Table of Contents

Jossey-Bass Teacher

Title Page


List of Figures and Tables

DVD Contents





About the Authors

Part One: Some Thinking about Thinking

Chapter 1: Unpacking Thinking

Beyond Bloom

Beyond Memorization, Work, and Activity

A Map of Thinking Involved in Understanding

Other Kinds of Thinking

Uncovering Students' Thinking about Thinking

Chapter 2: Putting Thinking at the Center of the Educational Enterprise

How Does Visibility Serve Both Learning and Teaching?

How Can We Make the Invisible Visible?

Part Two: Using Thinking Routines to Make Thinking Visible

Chapter 3: Introduction to Thinking Routines

Three Ways of Looking at Thinking Routines

How Are the Thinking Routines Organized?

Chapter 4: Routines for Introducing and Exploring Ideas

Chapter 5: Routines for Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas

Chapter 6: Routines for Digging Deeper into Ideas

Part Three: Bringing the Power of Visible Thinking to Life

Chapter 7: Creating a Place Where Thinking Is Valued, Visible, and Actively Promoted

The Forces That Shape Culture

Chapter 8: Notes from the Field

What These Cases Reveal about the Use of Routines

Stages of Development in the Use of Thinking Routines

Common Pitfalls and Struggles

In Conclusion



How to Use the DVD

System Requirements

Using the DVD with Windows

In Case of Trouble

Jossey-Bass Teacher

Jossey-Bass Teacher provides educators with practical knowledge and tools to create a positive and lifelong impact on student learning. We offer classroom-tested and research-based teaching resources for a variety of grade levels and subject areas. Whether you are an aspiring, new, or veteran teacher, we want to help you make every teaching day your best.

From ready-to-use classroom activities to the latest teaching framework, our value-packed books provide insightful, practical, and comprehensive materials on the topics that matter most to K–12 teachers. We hope to become your trusted source for the best ideas from the most experienced and respected experts in the field.

Title Page

List of Figures and Tables

Figure 1.1 A Fourth Grade Student's Concept Map on Thinking
Figure 1.2 A Sixth Grade Student's Concept Map on Thinking
Figure 1.3 A Tenth Grade Student's Concept Map on Thinking
Figure 4.1 Temptation of St. Anthony
Figure 4.2 M. C. Escher's Day and Night
Figure 4.3 Fourth Grade Chalk Talk: The Race into Space
Figure 4.4 Fourth Grade Chalk Talk: Sending Animals Before Astronauts into Space
Figure 4.5 A Student's “Excitement” from Compass Points
Figure 4.6 A Student's “Worries” from Compass Points
Figure 4.7 A Student's “Need to Know” from Compass Points
Figure 4.8 A Student's “Suggestions” from Compass Points
Figure 4.9 Sixth Grade Explanation Game Journal Entries
Figure 5.1 Eighth Grade Students' Headlines Within an Exponential Growth Unit
Figure 5.2 Fifth and Sixth Grade Students' Headlines About Fractions
Figure 5.3 Alexandra's CSI Routine for The Diary of a Young Girl
Figure 5.4 Tyrone's Concept Map for the Character John Wade from In the Lake of the Woods
Figure 6.1 Eighth Grade Students' Evaluations of Equivalency Claims
Figure 6.2 Eighth Grade Tug-of-War About the Makings of an Ideal Society
Figure 7.1 Student's Painted Reflection on Migration
Figure 7.2 Leor's “Brick Wall” Painting
Table 3.1 Thinking Routines Matrix
Table 4.1 Second Graders' Thoughts and Puzzles About Time
Table 5.1 A High School Student's Connect-Extend-Challenge Reading Notes
Table 5.2 High School Students' Criteria for Good Connection Making
Table 5.3 Fifth Grade Students' 4C's for the Book, Holes
Table 5.4 Grade 8 Students' Wiki Conversation on Atlantis
Table 5.5 Erica Doyle's Categorization of Students' Reflections on Their Growth as Readers, Writers, and Learners
Table 6.1 Eighth Grade Students' Initial Claims About Equivalent Expressions
Table 8.1 Looking At Students' Thinking (LAST) Protocol

DVD Contents

Please note: The video content can be accessed online at When prompted, enter your email address and use access code 15516.

The Explanation Game: Debbie O'Hara, Kindergarten Art

International School of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Chalk Talk: Leeland Jennings, Grade 2 Science

St. Charles Elementary, Michigan

See-Think-Wonder and Sentence-Phrase-Word: Lisa Verkerk, Grade 5 Humanities

International School of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Connect-Extend-Challenge: Mark Church, Grade 6 Social Studies

International School of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

CSI: Color-Symbol-Image: Melyssa Lenon, Secondary Chemistry

Chesaning Union High School, Michigan

Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate: Ravi Grewal, Grade 12 English Literature

Bialik College, Melbourne, Australia

Looking at Students' Thinking Protocol: A Professional Learning Group Looks at Students' Thinking in Grade 7 Science

Bialik College, Melbourne, Australia


Have you ever listened to one side of a conversation and wondered, “Where did that come from?” A number of years ago, I had a signal experience of this sort. I was walking slowly across the Cambridge Common toward my office at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A man was sitting on a park bench talking loudly on his cell phone: “I have to! He lied to me and he lied to you! What did he tell you on the phone? Everything's A-okay, he said. Well everything's not A-okay!”

I felt a powerful temptation to ask, “Where did that come from?” but an even more powerful inhibition against intruding on a stranger's life. So I swallowed my curiosity and strolled along, memorizing what the stranger said and writing it down as soon as I got to my office. Several times in the ensuing years I've reread my note and wondered about the story behind the man on the park bench. This small experience has come to symbolize for me how much remains to be revealed when we hear just half a conversation…and hearing half a conversation happens a lot in our lives, especially when we interpret “conversation” broadly.

Thinking is a good example. We do not generally hear other people's thinking, just the results of their thinking—an idea, an opinion, a plan. The messiness of “what if,” “on the other hand,” “but I worry that,” or even just “my gut says” all happens on the other end of the line. What the person says to us may sometimes sound like the whole story, but it is only half or much less than half of the internal conversation. That's why we sometimes have to ask ourselves, “Where did that come from?”

Often we could ask that same question about our own thinking. Research suggests that most people are not sharply aware of how they go about figuring out a problem or coming to a position on an issue. If this seems strange, let's compare with why coaches are so important in athletic learning. A coach, besides having expertise the athlete does not, can pay attention in ways the athlete cannot—from the outside and without having to perform physically at the same time.

All this signals why the ideas about Making Thinking Visible are so important to education. In broadest terms, these ideas call for externalizing processes of thought so that learners can get a better handle on them. To this end, the authors foreground a range of ideas about questioning, listening, documenting, naming, and more, including many specific strategies and a general approach to establishing a positive, engaged, and thoughtful culture of learning in classrooms. Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison have been deeply involved for many years, along with me and a few other colleagues in various combinations, in developing these ideas and fostering their practice. Here they bring us the wisdom of their experience.

However, more is at stake here than learning to think better. The mission addressed by this book is not only learning to think but thinking to learn. To elaborate, there is an uncomfortable question I like to ask people from time to time: “What ideas did you learn during your pre-university education that are important in your life today?” Some people have a hard time identifying much beyond a list of facts, but others report knowledge they have found to be tremendously important to who they are, how they understand the world, and how they behave. For instance, I recall one person mentioning the French Revolution, not for its details but for how it had served as a lens to look at conflicts of all sorts. I remember another person discussing ecological understandings that influenced substantially not only what policies the person supported but the conduct of everyday life. In general, when people bring forward themes that have mattered to them, they mention themes to think with, not just themes to think about—think with the French Revolution to understand other conflicts or think with your ecological knowledge to revise some of your everyday behaviors.

Thinking with is two important steps beyond just knowing information, the focus of far too much education. One step beyond is thinking about a topic, often interesting and valuable but in itself leading toward rather specialized understandings. When learners get comfortable thinking with the ideas in play, those ideas become far more meaningful. Horizons of application open up…everything from managing everyday relationships or making a smart purchase to making sense of global warming on a personal level.

The place of thinking about and thinking with what is learned gives us a second reason why making thinking visible and related themes are so important to learners. Back to that park bench one more time: in the complex, conflicted, and sometimes precarious world of today and tomorrow, the better people think about and with what they know, the more likely they will be able to make sense of the half conversations we all encounter. And the more prepared they will be to enter meaningfully into the whole conversation.

David Perkins


In 2005, my colleagues at Harvard Project Zero and I had just finished a five-year project exploring how to cultivate thinking dispositions in school settings. The project, Innovating with Intelligence, unfolded at Lemshaga Akademi in Sweden with the financial backing of the Carpe Vitam Foundation. Drawing on a long line of research on dispositions and enculturation, we developed a set of thinking routines: simple strategies for scaffolding thinking that were designed to be woven into a teacher's ongoing classroom practice. These routines formed the foundation of our intervention and became the core practice of an approach we eventually called “Visible Thinking.” We documented our efforts and presented a set of initial routines to the world via a website:

Almost immediately the website became a hit with the teachers with whom we had been working as well as a valuable resource for our colleagues and ourselves in our ongoing work. Teachers who had been involved with Teaching for Understanding saw the thinking routines as short understanding performances that enhanced their efforts with students. Colleagues Shari Tishman and Patricia Palmer found them useful in supporting an initiative, Artful Thinking, focusing on arts integration. Faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education found them to be useful tools for actively engaging students with complex ideas. Some colleagues even used the routines as structures for reflecting on and writing about the ideas they were developing. Facilitators at our annual summer institutes gravitated toward the routines for supporting adult learning in much the same way they might use a protocol to structure a professional discussion.

At the same time, David Perkins, Mark Church, Karin Morrison, and I were beginning the Cultures of Thinking project at Bialik College, a pre-K through grade 12 independent school in Melbourne, Australia, with the financial support of Abe and Vera Dorevitch. We felt that thinking routines would be a good starting place for teachers to begin their own thinking about the forces shaping classroom culture. Although our broader goal was to focus teachers' attention on the issue of developing a culture of thinking, we had noticed in our earlier research that as teachers worked with thinking routines in earnest and over time, they soon found themselves thinking about the other cultural forces at play; most notably time, language, opportunities, and interactions (for more on these, see Chapter Seven).

Not long after the VT website's debut, educators we didn't even know began to write us about how they were using the thinking routines and to express an eagerness for more: more routines, more stories from classrooms, more video illustrations, and more examples of teachers' efforts at different grade levels and subject areas. In short, more support for learning designed to enhance the effectiveness of routines in their educational settings. Although educators shared how valuable the website was as a resource, they kept expressing a desire for a book that would take their learning deeper: a collection that they could set on their desks as a ready resource and thumb through at their leisure, something that they could bring to planning meetings, share with colleagues, and mark up with their own notes and tips. Some teachers admitted to having gone so far as to print off the entire website and bind it together in order to fulfill this need.

This outpouring of interest and enthusiasm led Mark, Karin, and me to begin thinking about creating a book that would both extend and complement the Visible Thinking website. In our early conversations we identified several goals that we thought such a book would need to fulfill. First, we thought it was important to capture the development that had occurred in our own thinking as researchers, developers, and facilitators since we originally debuted the idea of visible thinking back in 2005. Our ongoing research and conversations with colleagues had expanded our thinking about visibility beyond just the use of routines, and we wanted to share these additional strategies. We present these ideas in Chapter Two.

Second, we felt an obligation to share the many stories of teachers who were making use of thinking routines in novel ways. Over the years, we have worked with thousands of educators, and we never cease to be amazed at their inventiveness. However, we wanted to find a way to tell these stories that would help readers see the power of the routines to support thinking and learning and not just as clever activities. As the popularity and use of thinking routines has spread, we have seen a few too many examples of their ineffective use and wanted to help people better understand the conditions under which the power of thinking routines is realized. Consequently, in designing our template for writing up the routines, we decided to emphasize the importance of selecting appropriate content along with some ideas for the formative assessment of students' thinking, something we had not dealt with explicitly in our earlier work. You'll find more about this new template in Chapter Three. Drawing on the wealth of examples gleaned from teachers, both through the Cultures of Thinking project at Bialik College and elsewhere, we crafted rich “pictures of practice” that highlighted each teacher's thinking as he or she planned, implemented, and reflected on his or her use of that thinking routine. These stories are found throughout Chapters Four, Five and Six.

As an accompaniment to the original Visible Thinking website, we had also produced a DVD that became available in 2005. This video collection highlighted teachers from the International School of Amsterdam and has become a popular resource for educators who want to share what Visible Thinking is all about with their colleagues. We had seen the power of these videos to present an embedded teaching practice that highlights the interactive quality of routines and the importance of using them with powerful content. Consequently, Mark, Karin, and I wanted to include as part of this book a DVD containing video stories from a more diverse range of classrooms that would highlight teaching done by teachers in the United States, Australia, and Europe. We reference the seven videos captured on the included DVD throughout this book and hope that this resource will enhance your reading and understanding of the ideas presented.

Another goal we identified for our writing was to situate the use of thinking routines and other tools within the larger enterprise of teaching, addressing such goals as fostering engagement, uncovering understanding, and promoting independence within a classroom culture of thinking. In Chapter One, we unpack thinking and discuss the critical role it plays in learning, making the case that promoting thinking isn't a nice extra but is central to learning. We then situate the thinking routines and visibility strategies presented throughout the book within three case studies: one from a classroom, one from a museum, and one from a professional group, which we present in Chapter Seven. These cases demonstrate how strategies for making thinking visible exist within the larger mosaic of a culture of thinking. Finally, we conclude this volume by pulling together our “Notes from the Field” in Chapter Eight. Here we present some of our research on how teachers learn to use routines and work with them over time, as well as a collection of tips, triumphs, and hints for moving forward with your own use of visible thinking practices.

Throughout this book, we have sought to weave together narrative threads from a diverse set of classrooms. This array of perspectives adds to the richness of the larger story we have been able to tell here. But the story isn't over. There are always more voices to add, more tales to tell. We continue to learn with and from teachers throughout the world; educators like yourself who are continually looking for ways to engage learners, develop understanding, support thinking, and promote independence. Since you are reading this book, we assume you are one of these inspired educators. And so, we hope that you will add your own voice to the chorus of teachers working to make thinking visible. Take these ideas and make them your own, embedding them within the culture of your classroom. Use this book as a resource, but stretch beyond it. Take risks in your teaching. Most of all, have confidence in every learner's ability to think and your capacity to nurture that thinking. The results will amaze and energize you.

Ron Ritchhart


At the core of this book rests the idea that it is important to nurture thinking in the daily lives of learners and to make it visible so that a culture of thinking can be built and a strong learning community established in organizations, in schools, and in classrooms. Although this is an idea easy to embrace, it takes something more to bring it to fruition. It takes hard work, dedication, continual reflection, and most of all a willingness to take risks and reach outside the comfort zone of established practices. This is both an individual endeavor and a collective process, recognizing that one learns as much from others' practice as from one's own. We thank all of those who joined us in this journey of nurturing thinking and who were willing to dig in to the work of making thinking visible.

We are greatly indebted to Abe and Vera Dorevitch and the Bialik College School Council for the financial support provided. They have been the political visionaries who recognized the potential of these ideas to transform schools and classrooms. They were willing to support seven years of ongoing professional learning for the teachers at Bialik College to take ideas first developed as part of the Visible Thinking Project, funded through Carpe Vitam Foundation, and the research on Intellectual Character, supported by the Spencer Foundation, and advance them through on-the-ground, in-the-classroom exploration as part of the Cultures of Thinking Project. Their dedication to advancing the education happening not only at Bialik College but also around the world has produced far-reaching benefits and ripple effects around the globe. In addition, Dow Chemical has financially supported the teachers of mid-Michigan in their application of these ideas; ATLAS Learning Communities provided support for teachers in New York City; Lemshaga Akademi in Sweden and the International School of Amsterdam have facilitated the coming together of teachers from around the world to share their experiences. And so, from the vision of just a few individuals willing to think big, we have seen a dramatic impact that continues to grow, nourishing our collective and ongoing development as educators.

The journey with these ideas plays out in real schools. All busy places with too much happening and too many agendas to serve. And yet, we have been blessed to find school leaders who valued this work and who have been willing to do the hard work to make sure the mission of making thinking visible could take hold at their schools. In particular, at Bialik College, Genia Janover carved out a central place for the Cultures of Thinking Project and ensured that teachers had time to meet regularly to share, discuss, and explore these ideas in depth. Her commitment and dedication to teacher learning have been instrumental in moving these ideas forward. Also at Bialik College, Daphne Gaddie and Tosca Mooseek brought these ideas into the ongoing discussion of teachers. In mid-Michigan, Rod Rock and Geralyn Myczkowiak provided the inspiration and leadership to bring together a diverse collection of teachers to pursue these ideas in a wide scale initiative across many public school districts. In Traverse City, Michigan, Jayne Mohr, Pam Alfieri, and Julie Faulkner made it possible for many teachers from Traverse City Area Public Schools to be a part of this work. In New York City at Vanguard High School, Principal Louis Delgado embraced these ideas and supported his teachers' work with them. In Clover Park School District in Washington state, Patty Maxfield facilitated the ongoing exploration of these ideas within the district. In Marblehead Public Schools in Massachusetts, Beth Delforge and Paul Dulac advanced a whole-district focus on thinking. Linda Gerstle embraced these ideas early on and integrated them into ATLAS Learning Communities' work around the United States. Julie Landvogt first saw the power of these ideas in 2000 and established a network of schools in Melbourne, Australia, to explore them. At Melbourne Grammar School, Chris Bradtke, Alan Bliss, and Roy Kelley took up the charge. And the list goes on and continues to grow.

As we have tried to move these ideas forward in our research and development work, we have been inspired by their broad applicability. The idea of making thinking visible and the assorted thinking routines that support that mission have found a place across a range of subject areas, in assorted organizations, in diverse settings, and with varied types of learners. The heart of this book is contained in these Pictures of Practice. We only have been able to tell a relatively few number of stories here; however, we acknowledge all the other dedicated professionals who have been a part of this journey. Their stories serve as daily examples and inspiration for students and colleagues. In particular we thank the teachers of Bialik College, Saginaw Intermediate School District in Michigan, Traverse City Area Public Schools, Vanguard High School, Marblehead Public Schools, International School of Amsterdam, Lemshaga Akademi in Sweden, Brighton Primary in Tasmania, and Melbourne Grammar School, Methodists Ladies College, and Wesley College, all in Melbourne. These represent just a small number of the many schools and teachers at them who have journeyed with us.

In the writing of this book we have to thank the conceptual visionaries who pushed our thinking and contributed greatly to the formation of the ideas presented here through their ongoing dialogue with us. At Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, we thank our colleagues David Perkins, Terri Turner, Becca Solomon, and Linor Hadar, who have been key in developing these ideas as part of the Cultures of Thinking Project. Shari Tishman and Patricia Palmer, who were part of the original Visible Thinking project in which an initial set of thinking routines were developed. Steve Seidel, Mara Kerschevsky, and Ben Mardell have all made us think about issues of visibility and documentation further and deeper through their work in the Making Learning Visible project. In addition, Tina Blythe and Julie Landvogt pushed our thinking forward on more than one occasion.

For Michael, Jean, and Kevon.

Thank you for pushing us to love, laugh, live, and think more deeply.

You've made us better teachers and better people for being in our lives.

About the Authors

Ron Ritchhart has been a principal investigator at Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education since 2000. Before coming to Project Zero, he was a classroom teacher working in a variety of subject areas ranging from art to mathematics, at grades ranging from elementary to secondary school, and in settings as diverse as New Zealand, Indiana, and Colorado. The thread running through all of Ron's work as an educator and researcher has been and continues to be the importance of fostering thinking, understanding, and creativity in all settings of learning. He is the author and producer/director of many articles, books, and videos that address these topics.

In 2002, Ron published the book Intellectual Character, which put forth the idea that a quality education is about much more than scores on tests; it is about who students become as thinkers and learners as a result of their time in schools. Ron's classroom-based research, for which he was recognized by the Spencer Foundation, unpacked the important role school and classroom culture plays in nurturing the development of students' thinking dispositions. His identification of the forces shaping the culture of groups and organizations resulted in a framework now being used widely to help educators both in and out of the classroom think differently about teaching and learning.

Ron's ideas and their application have now found a strong following in many schools and organizations. Since 2005, Ron has been applying these ideas at sites all over the world but most notably in Melbourne, Australia, through the Cultures of Thinking Project funded by Bialik College and Abe and Vera Dorevitch.

Mark Church has been an educator for nearly twenty years and has a particular interest in helping teachers and school leaders think deeply about their efforts to cultivate thinking and learning opportunities for students. A skilled facilitator, he works with schools and districts throughout the world, encouraging efforts to create rich communities of practice for educators committed to being mindful students of those they teach and lead. In his work, Mark draws on his extensive and diverse teaching background, having taught elementary and middle school students in the United States, Japan, Germany, and The Netherlands.

After several years overseas, Mark returned to the United States to consult with ATLAS Learning Communities and Harvard Project Zero's Visible Thinking projects. Mark has also been an online course coach, developer, and instructor for WIDE World online learning at the Harvard Graduate School of Education as well as a faculty member for the annual Harvard Project Zero Summer Institute. Mark has presented on issues of thinking, learning, and understanding at conferences throughout the world, especially emphasizing classroom work with middle-years learners. Currently Mark is a district administrator supporting professional growth and development in the Traverse City Area Public Schools in northwestern Michigan. Additionally, he serves as a consultant for various Harvard University Project Zero Cultures of Thinking initiatives in the United States and abroad.

Karin Morrison is an enthusiastic and passionate educator interested in the thinking and learning of both teachers and children. Her work has focused on providing the environment and structures needed to support deeper thinking and greater understanding and engage students in learning in a relevant and meaningful way. She is currently director of the Development Centre at Independent Schools Victoria (ISV), Australia. Karin also serves as the instructor for the WIDE World online learning course, Making Thinking Visible, developed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Karin was instrumental in developing the collaboration between Project Zero and Bialik College that led to the creation of the Cultures of Thinking project at Bialik. Karin was the in-school leader of this project for its first five years. While at Bialik, she was director of the Rosenkranz Centre for Excellence and Achievement in Education and director of Teaching and Learning. Karin has long been an avid supporter of thinking on the world scene. She was co-convenor for the Twelfth International Conference on Thinking in Melbourne in 2005, the Australian delegate to the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children, past president of the Victorian Association for Gifted and Talented Children, and a committee member of the Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange. Karin has also been a faculty member at the annual Project Zero Summer Institutes and the ATLAS Learning Communities Summer Institute in Vermont.

Part One