Generating ideas about thinking…

I’m lucky to work at a school where most (but not all) of the teachers love to learn and will voluntarily turn up for a bit of professional learning before school or during their lunchtime.

Almost the whole staff at our small  K-2 campus participate in today’s lunchtime session, bringing along sandwiches and bowls of soup. It’s a Year 2 room, so the teachers are sitting on small chairs around tables designed for little learners, but this is their learning environment and they are comfortable in it.

We have 40 minutes to think about thinking, explore one of the Visible Thinking routines and consider how it might be applied in the classroom. It’s one in a series of such gatherings where we work collaboratively on creating a culture of thinking. They have yet to read the book Making Thinking Visible and I hope to explore it with them in our coming sessions.

I’ve chosen the routine ‘Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate‘ partly because it’s a new one for them, but also because I know they will initially think it’s not suitable for younger learners*. I’m keen to show them the video below of 4 year olds engaging with this routine and hear their reflections! Here’s a variation of the same routine in a high school class, if that’s more your area.

We start by getting into groups and collaboratively generating ideas about thinking in the classroom. It’s easiest to do this on sticky notes, as they can be readily moved and sorted for the next part of the routine. It’s interesting that each group generates different ideas and sorts them in different ways. The ensuing conversation reveals not only how these teachers think about thinking,  but how productive such an activity could be in getting students to justify and explain their thinking.

Predictably, someone asks whether this routine is suitable for younger learners* and it’s time to watch part of this clip of Silvana and her little learners exploring ways to look after our planet, via the ‘Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate’ routine. (Don’t turn off before the little pouter at 5:44!)


There follows a great conversation about the picture of practice we have just seen, how the teacher engages the children, how the children respond, the process of the routine, the potential for application and some possible problems and solutions. In a flash, lunchtime is over and the teachers need to return to class, even though we haven’t actually completed the thinking routine ourselves. In fact, elaborating on and further developing the ideas generated about thinking today will be the goal of our future sessions.

I have never taught K-2 classes and the teachers invite me to come and team teach with them to experience the reality of their learning context. I can’t wait!

11 thoughts on “Generating ideas about thinking…

  1. Hi Edna,

    You have been inspired me to try “Generate, Sort, Connect and Elaborate” with my own Year 2 class. I have used this thinking routine before with staff and older students but now I can see so many possibilities with younger children.
    The importance of professional learning in a school group allows us to support each other and provide a forum for great discussion and learning. I’m sure you will love working with the K-2 classes!



  2. Hi Edna
    Who said you send too many blogs? PLEASE keep them coming!!! I couldn’t be in your thinking routines group today, but you have inspired me to try “generate,sort,connect and elaborate” with my four year old kinder class. This video clip highlights what is possible with the youngest, amazing, thinkers and learners. Thanks for sending it!
    Debbie F


  3. Sigh. I wish the teachers at my school were interested in learning and professional development AND teaching kids to actually think. 🙂

    I bookmarked the visible thinking website so I can read more of it later and gather ideas for next year. I’m going to try and write a blog post about it this summer.

    Thanks for the great ideas!



  4. Edna,

    I forwarded this to our Lower School principal and a couple of teachers. Good stuff; thanks for sharing. I have thought for years (well, decades actually, but man, that makes me seem old) that we could move overtly share the process of learning, even with younger students. I tried some last year with your 4th graders, and yes, they “got it” just fine.

    To some extent this is one of the core theses of my book, The Falconer; part of the book is a series of short stories that teach strategic thinking, even to youngsters. 2nd grade? Not sure, but how knows. The 4th graders got it. You can download the book intro on my blog site at if you like.

    Thanks for sharing!


  5. Thanks, I will take a look!
    Of course young kids can share in the learning process and use thinking strategies! Even tiny kids. Check out some of the videos on the Visible Thinking website. And I love Dylan William’s work on metacognition…


  6. Hello, I am so pleased to see you liked our video and that it is making such an impact in so many teachers around the world.
    We work at 4 early childhood centers in Florida that are creating a culture of thinking through the implementation of visible thinking and other approaches.
    We are a team of 85 educators, passionate about making an impact from the early years on.
    The outcomes have been amazing, not only seing the children flourishing, but seeing the adults who also change while incorporating the new language, and habits of mind being reinforced.

    I invite you to post comments for our teacher Silvana at the YouTube pg or at the visible thinking for the 21 century FB PG. She will be thrilled to know other people are using her work to inspire teachers.

    for more info in the work we are doing you can visit: I hope to keep sharing and growing collaboratively 🙂

    I loved your blog too! I will be sharing it too with our team 🙂


  7. Thank you so much for commenting here. I will definitely go back and leave a comment for Silvana. The early years teachers were inspired by what’s possible. Most people see that particular thinking routine as one to use only with older learners.


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