Color, Symbol, Image: A thinking routine to help students synthesize and extend their learning

The goal of the book Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison is to provide teachers with techniques and routines that can help make their students’ thinking more clear, intentional and communicable. The particular thinking routine presented here is great because it can work with second graders through high-schoolers and gives students an alternative to verbal expression to formulate and communicate their ideas. It gives the teacher the ability to assess students’ comprehension of a text, idea, passage, or short film, while simultaneously challenging them to extend their thinking through the use of metaphors.

The basics of the routine:

  • Choose appropriate content: This thinking routine works best with a text, podcast, poem, short film, book chapter that invites multiple interpretations, but that has one, or just a few main concepts or themes. This could range from one pasuk to an entire perek of Tanakh, an excerpt from tefilah, a documentary film, etc. Be sure to pick something in which you think that there is value in students exploring different interpretations and in which you will be able to assess their understanding of the material through their interpretations.
  • Set up: After students have read, listened to, or seen the content you would like to discuss, have them, independently or in pairs, think through or jot down notes of what they think are the main ideas which are interesting or important to them.
  • Color: Each student should individually choose a color which they think represents the core idea of the content. It is ideal to choose only one color.
  • Symbol: Students should select or create a symbol which they think represents the core idea of the content being studied. They can design their own symbol or choose from a well- known symbol from memory (ex: equal sign, olive branch, smiley face, stop sign), choose from a menu of symbols provided by the teacher or search for symbols online.
  • Image: Students should create and sketch an image (or search for an image online) which they think represents the core idea of the content being studied. Students should not worry about their drawing skills; in fact, for upper grades you might allow students to simply describe their image.
  • Note: Older students should be encouraged/expected to write a short explanation of why they chose their color, symbol and image.
  • Share: Students can share their ideas in havruta, groups or with the whole class, explaining their selections. Students should be encouraged to question each others’ choices.
  • Applications: There are many ways to use this thinking routine.
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    • You can focus on just color, symbol or image (or two out of the three, or all three but out of order).
    • You could assign this activity for HW.
    • If studying a larger text (for example Sefer Shmot) you can have students produce a CSI for each perek, and post them in order by perek around the room, so that by the end of the year/unit you have a visual representation of the students’ interpretations of the entire text.
    • This technique can also be used to help students reflect on non-academic material (at the start of the school year a second grade teacher asked her students to pick a color for second grade and then choose a symbol for how they think second grade is different from first grade).
    • You might choose to bring to class a varied collection of objects and have the students try to find connections between them and what they are learning.

Click here to go to the thinking visible website for more ideas and thinking routines.

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