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5 New Thinking Routines to Try in 2022



Have you been using the same thinking routines for a while now? Maybe you’ve got a few core routines that you’re comfortable with and now you’re looking for some new routines to add to your repertoire? Sometimes it can be reassuring to stick to the same methods and techniques that you’ve always used. At other times, I feel it’s good to do a little bit of experimentation – this helps me to stay curious and to be always looking for new ways to work with the same artworks and objects. I’m always looking for new ways to engage with our audiences and love trying out new routines. I really enjoy seeing all the possibilities of how a thinking routine might pair with different artworks, themes and situations. I’ve tried and tested these routines extensively and they all work both online and offline with a variety of materials – artworks and museum objects, written texts, quotes and videos. Which 5 thinking routines did I choose? Read on to find out!


Lenses is a thinking routine that invites participants to be intentional about looking through distinct lenses as they explore an artwork. It is essentially a thinking routine that you can use for looking through lenses and exchanging perspectives. This thinking routine was developed as part of the Arts as Civic Commons project at Project Zero. The Arts as Civic Commons (ArtC) project develops tools and resources to explore the complexity of contemporary civic themes through looking at and making art. There are 4 parts to this thinking routine:
  • See: Look closely at the work. What do you notice? Make lots of observations.
  • Choose a Lens: Choose one lens and discuss how you might see or think about the work through that lens.
  • Probe: Ask a question to understand more about another person’s lens & perspective.
  • Reflect: Take a minute or two to look again at the artwork. Do you have any new observations or questions?
Start by looking closely at the image and describe what you are seeing. After making lots of detailed observations, you then move on to choosing a lens to view the artwork through. You can think about a lens as something you look through. Your own personal lenses will be affected by your identities or backgrounds – for example your gender, your age, the place you are from or live, your race, ethnicity, your role in your family and more. All of these are ‘lenses’ that shape what you see when you look at a work of art. After you’ve chosen a lens, share your thoughts about the artwork from that perspective with the group. The group listens carefully before asking questions to understand more about that person’s lens & perspective. The final stage is reflection – you can use this opportunity to reflect on what it feels like to look at the artwork through a particular lens or to share information and ask the group to reflect on the additional information you’ve shared. This is a really useful routine to use to ask people to explore both their own personal lenses – which helps them to become aware of their own biases and the lenses of others – which gives them the opportunity to expand empathy.


Layers is a thinking routine that provides a structure for the analysis of creative works and to dig deeper into ideas. It can be used to approach or look at any creative work. By creative work, I mean fine artwork (sculpture, paintings, drawing, sketching, performance art), objects, dance, writing (literature), filmmaking and music. It’s incredibly versatile.
There are 5 different layers:
Each layer consists of 4 possible elements for participants to seek out and identify in the work –
Narrative: The story, the back or pre story, the other or hidden story, the message
Aesthetic: The appeal (what pulls you in?), the reward or take away, the skill/mastery of the artist on display, the new/different/unusual
Mechanical: Technique, Form/structure, Methods, Symbolism
Dynamic: Surprise, Tension, Emotion and Movement
Connections: To other works (in and out of the medium/genre), to history, to yourself, to the artist’s other works or personal life
This can seem like a lot – and in truth, it’s probably one of the most wordy and lengthy thinking routines out there.
BUT it’s important to note that some of the layers may be more appropriate to use than others. It really depends on the material or type of creative work that you’ve chosen. It’s worth spending some time selecting which layers you are going to use for the discussion. This may mean rejecting some of them. You could even ask the group to vote on which of the layers appeal most to them. 
Do note too that it’s worth spending some time looking closet and observing and describing the artwork first before moving on to the layers. Looking Ten Times Two is perfect for this. 
Analysis can be done individually, with a partner, or whole group. They can focus on some of the elements within their layer or all of them.
As I said at the start, the appeal of this thinking routine is its flexibility – this means it can be used in so many different ways. Although if you’re using this routine for the first time, it’s a good idea to work in groups so that participants have a shared experience using the layers together first.


Creative Comparisons is a thinking routine for encouraging metaphorical thinking. Metaphors provoke our imaginations to create comparisons between things that are not the same. Creating metaphors help participants understand unfamiliar subjects by linking it to what they already know.
This routine has 4 steps:
See: What do you see in the artwork? / What do you know about the topic? Compare: Choose a category from the list below or identify your own category. Imagine: If this topic / artwork was a kind of ________ (category), what would it be? Explain three ways that it compares
You might want to review the meaning of a metaphor and provide some examples if you’re working with younger participants. For the compare part, provide the group with a list of categories or allow them to choose their own – categories can be anything : cities, parts of the body, colours, plants, music, etc Again, for younger participants think about using categories that are familiar to them like toys, animals etc. I paired this thinking routine with Colour Shape Line in our thinking routine class because I really wanted to get the participants observing and describing in depth before we went on to create metaphors. I think this is an important first step so that they feel ready, willing and able to make the creative jump to creating metaphors about it. Again, think about when you might position a thinking routine like this in a programme – participants might need time to warm up and get their creative thinking flowing before they start this. I asked my participants to go into pairs to create the metaphors as collaborating in groups aids creativity and you can bounce ideas off one another. After everyone has shared their metaphors and their reasoning behind them, you could even have participants draw something afterwards to represent their comparison.


Claim Support Question is a great thinking routine for formulating an interpretation of something & supporting it with evidence.
Let’s have a look at how it works. It has 3 parts:
Claim: Make a claim about your topic 
Support: Identify support for your claim 
Question: What’s left hanging? What isn’t explained? What new questions does your claim raise?
You can use this routine with works of art, pieces of text, poems and with themes that invite explanation or are open to interpretation 
The routine can work well for individuals, in small groups and for whole group discussions 
You may want to spend a minute or two identifying what the group understands by the word ‘claim’ this will help participants to understand what is being asked of them. 
Take turns using the routine so that everyone makes a claim, identifies support and asks a question. 
It can be very useful to document the thinking at each stage. You could do this on a portable flipover and write 3 columns with ‘Claim’ ‘Support’ ‘Question’ at the top. 
With younger participants you can scaffold the language e.g. Claim – I think that…, Support – Because….., Question – I wonder… 
Choose whether to start with an observation routine or activity to get to know the image better or not – experiment and see what happens with the claims!


Last but not least is The Elaboration Game which is a thinking routine I probably avoided for a while as I couldn’t work out how to make it work (especially online). But I love challenging myself to explore routines and work out a way that we can use them with groups and artworks!
The Elaboration Game is a routine for looking carefully at details. It helps to develop elaborate and imaginative verbal descriptions.  Therefore it’s a great routine to use before a writing activity. 
It’s also a good routine to use to distinguish the difference between observations and interpretations – it helps you to practice making sustained observations BEFORE jumping into judgement. It demonstrates the importance of pushing beyond a quick glance and spending time with an object to learn more about it. 
This thinking routine was developed as part of the Artful Thinking project at Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Use this routine with any kind of visual art, such as painting or sculpture or objects. 
So, let’s see if I can explain it simply to you. 
  • One person identifies a specific section of the artwork and describes what they see. 
  • Another person elaborates on the first person’s observations by adding more detail about the section. 
  • A third person elaborates further by adding yet more detail, and a fourth person adds yet more. 
You can go around in a circle, leading on from one another or ask if anyone wants to elaborate on the previous person’s observation. 
It can be useful to divide an artwork up into quadrants and have the group describe each quadrant in detail, building on each other’s observations first. Then I would move on to interpretation questions such as ‘What is going on here?’ and ‘What is the artist trying to tell us?’ or combine with another thinking routine to discuss the artwork in depth.
It’s a fun thinking routine to use in a group either in-person or online to get everyone participating and noticing and it paves the way for deeper interpretations.  
So some great new thinking routines for you to try out. We talked about:
  • Lenses
  • Layers
  • Creative Comparisons
  • Claim Support Question
  • The Elaboration Game
Which of these are you going to try out? which ones of these are you going to implement in your practice? Let me know I’d love to hear all about it and how you get on. 

The Ultimate Thinking Routine List

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