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A Brief Guide to Thinking Routines

A Brief Guide to thinking routines

Interested in thinking routines but not sure where to start? Focusing on thinking routines is one of the easiest and most accessible ways to start working with Visible Thinking. Here is my brief guide:

In 2011, I spent a year developing a new programme at the Tropenmuseum using thinking routines from Visible Thinking as a way of engaging and interacting with museum objects. The resulting programme Stories Around the World used thinking routines as the structure around which students explored objects in the museum in a slow, careful and detailed way.

What is a routine?

A routine is simply defined as a sequence of actions or pattern of behaviour that is regularly followed or rehearsed.

What are thinking routines?

Thinking routines are tools specifically designed to help, support and guide mental processes or thinking.

They consist of short, easy to learn and teach steps that get used in a regular fashion. No training is required before starting working with these routines. With habitual use, you can modify and use the routines as needed for different applications and students are able to cue the steps of the routine themselves. They have catchy and appealing names too – See-Think-Wonder or Think-Puzzle-Explore – to help learn them by heart and recall them independently when required.

Thinking routines are typically short and memorable with only a few steps based on carefully crafted questions‘What do you see?’ ‘What do you think about that?’ ‘What does it make you wonder?’. These routines loosely guide the analysis of a wide variety of materials such as artworks, photographs, documents, newspaper articles, museum objects and so on.

Where can you use them?

Thinking routines can be used across a variety of contexts and environments from schools, universities, private institutions and corporations and, of course, museums, heritage and cultural organisations. They are also not subject-specific either – thinking routines have a wide appeal and application across a variety of disciplines including arts, history, maths and science contexts. Their flexibility means that they can be used on an individual as well as a group basis.

How many are there?

There are currently 100+ thinking routines that I’ve collated in a single guide (see below to download it). The majority of the routines are in the two books – Making Thinking Visible and The Power of Making Thinking Visible – although there are thinking routines that are from Artful Thinking, Agency by Design and Out of Eden Learn PZ projects too. There are also thinking routines that have been developed by teachers, researchers and museum educators that are not listed in either the Project Zero books or on the PZ website.

Each routine encourages certain types of thinking and the name of the routine helps to guide the participant as to the type of thinking required – for example, observing closely and describing, reasoning with evidence, making connections, perspective taking etc.

In order to be effective, it is first important to establish the type of thinking that you would like to elicit and then choose the correct thinking routine for that task. 

One of the many powers of thinking routines is their flexibility – with such a wide variety of routines to choose from, you can vary the way you work depending on the goals of your programme or class. Want to know more? Read my Essential Guide to Visible Thinking or What’s the Best Way to Get Started with Visible Thinking? to dive deeper into Visible Thinking.

The Ultimate Thinking Routine List

I’ve been working on an ultimate list of ALL 100+ thinking routines as a handy instant reference guide for educators, guides and creatives working with Visible Thinking. Get inspired!

If you’d like to receive a free copy, then click here.

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