What Does Your Thinking Look Like?

If you had to draw your thinking, what would it look like?

I was blown away by the massive effect this simple question had on my students! Just look at their thinking. I’m sure you will be totally surprised at the difference too.

As a school, we have started embracing a Culture of Thinking. You can read up more on this fantastic Harvard Initiative over here. In short, we utilize a number of thinking routines in our classrooms which, in turn, allow us to discuss, reflect on and push student thinking even further. Ultimately, true learning is a consequence of thinking!

One of the routines I have been using recently in my reading conferences is called a CSI (Colour, Symbol, Image) whereby students connect a colour, symbol and image to the book they are reading.

I was working with a group of Year 4 students and two of them were supplying basic, concrete answers to their CSI response. Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the Cultures of Thinking Conference in Melbourne. It was over there that I got this idea for connecting students to their thinking and actually making them aware of the process. I had seen a poster on a classroom wall at the conference where students had been given blank outlines of their heads and they had to draw what they thought their thinking would look like.

I have tried to relate the conversations I had with both my students so that you can see the results I got before they connected to the thinking process and after.

Student A:

M was reading, “The Fantastic Flying Machine” by Jasmine Bell.

After reviewing her basic responses, I called her aside, spontaneously drew a blank head and brain and asked:

“M – If you had to draw your thinking, what would it actually look like?”

M (with a big smile on her face)drew a light bulb and lots of question marks connected with wavy lines.


“Right,” I said. “When you complete a CSI, I want to see those light bulbs and question marks happening. What you have given me is basic thinking…I don’t want that. I want to see those light bulbs and questions happening because they show me that you are thinking. If you ask questions about your own thinking then I would be delighted.”

Response Colour Symbol Image
Student’s  representation Blue Family Cow Patterned Aeroplane
Before connecting to thoughts There is a lot of blue in the story. This is her and her mum. The plane what they made in the competition.
After: Showing me the light bulbs and question marks They need sunshine and blue skies for the flying machine competition. They crash into the blue sea at the end of the book. I am choosing a determined face because you can see that she is really trying her best. I have chosen this picture because it is the main product of the whole story.


Student B:

Now H is my weakest student in the whole group and her thinking really bowled me over. Take a look.

She was reading “Saving the Little Penguins” by Sylvia Gardner.

When asked the same question about what her thinking would look like I got:

“My thinking would be bubbles and boxes and speech bubbles.”

“Right,” I said, “So, when we go over this, I want to see those bubbles and boxes and speech bubbles happening. Show me how they work.”


Response Colour Symbol Image
 Student’s  representation Black Penguin Penguin in a jumper
Before connecting to thoughts I chose black because it is the colour of the penguins. I picked a penguin because I like them. I chose a penguin with a jumper because I think they are cute.
After: Showing me the bubbles and boxes and speech bubbles: The penguins got oily. If they eat the oil they can get sick and die. The oil is black. Black and dead go together. If the penguin does not wear the jumper it might die. If I saw a penguin wearing a jumper I might wonder why he is wearing one. This penguin is mad because he does not like oil. It has ruined his life.

I think that all too often, we accept any work from the lower achievers just because we are happy that they have actually completed their work…which leads to learnt helplessness. But just look at the results when we expect so much more!

Teaching our children to think for themselves and giving them opportunities to make their thinking visible is certainly the route to go. I can’t wait to get the rest of my students to draw their thinking.

I can’t wait to see the results.

Try it…hopefully you will be surprised too.

This entry was posted in Inspiration, Kids, Life, Teaching Ideas. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to What Does Your Thinking Look Like?

  1. theurbanmum says:

    Today I have to gush – all your posts are great.
    This one is sublime. For two reasons you have answered a couple of questions I have been pondering for a few days;
    How does my EldestSon think when he is reading (& struggling) vs when he is relaxed and being read the same book. I am maybe a little off the subject but still you have demonstrated some fabulous ideas. Thank youx

  2. GERALD says:

    Fantastic – innovative (as usual!!)

  3. dillymum says:

    what a nice structure for chaotic thinking too! Forthose who have too much on the go, trying to do too much at once, and teens swotting for a multitude of exams, this helps create organized structure in their minds. Brilliant for complex tween relationships where they are trying to figure out how they really feel. We can take your teaching tools into social life too – thank you!

  4. Michelle says:

    Wow! Love this post. I started learning about the Visible Thinking ROutines a few years ago at an International Bacculaureate conference. I haven’t used this particular one. I can’t wait to try it with my students.

    • TeacherMum says:

      It is a great one. I only discovered recently though that the symbol has to be a symbol that does not actually appear in the book. You achieve so much more with that one little tweek.

  5. mamawolfe says:

    I love this! I teach much older kids, but it’s so important for them to participate in their learning..I mean, they do the work, they listen in class, but do they really THINK about what is going on? Do they make connections? Do they go deep into the material? I’m going to use this ‘what does your thinking look like’ as a quick write this week!


  6. Anna says:

    Cool Tips. I’m A Substitute Teacher. anna

  7. Momfever says:

    That is so interesting! I’m going to try that out on my kids. I’m curious to know what they’ll draw!

    I got here from members to remember.

  8. MultipleMum says:

    What an interesting concept. I find with my own school-aged boy that he very much works to expectation. I try to teach him the sky is the limit! Thanks for joining the DP Blog Carnival! x

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