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What are Thinking Routines?
And how can they make learning visible in the classroom?
A thinking routine is a short series of steps that guides your thought process. They’re simple and easy to use. Best of all, encouraging students to use them regularly will lead to them growing in confidence, improving critical thinking, and more open discussions.
So What Exactly are Thinking Routines?
When we talk about routines in the classroom, we usually mean the basic physical and social routines — either classroom management (i.e. who sits where, taking attendance) or behaviour management (how we react to various student behaviour).
Thinking routines take the idea one step further and apply the concept of routines to learning.
Thinking routines are ways that you encourage your learners to process information for learning and interact intellectually.
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Thinking Routines Example
The best known / most used thinking routine is called ‘Think-Pair-Share’.
In this thinking routine, learners:
Think: about their response to input (a question, a problem or a situation)
Pair: discuss their thoughts in pairs.
Share: their thoughts with others.
Where Did Thinking Routines Come From?
In some form or another, thinking routines have been used in teaching for a long time.
However, a formalised approach to collecting and classifying these seems (from my searching) to have come from Project Zero, a Harvard Graduate School of Education project started in 1967.
Among many educational projects they’ve undertaken, their Visible Thinking project has focused on thinking routines. From their website:
“Thinking Routines loosely guide learners’ thought processes and encourage active processing.”
Great Thinking Routines You Can Use Now
We’ve already looked at ‘Think-Pair-Share’, so let’s explore five other thinking routines you can use in your next class:
What do you see?
What do you think is happening?
What does it make you wonder?
How to Use:
See: Show the students an image, object or video clip — anything inherently interesting!
Let them watch or observe and think silently to form their own opinions. At this point, they shouldn’t be interpreting what they see, just noting things they could ‘touch’ in the image or video.
Think: Ask your students what they think is happening. What do they think? Why? What makes you think that? What else is happening?
Wonder: What does this make you wonder? What questions does it make you ask? Be careful that students don’t ask if their previous thinking is ‘right’, but they expand their wondering to broader issues.
After each stage, allowing students to talk to each other to compare their ideas is a good idea. Pairwork or small groups are ideal.
This is great for activating prior knowledge, wondering and planning.
What do you think you know?
What puzzles you about this topic?
How can you explore the topic?
How to Use:
Think: ask your students what they think they know about a topic. Give students time to think. You can ask students to share, and then new ideas might emerge from the sharing.
Puzzle: ask students what questions they have about this topic or what puzzles them. You can help by asking further questions, such as what would be interesting to learn about the topic, which aspect is curious, and so on.
Explore: ask students how they could go about finding a solution or an answer. Who would they ask? Where would they find more information? What would the first step to solving the problem be?
This can be done and shared in small groups or pairs or presented to other groups at the end.
3. Compass Points
This is great for discovering personal opinions, making decisions and planning. It starts with the points of the compass:
E = Excitements: What do you find exciting about this topic?
W= Worries: What worries you about it?
N=Needs: What do you need to find out?
S=Stance, Steps or Suggestions. What’s your stance? What are the next steps? Or what suggestions do you have?
How to Use:
I usually do this routine in pairs to encourage discussion at each step. You can do it individually, but it’ll only practice writing.
To set up the activity, you’ll need large pieces of paper on each of the four walls, one for each compass point. Students will stick their writing to it later.
Give the students a prompt — it could be an event, an image or video clip, a statement or a question. Anything you like!
E = Excitements: Ask the students what they find exciting about the topic. What’s positive? Give them time to discuss in pairs, then jot down notes. If they’re not excited, ask why other people might be. Then ask them to post their ideas on the ‘E’ paper
W= Worries: ask the students what worries they have about this topic, and repeat the process for ‘E’.
N=Needs: ask the students what they need to find out to know more, and repeat the process.
S=Stance: same for the students’ stance, or ask them for their suggestions and next steps.
If your classroom management [link] is on point, you can divide the students into four sections and have each section start with a different compass point.
Then, when they post their thoughts on the paper from the second time onwards, they can read others’ opinions and discuss them in their pair.
4. Chalk Talk
Good for discovering prior knowledge and ideas and questioning what students know. Great for writing practice and giving everyone a chance to share their thoughts!
What ideas do you have about this topic?
What do you think about other people’s ideas?
What questions come up as you think about all of these?
How to Use:
For this routine, choose a good starting word, phrase or question.
Present: Share it with the learners (on the board). Ask them to think about their ideas or responses to the prompt and write them down.
Circulate: Students pass their papers to the person on the left. Give them time to read, and then you can either ask them to write their response to it (and continue to circulate) or have a conversation aloud with the original writer (they’ll need to take turns).
Facilitate: as the teacher, be aware that you’ll need to help weaker or quieter students by suggesting or hinting at ideas, giving valuable comments and helping when students get stuck.
So this is unusual for a language classroom, as it’s a silent conversation conducted through writing.
If the learners are weaker, it’s a possibility that they can work in groups of a similar level. Just be aware of weaker students ‘hiding’ and letting others do all the work.
This is an excellent routine for making connections between ideas, finding new ideas and generating questions.
How is the topic connected to what you know already?
What new ideas did you get that extended your thinking?
What challenges or questions have come up from the new ideas that have been presented?
How to Use:
Choose a story, reading excerpt, video or similar that will be interesting and new for learners. Tell students they’ll probably be learning something new, and you will ask them how it connects to their current knowledge.
Connect: Show/read the chosen subject, and ask students to jot down what they thought and how it connects to their current knowledge.
Extend: ask them how their thinking has extended or changed. Jot down, and discuss.
Challenge: ask students challenges or questions about the new ideas presented.
After each stage, you can ask students to discuss in pairs or small groups.
Benefits of Thinking Routines
They’re easy to use and require no extra training.
They make the thinking process visible, giving a solid example to weaker learners. This support can help support their thoughts.
They can create a culture of critical thinking in your classes.
They are adaptable — they can be used for almost any topic or skill you’re focusing on in class.
They are highly transferable — learners can use them in other subjects and outside the classroom.
I hope you found these thinking routines useful!
See you again in two weeks.
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