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Creating Cultures of Thinking: Visible Thinking Routines

Resources for "Creating Cultures of Thinking: The Eight Forces We Must Master To Truly Transform Our Schools" by Ron Ritchhart of Project Zero at HGSE. [Guide by Stephen Taylor for Western Academy Beijing]

ROUTINES: Supporting and Scaffolding Learning and Thinking

A sequence of actions designed to achieve a specific outcome in an efficient and productive manner.

As a culture shaper, routines represent a set of shared practices that constitute a group’s way of doing things. They are the classroom infrastructure, guiding much of the activity that happens there.

Routines—whether they are for management, participation, discourse, instruction, learning, or thinking—help to minimize confusion, reduce uncertainty, and direct activity along known paths. Ultimately, routines become patterns of behavior for both individuals and the group.

Of particular importance in learning groups, is the presence of thinking and learning routines that help to direct, guide, and scaffold learning and thinking.   [Source: Project Zero]

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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.

An excellent resource, created by PZ's Rachel Mainero. Click here to find out more about the map. When it launches, you can select thinking routines connected to the ways in which we can make meaning and understand concepts. 

Making Thinking Visible: Thinking Routines

This collection of routines has been classified by the target "thinking moves" for students. Routines link back to source. Adapted from Ron Ritchhart's Thinking Routines Matrix (source). 



Key Thinking Moves


Think - Pair - Share

Active reason & explaining

Can be used as a procedural routine within other routines for disciplined thought and sharing

Give One, Get One (links to Facing History)

Active reason & explaining

In every exchange, both participants should leave with a new idea - even it it means collaborative synthesis




Key Thinking Moves



Description, Interpretation & Wondering

Good with ambiguous or complex visual stimuli

Zoom In (links to “think from the middle”)

Description, Inference, & Interpretation

Variation of See Think Wonder  involving using only portions of an image


Activating prior knowledge, wondering, planning

Good at the beginning of a unit to direct personal or group inquiry and uncover current understandings as well as misconceptions

Chalk Talk (links to “think from the middle”)

Uncovers prior knowledge and ideas, questioning

Open-ended discussion on paper. Ensures all voices are heard, gives thinking time.

321 Bridge

Activates prior knowledge, questioning, distilling, & connection making through metaphors

Works well when students have prior knowledge but instruction will move it in a new direction.  Can be done over extended time like the course of a unit.

Compass Points

Decision making and planning, uncovers personal reactions

Solicits the group’s ideas and reactions to a proposal, plan or possible decision.

Explanation Game

Observing details and building explanations

Variations of STW that focuses on identifying parts and explaining them in order to build up an understanding of the whole from its parts and their purposes

Question Starts


Creative Questions


A routine for generating and transforming questions




Key Thinking Moves



Summarizing, Capturing the heart

Quick summaries of the big ideas or what stands out

CSI: Color, Symbol, Image

Capturing the heart through metaphors

Non-verbal routine that forces visual connections

Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate:  Concept Maps

Uncovering and organizing prior knowledge to identify connections

Highlights the thinking steps of making an effective concept map that both organizes and reveals one’s thinking

Connect-Extend- Challenge

Connection making, identify new ideas, raising questions

Key synthesis moves for dealing with new information in whatever form it might be presented: books, lecture, movie, etc.

The 4 C’s (links to “think from the middle”)

Connection making, identifying key concept, raising questions, and considering implications

A text-based routine that helps identifies key points of complex text for discussion.  Demands a rich text or book.

Micro Lab (links to “think from the middle”)

A protocol for focused discussion

Can be combined with other routines and used to prompt reflection and discussion

I used to think, now I think

Reflection and metacognition

Used to help learners reflect on how their thinking has shifted and changed over time.

Reporter’s Notebook


A routine for separating fact from feeling

Options Diamond


Exploring the tensions of decision making routine

Options Explosion


A routine for creative decision making

+1 Routine (links to “think from the middle”)


Identifying key ideas and committing them to memory

S.A.I.L (links to “think from the middle”) Reflection, communication, sorting A routine for talking through plans, gathering input and getting feedback. 



Key Thinking Moves


What makes you say that?

Reasoning with evidence

A question that teachers can weave into discussion to push students to give evidence for their assertions.

Circle of Viewpoints

Perspective taking

Identification of perspectives around an issue or problem.

Step Inside

Perspective taking

Stepping into a position and talking or writing from that perspective to gain a deeper understanding of it.

Red Light, Yellow Light

Monitoring, identification of bias, raising questions

Used to identify possible errors in reasoning, over reaching by authors, or areas that need to be questioned.

Claim Support Question

Identifying generalizations and theories, reasoning with evidence, counter arguments

Can be used with text or as a basic structure for mathematical and scientific thinking.

Tug of War

Perspective taking, reasoning, identifying complexities

Identifying and building both sides of an argument or tension/dilemma

Word-Phrase-Sentence (links to “think from the middle”)

Summarizing and distilling

Text-based protocol aimed at eliciting what a reader found important or worthwhile. Used with discussion to look at themes and implications.

Peel the Fruit

Summarizing, Capturing the heart

A map for tracking and guiding understanding

Here Now There Then


A routine for considering presentist attitudes and judgments

Making it Fair: Now Then Later


A routine for finding actions

Main, Side, Hidden (links to “think from the middle”)


A routine for analyzing the depth of an incident, text, or artwork.



Hot Spots


A routine for noticing truth occcasions

Stop Look Listen


A routine for clarifying claims and seeking sources

True for Who


A routine for considering viewpoints on truth

Tug for Truth


A routine for exploring tensions of truth

Creative Hunt


A routine for looking at parts, purposes and audiences

Does it fit?


A routine for thinking creatively about options

Found Poem (links to “think from the middle”)

Making meaning

A routine to engage learners to construct meaning together

Making Meaning


Colours, Shapes, Lines (links to “think from the middle”)

Artful thinking