Help Teachers in Your District Transfer Thinking Routines into the Classroom


Before we as educators are able to make thinking visible to students we have to first make the processes and procedures of thinking visible to ourselves.

An examination of Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison, (2011) Making Thinking Visible for Students:  How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners, confirmed my thinking on this.

Making thinking visible refers to those specific thinking strategies and processes students use to build deeper understanding.  As students develop a greater awareness of thinking processes, they become independent learners capable of managing their own cognitive actions. The authors highlight 21 thinking routines that make thinking visible and support students’ development of understanding. This revelation is only the beginning.  Whereas it is important that teachers are aware of the kinds of mental activity necessary to support student thinking, awareness is not enough.  How do we—Directors of Curriculum and Instruction, Staff Development Coordinators, Instructional Coaches, Campus Administrators, etc.—help teachers transfer this new knowledge, this new understanding, into their instructional approaches?   Consider the following process to help teachers document their self-reflection as they work to integrate Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison thinking routines into their classroom practices.

Step 1: Choose a thinking routine and conduct a training around it

Conduct a professional development training that focuses on one of the thinking routines outlined in Making Thinking Visible for Students, Choose a strategy that supports a district initiative. For example, like many districts, our organization has a literacy initiative. As a result, a good fit for my district is the Micro Lab Protocol thinking routine which supports academic discourse, and is one of the components of our secondary literacy program. This thinking routine, characterized by instructor-timed rounds of sharing, is designed to support equal participation and foster better listening skills within classroom group discussions.

Use research to back up the need for this thinking routine

The professional development training should include a research-based rationale for the use of the selected thinking routine. For example, facilitate a discussion on the relationship between student interaction through academic discourse/structured conversations and academic achievement, or bring to light the disservice we unknowingly do to students of low Socio-Economic Status (SES), English Language Learner (ELL) students, and students who are tracked in lower-level courses.  According to Seidlitz and Perryman (2011), teachers give low SES students fewer opportunities to talk about content than higher SES students, and ELL students spend only 4% of the day engaged in school talk and 2% in talk concerning content. These kinds of statistics do well to support a choice of this thinking routine.


Train participants on using the thinking routine

The next phase of the training should focus specifically on how to use the thinking routine. Provide participants with multiple opportunities to practice the routine using social studies content. During this professional development training, allow teachers an opportunity to develop a lesson that integrates the thinking routine of focus. Participants should have an opportunity to examine an exemplar lesson that highlights the routine. This is important because it allows teachers to collaborate with other teachers as well as with coordinators, coaches, or trainers to develop lessons that include the thinking routine.

Finally, introduce a lesson-observation protocol to teachers. This protocol will be used by participants while teachers demonstrate the exemplar lesson to guide them in assessing the degree in which the thinking routine has been integrated into the teacher’s instructional approach.

Step 2: Debrief and encourage reflection

Immediately following the training, provide participants with an opportunity to reflect on the training itself. Using a Google Form application or another digital platform, send participants reflective journal prompts to capture perceptions of the training.

Such prompts might include:

  • How will you incorporate the thinking routine learned during the training into your instructional plans? Explain.
  • What aspects of the training did you find most useful as you work to incorporate this thinking routine into your instructional practice? Was it the thinking routine itself? Were the resources useful?
  • To what extent did you find the planning session helpful?

You might request that participants respond within a given time period.




Step 3: Observe the implementation of the thinking routine in the classroom

Work with volunteers to designate a time for classroom observations.  The goal is to examine a lesson that includes the thinking routine presented during the training. Ask teacher volunteers to submit their lesson plan one day prior to the scheduled observations. The lesson plan and the observation protocol form are both artifacts detailing how the routine is embedded into the teacher’s instructional approach.

Step 4: Debrief and reflect (again!)

Following the lesson, provide teacher volunteers with opportunities to reflect on the implementation of the thinking routine. Again, capture the their reflections using prompts (ideally through digital methods).

The following are examples of some journal prompts for this time around:

  • To what extent did the thinking routine enhance the lesson?
  • How did your students respond to the thinking routine?
  • Include any additional information you wish to add.
  • What did you find most beneficial as you worked to integrate the routine learned during the professional development training into your lesson plans?

Again, it’s probably best to request that participants respond within a given time period.

Step 5: Meet with your teacher volunteers

Schedule an individual appointment with each teacher volunteer. Offer participants the option of meeting via video conference or in person. This conversation or debrief should include a discussion of the lesson observations, journals, lesson plans, and student work that was a direct outcome of the lesson itself. The discussion should end with plans for next steps regarding the thinking routine of focus or how the teacher might seek to integrate additional thinking routines within their instructional practice.

Although some of the steps in this process are dependent upon each other, it is important to note that some steps are  just as effective alone. For example, the notion of journaling itself is a reflective practice tool that brings about a means of metacognition or an awareness of one’s thought process. By responding to a given prompt, some degree of analysis occurs, and this can lead to a change in practice.  This is what Schon (1983) termed reflection-on-action, or reflecting after the completion of the taught lesson. Most importantly, the act of journaling helps teachers to truly focus on individual student outcomes.


Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Schon, D. A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. New York, NY: Basic Books, Inc.

Seidlitz, J., & Perryman, B. (2011). 7 Steps to a Language-Rich Interactive Classroom (1st ed.). San Antonio, TX: Canter Press.

Dr. Montra L. Rogers, Ed. D., a native of Houston, Texas, is currently the Director of Curriculum and Development for Secondary Social Studies (Grades 6-12) for the Houston Independent School District. The Texas Social Studies Supervisors Association awarded Dr. Rogers the Dr. Rosemary Marrow Social Studies Supervisor of the Year Award; in addition, the Texas Southern University National Alumni Association awarded her the Excellence in Achievement Award in Education. Her current research interests include reflective practice and the professional growth of social studies teachers, the notion of using the writing process to facilitate social studies instruction, and developing teacher leaders.

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