Thinking routines, essential tools

Teachers frequently remark how important is that their students “learn to think.”

But… what does “being capable of thinking” actually mean? Can we teach how to think? How should we start? Before being able to answer all these questions, we must first consider our practices in the classroom. What are we doing to motivate our students to think seriously? If we want to improve a teacher’s ability to make children think, we must be aware that there are several forms of thinking.

For instance, scientists don’t follow the same process as mathematicians and historians. When we are reading a novel, doesn’t our brain work in a different way than when we are solving a Science problem? Even though we all agree on this, we are not always able to express and know thoroughly all our thinking processes or stages.  Therefore, it is necessary to be familiar with these processes and teach about them too so our students can be able to understand their own thinking mechanisms.

Which are thinking routines?

Thinking routines are simple sequences or structures of questions that can be accomplished individually or in groups. As we implement class routines like giving homework, collecting exercises… We can add new routines that help students to activate different types of thinking according to the content we are teaching.

Thinking routines form part of a teaching method that makes the thinking process more visible, easy, trackable and memorable.

See below some examples of certain routines already used in many schools:

1.- I SEE – I THINK – I WONDER / Discovering concepts

This routine consists of observing an object or phenomenon and trying to interpret and relate to it using the students’ knowledge. Last but not least, students will be asked to solve their questions.

2.- CLAIM – SUPPORT– QUESTION / Scientific thinking

In this routine, students first explain and interpret what they have observed and afterwards present the proof supporting their explanation or conclusion. They end with questioning the truth of what they’ve come up with.

3.- GENERATE – SORT – CONNECT– ELABORATE / Synthesizing and organising ideas 

In the moment that students face a large amount of content, it is necessary to follow these steps: generating a list of starting ideas, ordering these ideas, prioritizing them, and then relating the concepts shared with lines, and finally, elaborating on every idea.

4.- 3-2-1 BRIDGE / Stimulating prior knowledge connecting with new ideas

When a new concept or piece of content is shared, students write three things they know about it, two question they come up with, and one metaphor or analogy relating to the concept. Once the concept is fully explained and some activities have been completed, students will fill in the same structure again, using what they have learned.

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