Visible Thinking Routines in Stile

Learn all about the importance of Visible Thinking Routines and how they're used in Stile's lessons!

Visible Thinking Routines in Stile

In this blog we explore the suite of metacognitive activities known as Visible Thinking Routines. You may recognise these routines from lessons throughout the Stile library.

Image 1: The 3 Whys thinking routine in the Genetically modified food Stile news lesson.

What are they?

Visible Thinking Routines are a collection of activities developed by Project Zero, an educational research group within Harvard Graduate School of Education. Each routine consists of a set of questions that promote specific types of thinking, known as ‘thinking moves,’ in students (Ritchhart, Church & Morrison, 2011). Let’s take a look at the routine I used to think...But now I think as an example.

In this routine students are encouraged to reflect on how their thinking has changed about a particular topic.  The process is scaffolded using prompts in the form of sentence stems.

What do they hope to achieve?

Visible Thinking Routines were created in response to Project Zero’s research into the question ‘'How do we make our students better thinkers?’.

They found three factors that led to students successfully applying different types of thinking to aid their learning and understanding.

  1. Students must know how to apply specific types of thinking, such as questioning and observation
  2. They must be motivated to think in this way
  3. They must be sensitive to when to use a type of thinking

Of all three factors, researchers found that the last was most challenging for students. They often know how to use a range of thinking moves, have the motivation to do so, but lack the awareness of when to use them appropriately to support their learning (Ritchhart, Church & Morrison, 2011).

Visible Thinking Routines were designed to support students to develop this sensitivity. If students engage with the activities enough times, they will begin to employ the thinking moves independently of their teacher and will thus become routines. The impact being that through careful selection of how to think of the new information presented to them, they will thus be able to understand that information at a deeper level (Leinhardt & Steele, 2005).

What do they look like in Stile?

Visible Thinking Routines have been included in Stile’s lessons ever since our content team completed an extensive professional learning course with Project Zero in 2018.

The routines fit within Stile’s pedagogical paradigm as a means for students to develop metacognitive skills to support their learning. Our content team works with a curated selection of ten routines that are especially well-suited to science education. When creating lessons, they carefully select where routines should be included and purposefully determine which one is the most suitable.

Much like all content in Stile, teachers can fully customise the activities and we encourage you to take complete ownership of how they are used in your classroom by editing, adding and replacing the routines found in Stile’s lessons to suit your students. Check out our template lesson, Template 13: Thinking routines, for the full collection of routines used within Stile’s resources. You can copy activities directly from here to paste into your lessons.

We support teachers and students to use these routines by supplying comprehensive teaching notes, and incorporating graphic organisers and thoughtful illustrations.

Let’s revisit I used to think..But now I think to see how it’s brought to life in Stile.

Through the use of a graphic organiser the student’s response to each sentence stem is scaffolded to support the thought processes required. The illustrations beautifully represent the transformation of knowledge occurring in the student’s mind.

Why are Visible Thinking Routines a focus for Stile PL?

Our dedicated Professional Learning Team has developed a workshop that specifically explores Visible Thinking Routines and how they can be used effectively with Stile. Why? Because the power of these routines lies in how they are applied in the classroom. In many cases, they are misunderstood and therefore under-utilised.

At the beginning of 2021, we facilitated the first version of the teacher workshop as part of our full-day Stile PL events. The session introduced Visible Thinking, Visible Thinking Routines, and how to use them successfully as part of regular teaching practice. The workshop has evolved in response to teacher feedback throughout its lifetime, and has become overwhelmingly successful. It’s helped teachers to understand the pedagogy of metacognition on a broader level, as well as in relation to the routines. Many attendees leave the session motivated to try the routines in new and interesting ways the very next day. We regularly receive reports that student engagement in these activities has increased as a result.

Want to learn more?

Take part in one of our Professional Learning workshops! You can join the session on Visible Thinking Routines to further your learning, or take part in the other sessions on offer. Our workshops are available year-round, both virtually and in-person. Click here for more information.


Leinhardt, G., & Steele, M. (2005). Seeing the Complexity of Standing to the Side: Instructional Dialogues. Cognition And Instruction, 23(1), 87-163. doi: 10.1207/s1532690xci2301_4

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making thinking visible. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Further reading