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Using Visible Thinking Routine's to Unpack the Central Idea
June 21st, 2021

This year a goal of mine was to make the features of the IB more visible in my physical education setting. I wrote about how I do this for the Approaches To Learning skills, but I also recognized the Central Idea of my unit needed to be highlighted in more detail. Through discussions with my colleagues and with practice, I found using Visible Thinking Routines at the beginning of the unit an effective way to initially unpack the central ideas. Through implementing these routines all year I learned they also provided meaningful feedback on what students are interested in, and what previous knowledge they already have, allowing me to alter my learning experiences to adapt to this new information.

When choosing Visible Thinking Routines I focused on three main qualities. I wanted the routine to take 10 minutes or less, involve collaboration, and be displayed so I could reference the information throughout the unit. All resources and information about these routines can be found on and the book Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchart, Karin Morrison, and Mark Church.

Color, Symbol, Image

I used this routine most recently to unpack the Central Idea in my Health-Related Fitness Unit. After reading the Central Idea together, I asked students to analyze the keywords and jot down a color, a symbol, and an image that it makes them think about. As an extension for Grade 4 and 5, I added in “It is…” and “It is not…”.

This routine was my favorite and had the most engagement from my students. With it posted on the wall, there was enough room for all students to move around and contribute while also looking at the ideas provided by their classmates. Throughout the unit we reflected on our answers, discussing if anyone would change something, and matching the ideas to learning experiences we had in PE.

Think, Puzzle, Explore

I used this routine with my younger PYP students for the Health-Related Fitness Unit as well. After reading through the Central Idea together I had them think about answers to the three main questions.

Students were quick to share the knowledge they already had, and what they wanted to explore, but in the future, I will look to develop the “Puzzle” section in greater detail. This activity again was able to be done efficiently with each student having their own post-it note to stick to when complete. As the unit progressed, a few more post-it notes were added as we explored the topic of “Healthy living”.

Chalk Talk
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This routine is a great challenge to get students to explain and expand on simple questions. With students unable to talk throughout the experience, they must write down any questions, responses, or comments on the paper provided. While I forgot to take pictures of my most recent use of this thinking routine, this early in the year example shows how students analyzed the beginning of our Team Games unit.

In this activity, each small group would have a couple of minutes for each question to either start the conversation or respond/build on to the previous group's comments. Doing this three times over the most recent school year, I saw a lot of growth and improvement in the quality of responses provided.

Going into a new school year, at a new school, visible thinking routines will continue to be a priority of mine, helping unpack the Central Idea, and also allowing for meaningful reflection to occur. I say meaningful because there were multiple times I changed lesson plans to adapt to a clear student interest, or address a topic that was less confidently addressed in these thinking routines than I had expected.

What visible thinking routines have you used with your classes? Let me know on twitter @tannernickel or through email

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