthwhile and will actually produce learning versus just keep them busy?

  • How do I manage students doing different things at different times in different places?

  • How do I explain complex assignments and ideas remotely?

  • How do we stay together as a community of learners?

This is unfamiliar space for many of us. While not a panacea and certainly not an answer to all of the questions above, I believe that thinking routines can be a very useful tool during this time. Someone asked me the “best” thinking routines for distance learning. My reply was that the best routines would be the ones you have already established and with which your students are already familiar. This saves both you and your students the time needed to teach a new routine. This is precisely why we have routines, to provide structures that scaffold and support learning. As these structures are used over time, they become routine ways of interacting with content, and learners become more independent. Using familiar routines, allows students to learn in a familiar space in which they can experience a sense of agency and security. That said, new thinking routines can be taught online and I want to share a few with you that might be very useful in distance learning.

As David Perkins has said, “learning is a consequence of thinking.” Therefore, as we engage students remotely with content that they are reading, listening to, or watching on their own we want to make sure they are thinking about that material.

Take Note

A simple routine that can help ensure students are thinking about the material is the “Take Note” routine, which is one of the new routines featured in the new book due out at the end of April. The Take Note routine asks students to respond to at least one and up to four different prompts after they have read/watched/listened to the material:

  • What is the most important point?

  • What are you finding challenging, puzzling or difficult to understand?

  • What question would you most like to discuss?

  • What is something you found interesting?

Students can post their response online for others to use (perhaps on Padlet or a Google doc) or you can collect them via email. Based on students’ responses, you can then design online discussions & future instruction.

Peeling the Fruit

A second thinking routine that might be useful is Peeling the Fruit. Many teachers are using this time away from the classroom to have their students engage in some kind of independent inquiry. Students investigate a topic of interest using online and in-home resources. One way of documenting that inquiry would be to use the Peeling the Fruit routine. (See "Peeling the Fruit" image below this article)

Students begin on the skin by "describing what's there" and identify prior knowledge about their topic of inquiry. Then move inward to identify their puzzles, wonders and mysteries. As the inquiry progresses, they can keep track of the connections they are making explanations being built, and the different perspectives they have explored. Then Identify what is at the core: What's it all mean? Finally step back to identify the nuances and complexities of the topic. If students do have access to large chart paper (even a paper sack cut apart would work) they can document each stage on their personal graphic organizer. Alternatively, each stage of the routine can be documented on paper or in a word processing document using the appropriate heading.


Of course there are many other possibilities for the use of thinking routines and distance learning than just these two. Around the world, educators are coming together as a community to share their practices and help others. Some of these that might be helpful are:

  • Carol Geneix, and Jaime Chao-Mignano at Washington International School have put together a resource page in which thinking routines are matched to appropriate online tools.

  • Thinking about how to communicate with his students and explain concepts, Erik Lindemann, a Third grade teacher at Quaker Valley School District, discovered the Loom was a great tool. Loom has also made it’s Pro version completely free for teachers to use. The easy to use app allows you to create a video using any open window on your computer in which your video image appears in the corner of the page to offer commentary. It also has highlighting tools.

Visible Thinking Toolbox

Teaching Toolbox of Visible Thinking.pdf
Source: compiled by Natasha Hutchins from

20 Visible Thinking Templates

20 Visible Thinking Routines.pdf
Source: Toddle

Thinking Pathways Website

Source: Thinking Pathways

Thinking Pathways website is managed by Alice Vigors. The website below (which is interactive) houses a vast amount of information about Thinking Routines, Visible Learning, Culture of Thinking, and Inquiry-Based Learning. Just choose a topic at the top of the web page and explore.

In the Thinking Routines section Alice not only provides a clear explanation of each routine, but also includes templates that can be downloaded for use in your classroom and examples of what the routine looks like in the classroom.

Visible Thinking Resource

Information about using the Visible Thinking Resource below.

When visiting the the linked routine pages you will notice that each routine has a one page overview that can be downloaded. The routine overview describes the purpose of the routine, offers potential applications for the routine, and provides suggestions for its use and tips for getting started. You’ll also note that several of the routines are included in more than one “use bucket” as PZ researchers have explored different applications for those routines. On the bottom of each page, you’ll note the specific research project(s) within which the routine was developed and/or further explored as well as guidance about how to reference the routine and copyright and licensing information.

Visible Thinking

Visible Thinking Prompt Picker

Visible Thinking Prompt Picker.pdf

Visible Thinking Poster

Visible Thinking Poster.pdf

What's Going on in This Picture?

The New Your Times (NYT) have published a sequel to their popular collection of 40 intriguing photographs from the first four years of their popular weekly feature “What’s Going On in This Picture?

Now, after waiting for four more years the NYT have published a new collection of 40 remarkable images from “What’s Going On in This Picture?

The NYT invite teachers and students to use this bank of 40 puzzling images, all stripped of their captions or context, to practice visual thinking and close reading skills by holding a “What’s Going On in This Picture?” discussion or writing activity, via in-person or remote instruction.

If you’re not sure how to get started, the NYT have created a recorded webinar that walks teachers through the process and describes the power of this simple activity. In addition, they have lesson plans and resources to help teachers use a wide variety of Times images to get students writing, thinking, speaking and listening.

Peeling The Fruit

Peeling the Fruit.pdf
Source: Ron Ritchhart's new book: The Power of Making Thinking Visible. Graphic by Paviter Singh

3-2-1 Bridge Thinking Routine


Download Resources