Thinking Routines in the Museum


As routines are part of the classroom, so they are also an important part of the museum experience. Every museum has rules or guidelines to keep visitors and the collection safe. Students and teachers are reminded of the correct behaviour as they arrive at the museum. These rules help students to understand what to expect and what to do.

Imagine the benefits then of a routine that would help students adjust to the museum learning environment and to make sense of the objects or art works in a memorable and engaging way? Imagine what would happen if a museum used such routines to invigorate their practice and facilitate open-ended discussions with student groups?

Thinking routines are such a routine. They are short and easy to remember. They are grouped into categories according to which type of thinking you want to elicit and can therefore be used easily around the museum to specifically focus on certain types of thinking. Their flexible nature allows the docent to add factual or supplemental information as and when required by the group where appropriate. They can also be adapted or modified to suit the needs of the group or educators can even create their own routines based on the Visible Thinking ones.

We know that learning is a social and collaborative endeavour (Ritchhart 2007), therefore it makes sense to use routines in spaces where students get together to learn, namely in a museum environment. Thinking routines extend the conversation in the group as everyone feels at ease offering thoughts to the discussion. This allows a level ‘thinking-ground’ (as opposed to a level playing field) where there are no right or wrong answers and students become open and receptive to all comments. These routines also teach students to respect and to listen to other people’s opinions – really useful skills that are transferable to other environments.

Thinking routines are more than just a strategy; they provide a structure for making meaning and give students – young or old – an introduction to the process of thinking and how it applies to learning. Although largely unknown in many museums, certainly in the Netherlands, thinking routines are ideal for encouraging the exploration of ideas, sparking curiosity and provoking debate.

A great read on this subject: Ritchhart, R. 2007. ‘Cultivating a Culture of Thinking in Museums.’ Journal of Museum Education, 32(2), pp.137-154.

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  1. […] Thinking routines also allow the docent to mix and match routines depending on the objects or themes to be discussed and also to vary the way the group works – as individuals, in pairs or as a whole. Docents can also add content and information to the discussion at a convenient moment triggered by the curiosity and questions of the group . We will be focusing on these elements in our future posts on docent training. […]

  2. […] have talked before about creating a more learner-centered experience with opportunities for critical and creative […]

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