Engaging Thinking Routines

Supporting and Scaffolding Learning and Thinking

Visit any great classroom and you will see a series of routines in action. These routines may be procedural, instructional or focused on getting the best thinking from the students.

Routines help to minimise distractions, add to the positive classroom flow, encourage responsibility and can boost morale in a learning environment. They also provide a clear framework, or boundaries in which students can work within.

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Establishing the Routines

Whether procedural, instructional or thinking, establishing routines requires explicit teaching and modelling, time to practice the routine and immediate feedback to constantly improve and refine. Gaining student voice is an important phase in the successful implementation of new routines. This also requires the teacher to step back and allow students to run the routines.

According to Ron Ritchhart, thinking routines are more than just activities. He maintains that they are designed to:

  • Help direct the students’ and teachers’ attention to the issue of thinking,
  • Provide specific practices to see the results almost immediately,
  • Make students’ thinking visible,
  • Encourage action and discussion around thinking.One of the aims of using thinking routines is to assist in the cognitive strategies that are becoming patterns of behaviour. If we want our students to be great thinkers, we must support and scaffold this learning and thinking. Ron Ritchhart, along with others at Project Zero, have developed many thinking routines. Below is an introduction to just a few. They can all be found on The Project Zero website: www.pz.harvard.edu/resources/visible- thinking-tools.Routines for All Types of Thinking

    A great place to start is to identify what type of thinking you would like your students to engage in and provide specific thinking routines to support. These may vary according to the subject area, students’ experience and the topic you are teaching.

    For example, if you wish to introduce and explore ideas, possibly at the beginning of a topic of study, you may use the following two routines:

Evaluating a Thinking Routine

It is important to take the time after using a thinking routine to evaluate its use and effectiveness. Questions which may support this process include:

  • Did this thinking routine help us to dig deeper?
  • Did it facilitate a better understanding?
  • How might we adjust this routine for next time?

Providing thinking routines helps to layout the sequence and therefore, the foundations of skilful thinking. It can demystify the process of thinking and learning. It is important to note these thinking routines are to be used with flexibility and are not a rigid approach.

Add a couple of thinking routines into your lesson plans and you will begin to see your students’ attitudes towards thinking and learning open up, become more curious and foster a deeper commitment to understanding, rather than simply just knowing an answer.

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Karen Tui Boyes

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for LifeLong Learning. A multi-award-winning speaker, educator and businesswoman, she is an expert in effective teaching, learning, study skills, motivation and positive thinking. Karen is the CEO of Spectrum Education, Principal of Spectrum Online Academy and the author of 10 books. She loves empowering teachers, parents and students and is the wife to one and the mother of two young adults.
Karen was named the GIFEW Evolutionary Woman of the Year 2022.