Making Thinking Visible #1: Chalk Talks

making thinking visible

I am always a bit skeptical when something new gets put on my plate and was very leery to even look at this book when it was introduced to our staff last year. How am I going to fit this in with all the other new stuff we are supposed to do? I kept asking myself. I did eventually look at the book, and surprisingly got really into the idea of thinking routines. Last year I tried out a few just to see what would happen, and this year I have started planning which ones will fit best with certain activities I already do. I thought it made perfect sense to share these routines as I use them in my classroom and hope they will give you ideas as to how you can use them in yours as well.

What do you mean by “Making Thinking Visible”?

The authors of the book suggest that by making thinking visible, teachers are promoting engagement, understanding and independence for all learners. They have 6 “thinking moves” that are important to understanding:

  • observing closely and describing what’s there
  • building explanations and interpretations
  • reasoning with evidence
  • making connections
  • considering different viewpoints and perspectives
  • capturing the heart and forming conclusions

What are the routines?

There are 20 thinking routines listed and thoroughly explained in the book. The authors have divided them into three categories: Routines for Introducing and Exploring Ideas, Routines for Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas, and Routines for Digging Deeper Into Ideas. Here are the six I have chosen to use on a regular basis this year:

  • Chalk Talk
  • 3-2-1 Bridge
  • Headlines
  • I used to think…Now I know…
  • What makes you say that?
  • Tug of War

1st Routine Used: Chalk Talk    Untitled (36) 0 00 00-01 Untitled (29) 0 00 04-23 Untitled (19) 0 00 04-23

The first thinking routine I have used this year is a Chalk Talk, in which students are asked to think about ideas presented to them, make connections to others’ responses and then question the ideas and responses of their peers. It is very easy to implement and is an excellent way to stimulate some great “silent discussion” in your classroom!

Supplies Needed:

  • chart paper 4-6 pieces
  • prompts written in the middle of the chart paper
  • markers for students
  • a timer

Before the Routine:

  • Place the chart around the room, giving students lots of space to think and write.
  • Decide how much time students will have at each prompt and if they will rotate as a group or if they will roam freely during the activity
  • Go over the prompts with students in advance and remind them that there is no talking during this activity.
  • Set the timer for 5 minutes and direct students to their first prompt.


During the Routine:

  • Circulate as students begin reading their first prompt. Remind them that they are to respond to the prompt and then think about and respond to other students thoughts by making connections and writing their own responses.
  • Students should rotate as needed through the prompts. Note: Students need about 3 minutes at the first prompt because there are no comments yet, but will also need time to go back to this prompt at the end of the activity to read what others wrote.



After the Routine:

At this point, the class should come together and talk about the learning that took place. How did the students’ thinking change after reading others’ responses? What patterns did they notice? What surprised them?

Other Uses:

This activity can be adapted for a variety of uses, such as a unit review or brainstorming for a group project. It is pretty versatile, and just the idea of using a marker on giant chart paper and moving around the classroom instead of sitting in a desk for a period is enticing to students!

      IMG_2764 IMG_2763




Final Thoughts:

Our first Chalk Talk went really well. This sixth grade ELA class worked well moving from prompt to prompt and their feedback exit slips indicated that they enjoyed the activity. When asked what could make the activity better next time, they suggested that they have even more thought provoking prompts, more time at each prompt, the ability to have other classes comment on the prompts and to be able to revisit the same prompts at a later time. If I had to do anything differently next time, I would 1. make the chart paper bigger and 2. make sure that the prompts really lend themselves to differing opinions to provide for thought provoking discussion.

Next up…. Headlines!

Headlines are a fantastic way for students to summarize and capture what a piece of text, speech or video is about. We are writing headlines for Seedfolks, which we just finished this week. Blog post coming soon!

2 thoughts on “Making Thinking Visible #1: Chalk Talks

  1. Pingback: Clif Mims -

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s