New visible thinking routines (VTRs) to encourage inquiry

Inquiry can be the easiest thing to do in a classroom or the toughest. It always hinges on the classroom ethos and the involvement of the students in their own learning journey. These visible thinking routines can be used over the course of a day or two to chalk out the inquiry path of a topic or could even be used as queues for going deeper into the subject matter over a few weeks. Each sub heading of the VTR can be used as an independent point of inquiry or the VTRs could be used as a sequential process to guide student investigations.



Steps for the VTR-

  • Intention
    The learners should be keenly aware of the learning intention at the beginning of the activity, which can be offered by the facilitator or created by the students. The following guiding questions can be put forth to the students-
    Why is this activity important?
    What is the relevance of this task in your life?
    If I did not do this task, would it matter?
    What else can I do that could help me to achieve the learning intention?
    These inquiries will bring forth the learner’s awareness of the task or permit them to suggest alternatives to achieving the goal thus encouraging student voice and choice. This will also lead to the formation of success criteria, and if a student suggests a viable alternate path to the goal, it should be strongly encouraged.
  • Action
    The learners must dig deeper into the action to be taken in two ways-
    1. Action that must bring about the success criteria- Students will brainstorm ways to attain the success criteria such as research, creation of surveys, interviewing experts, organizing guest speakers, or even classroom discussions to further understanding.

2. Action that can be taken outside of the classroom- This is a vital step for the learners to make real life connections and make their learning meaningful. Students should move towards imagining techniques in which they can apply their understanding of the task for the betterment of society (locally or globally). These can materialize in the form of blogs, websites, public awareness campaigns or volunteering.

  • Reflection
    A checklist can be created by the students on points that they will reflect upon later- the ease with which the task was completed, the appropriateness of materials used, the audience kept in mind and more. Usually, reflection is left for the end of the task, but creating a checklist at the beginning can keep the learners on track while inquiring and give them valid checkpoints to ponder on after as well.

The sun, the stars and the sky

  • The sun
    (The broader perspectives, questions and answers, driving inquiry forward)
    Learners will pinpoint their burning questions for the given topic. These will be the inquiry points that need to be explored to develop conceptual understanding. These queries can be assembled through a word wall, word cloud or Jam board if working virtually. Students could move a step further and identify the methods to be utilized to answer these questions and how it affects a broader audience.  For example, if the students are exploring waste, the learners need to map out the questions that will drive the unit forward as well as the learning engagements that will help them to achieve the depth of understanding required such as having personnel from waste management plants as guest speakers. They will also assess how the issue of waste has a global effect to encourage the understanding that we are all global citizens who have common problems and solutions.

The stars- 
(The aspect that shines or sparkles for an individual)

The elements of the topic that sparkle for each child may be different and should be pursued. This can be taken on in the form of a project. For example- During the unit on waste, one child may want to take up the 7R’s, while another may want to explore the effect of waste on the soil. This leads students away from structured inquiry towards free inquiry.

The rain-
(The challenges or obstacles)

Learners will predict the challenges they may face while fulfilling the project or discovering answers to their questions. Example- using the right tech tool to create a project on the 7R’s, the requirement of a buddy to help in research work, or barriers of ideas on how to move forward. Students can create action plans that will counteract the challenges in advance so that they may have a smoother inquiry journey.


Visible Thinking Routines need to be fresh and should give the students scope to plan their projects and inquiry thought process. Giving them creative yet sequential steps to their journey will encourage them to stay focused while inspiring them to express their creativity, voice and choice.



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