What are Thinking Routines?

And how can they make learning visible in the classroom?

David Weller
6 min readNov 3, 2021


A thinking routine is a short series of steps that guides your thought process. They’re simple and easy to use. Best of all, encouraging students to use them regularly will lead to them growing in confidence, improving critical thinking, and more open discussions.

So What Exactly are Thinking Routines?

When we talk about routines in the classroom, we usually mean the basic physical and social routines — either classroom management (i.e. who sits where, taking attendance) or behaviour management (how we react to various student behaviour).

Thinking routines take the idea one step further, and apply the idea of routines to learning.

Thinking routines are ways that you encourage your learners to process information for learning and interact intellectually.

Thinking Routines Example

Probably the best known / most used thinking routine is called ‘Think-Pair-Share’.

In this thinking routine, learners:

  • Think: about their response to input (a question, a problem or a situation)
  • Pair: discuss their thoughts in pairs.
  • Share: their thoughts with others.

Where Did Thinking Routines Come From?

In some form or another, thinking routines have been used in teaching for a long time.

However, a formalised approach to collecting and classifying these seems (from my own searching) to have come from Project Zero, a Harvard Graduate School of Education project, started in 1967.

Among many educational projects they’ve undertaken, their Visible Thinking project has focused on thinking routines. From their website:

“Thinking Routines loosely guide learners’ thought processes and encourage active processing.”

Great Thinking Routines You Can Use Now

We’ve already looked at ‘Think-Pair-Share’, so let’s explore five other thinking routines you can use in your next class:



David Weller

Lessons, stories and visuals to develop your language teaching and learning. 20 years in education, 3 books, and a twice-monthly newsletter.