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Three New Thinking Routines to Try Online and Offline

Three New Thinking Routines to Try Online and Offline

Have you been using the same thinking routines for a while now? Looking for some new routines to liven things up with your art and object discussions?

Sometimes it can be reassuring to stick to the same methods and techniques that you’ve always used. The same goes for using the same thinking routines that you’ve always used. At other times, particularly right now during a global pandemic when nothing is normal, I feel it’s as good a time as any to do a little bit of experimentation.

We know that things will change (they have already) but we’re not sure what the outcome will be. Let’s look for new ways to engage with our audiences (whoever and wherever they might be) and try out some new routines. These three routines all encourage global dispositions – by creating opportunities to inquire about the world, taking multiple perspectives, engaging in respectful dialogue and taking responsible action.

I’ve tried and tested these new routines and they all work both online and offline with a variety of materials – artworks and museum objects, written texts, quotes and videos. All of these new routines will be taught online in our new ‘Visible Thinking in the Museum Online‘ course.


This routine invites participants to engage in broad, deep conversations about a photograph, painting, or textual work of art. It encourages participants to think about how we define beauty and truth, as well as how artists, photographers, writers etc. observe, talk about and communicate their ideas about the world.

  • Do you see beauty in this work?
  • Do you see truth in this work?
  • How might beauty help us find more truth?
  • How might truth help us find more beauty?

This routine is really well suited to pairing with visual works of art as well as with video, poetry and descriptive texts. It works well asking each question at a time to the whole group or by splitting the group into small groups and asking each group to find 3 examples of ‘beauty’ and ‘truth’ first before moving on to the next question. I also, as usual, like to pair the routine with an observational one to kick-start the conversation with some careful looking.

TIP: When you’re asking the question about beauty and truth in the work, ask your participants perhaps to think about compositional elements, techniques and the story.

3 Y’s

The 3 Y’s is a useful routine for thinking about why a topic or theme matters. It encourages careful looking (when combined with an observational routine), examination of differing points of view and deepens understandings about large scale issues or problems. It is effective for creating personal connections to a theme that seems initially remote.

The question starts at the personal context with the first question, moves on to the local context with the second, before asking participants to think about global significance in the final question.

1. Why might this (topic, question) matter to me?

2. Why might it matter to people around me (family, friends, city, nation)?

3. Why might it matter to the world?

In thinking about how to use this routine, present an issue or problem that has large scale implications. Use it with images, texts, quotes, videos or other resources that invite discussion. You could assign each of the questions to different groups or reverse the order of the questions, so that you started with global and moved to the personal.


I like to think of this routine as a ‘sister’ routine to ‘Step Inside’ which I have used hundreds of times with a variety of images, objects, situations, or things to invite perspective-taking and alternative points of view. Step In, Step Out, Step Back takes this routine one step further and asks:

1. Step In: What do you think this person might feel, believe, know, or experience?

2. Step Out: What would you like or need to learn to understand this person’s perspective better?

3. Step Back: What do you notice about your own perspective and what it takes to take somebody else’s?”

This routine invites participants to take other people’s perspectives e.g. religious, linguistic, cultural, class, generational whilst also recognising that understanding other perspectives is revealing yet also challenging.

Participants should choose a person or agent in the material they are examining. You could choose an image, video, historical event or news article with this routine. Make sure that the group have enough foundational information to be able to work with the routine without having to create a ‘fictional character’. If you are working with a painting, object or photograph in a gallery, the wall label might provide enough basic information to start the discussion. You might also want to point out to the group that ‘Step In’ is more imaginative and speculative, whilst in ‘Step Back’ more inquiry is involved. Indeed, as you progress throughout the routine, it becomes clearer to all that there is more to understanding another person or perspective than first impressions alone.

This routine also works well in small groups or you could ask participants to work individually first and then share their responses to the group as a whole afterwards.

Have you used any of these routines before? Let me know in the comments how you got on.

Visible Thinking in the Museum Online‘ is an 8 week interactive online course is a combination of self-directed study and live tutorials with Claire Bown. It is suitable for organisations who want to support and offer professional development to their team members (teams of museum guides, heritage educators, docents and volunteers) and for individuals who would like to further their professional development and learn how to create lively discussions about art and museum objects. (e.g. freelance museum guides, teachers and learning practitioners). No prior experience is required to start with the course. To find out more, click below.