Embedding Thinking Routines into Practice

When I first started learning about developing a culture of thinking in my classroom, I began by exploring the use of thinking routines as a way to deepen student thinking and make student thinking more visible in the classroom.  In the early days, I think I viewed thinking routines as activities to do, rather than the routine (as the name implies) practices that happen as part of a culture of thinking.  This, by all means, is a great way to start out using thinking routines.  Just the other day, as I planned a lesson, I reflected on how far I have come in the use of thinking routines in the classroom.

In the lesson, as part of the Global Read Aloud (we are reading ‘Fish in a Tree’), I wanted students to unpack the below cartoon and be able to see the situation from the perspective of each animal.


The thinking routines, Step Inside and Circle of Viewpoints, were obvious choices, and my thinking progressed from there.  To begin the lesson, students used a See, Think, Wonder to begin to unpack the cartoon.  Whilst they shared their ideas, I used What Makes You Say That? (which, I believe, is the most simple question that a teacher can use to improve their questioning and therefore, the thinking of their students) to delve deeper into their responses.  With this initial analysis of the cartoon complete, it was time to go deeper into the minds of the animals in the cartoon.

I wanted students to have the opportunity to combine all the brainpower in the room to consider the situation from each animal’s perspective before they recorded their independent thinking because I knew that some students, particularly those with (high functioning) Autism Spectrum Disorder, struggle to see situations from perspectives other than their own.  So, I combined a Chalk Talk with the Step Inside routine, which allowed all student voices to be heard and also allowed students to see what others had written.  Seven posters, each with the cartoon and the Step Inside questions were placed around the room.  The Step Inside questions were:

  • What might the (animal) see?
  • What might the (animal) think?
  • What might the (animal) wonder?

As the routine progressed, I also added in ‘How might the (animal) feel?’ to help students empathise with each perspective.

The key instructions I give to students during the Chalk Talk (even after multiple opportunities to practice, I find that these reminders still help deepen the conversation) are:

  • Read the other ideas first.
  • If you agree with an idea, either try to expand upon it by providing more detail or by simply placing a tick beside it.  Try not to repeat ideas.
  • If you disagree with an idea, you must give reasons.

At the end of the time allotment, students returned to their initial poster, read the comments and chose what they thought were the key ideas to share.  This is what some of the posters looked like at the end of the Chalk Talk/Step Inside routine:

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At this stage, students were confidently sharing their thoughts are debating different ideas and were ready to synthesise their thinking in a blog post.  Students chose an animal and used the Circle of Viewpoints routine to document their new thinking.  Here are some of the examples:

Screenshot 2015-10-16 17.57.17 Screenshot 2015-10-16 17.57.53 Screenshot 2015-10-16 17.58.19 Screenshot 2015-10-16 17.59.08

Embedding thinking routines into the daily teaching routine is something that takes time, but the pay off is huge.  Rather than simply having an unstructured conversation about the cartoon, through the use of carefully planned questions with a specific goal in mind, students were able to develop a deeper understanding of different perspectives.  Many students could build connections between the cartoon and their own lives and I am hoping now that students will be able to build connections to ‘Fish in a Tree.’


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