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How to use ‘Slow Complexity Capture’ thinking routine to slow down and explore objects

How to use ‘Slow Complexity Capture’ thinking routine to slow down and explore objects

Every month in the Visible Thinking Membership we have a specialist thinking routine class that gives us the opportunity to discover a new thinking routine or to dig a bit deeper into one we already know. Last month, we discovered thinking routine Slow Complexity Capture to tie in with our current Slow Looking: The Art of Observation course.

Here’s how we used Slow Complexity Capture thinking routine to analyse seasonal objects in an online group discussion via Zoom.

What is Slow Complexity Capture?

Slow Complexity Capture was developed by Project Zero as part of the PZ Connect project (with collaboration and support from Independent Schools Victoria). Through the Development strand of the project, PZ researchers have been developing thinking routines and other classroom tools to help learners engage with complexity, cultivate perspective-taking and develop global competence.

This routine helps participants to slow down by using drawing or photography for slow looking. It encourages extended observation and close looking – by taking time to look at things slowly, it helps to unravel complexity.

4 Stages of Complexity Capture

There are 4 parts to this thinking routine: Find, Capture, Explain and Wonder:

  • Find: Find an object or scene that captures your eye. In a word or phrase, say what it is.

  • Capture: Take some time to look carefully at your item. Capture it by slowly making a drawing of it or taking pictures of it from different angles or perspectives. Spend at least 5-10 minutes observing through drawing, looking, and/or photographing.

  • Explain: After you have visually captured your item, write a paragraph (or tell a friend) about how it is complex.

  • Wonder: What new ideas and questions do you have about your item?

About Slow Complexity Capture

You will first need to find an object or a scene. It can be anything you have to hand (on your desk or in your immediate environment), in your classroom, in the museum or in your home. You might decide to hunt for a particular kind of object by offering a theme or you can ask participants to look for an object in general – looking for something that they are intrigued by or curious about. 

The thinking routine can be set up in many ways. Objects can be chosen by the individuals themselves or by the facilitator. If the facilitator is choosing, you can decide on one object for the group to look at as a whole or several objects for a number of small groups to look at.  

It is important to emphasise that this is an observation exercise rather than a technical drawing one. It’s about using the eye and observing carefully rather than producing a polished drawing! 

You could also offer strategies to get participants started with the drawing part if participants are a little hesitant or slow to start – e.g 

  • contour drawing (draw without lifting your pencil from the paper), 

  • draw by only looking at the object (not at your paper), 

  • divide the paper up into a grid of 4 squares, 

  • offer small post-its for each sketch, 

  • divide into small groups and have one person volunteer to draw. Some solutions to get over the fear of getting started or the fear of a blank page.

  • the capturing part can also take place in pairs or small groups where each person creates a capture from a different angle or perspective. 

You can choose whether to capture the object or scene from one detailed perspective or from a variety of different perspectives. 

If participants are happy to share their drawings with you, then it goes without saying that you should be emphasising the observational qualities of their sketch rather than their drawing abilities. 

The Discussion

To start, I asked participants to get up from their seats and find an object that was related to the current season and month. They could choose anything that was to hand, on their person or in their immediate environment. I gave participants a few moments to go and find something.

Once everyone had returned, I then asked an initial question ‘What do you think you know about your object?’ and asked them to share their thoughts in the chat. At this point, no-one knew what everyone else’s objects were.

Then we spent some time looking carefully at our objects – first without touching and then picking it up and looking at it from all angles and perspectives.

We then took a piece of paper and folded it into 4 squares. Participants were asked to capture their item 4 times by sketching from different angles. We spent around 7 minutes capturing our objects through observation and drawing. We then reflected on whether 7 minutes was enough time – participants found it relaxing, informative and an interesting way to zoom in.

For the explaining part, we first discussed ways in which things can be complex (using the ‘Ways Things Can Be Complex’ thinking routine) asked them to consider which types of complexity might apply to their object. They then were asked to write a short paragraph about the different ways their object was complex.

To bring the group together and create conversations, I put the group into small breakout rooms to share their captures with each other, discuss their observations and share the ways in which their item is complex. After the breakout rooms, participants were invited to unmute and share their discussions and discoveries about their objects to the group as a whole. 

For the final ‘wondering’ part, I asked participants to share any new ideas or questions they had about their object after spending so much time with it. We finished with a group photo with all of our objects (and some of our captures!).


Participants were surprised at how many new details they saw in familiar objects. Even with simple objects, it was really interesting to look and draw for an extended period of time. It made several participants wonder how many objects they have in their house that they haven’t really ‘seen’ yet.

Everyone really enjoyed the complexity part, as it made them think in a different way about their objects and took the thinking routine to ‘another level’. Being able to observe first, then think about complexity after an extended period of time really helped ideas flow better.

Participants thought it would be an interesting routine to use with all age groups – especially children and families. They could see how useful it would be to slow a group down and to get them interested in and curious about objects that might at first seem a bit dull or boring (see my post here on that very subject!).


  • Be creative in your choice of object or scene. Specify a theme if need be. What else could you use? 

  • You may want to discuss things that can be complex before you discuss ways in which things can be complex with the group. 

  • As a facilitator, think about which types of complexity you want to emphasise in your session. See the Exploring Complexity PDF provided with this lesson. 

  • Or you could substitute questions for the explain part e.g. if it’s complexity lies in parts and interactions ‘What are all the parts? How do these parts interact? (casually and otherwise)?’ 

  • Vary the way you work – individually, with a partner, or whole group. 

    • Allow the group to individually choose objects or scenes, 

    • Give a selection of objects to small groups, 

    • Provide one object for the whole group to look at, then divide into small groups to discuss and explain after capturing

The Ultimate Thinking Routine List

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