How to cultivate a thinking culture in the classroom

Among the wealth of resources that can be found on the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s website is the Thinking Routine Toolbox. This is a collection of simple tasks that can be practiced with students to help develop a culture of thinking in the classroom – and beyond. The key word here is ‘routine’ and it is recommended that teachers use these tools regularly and in different contexts – after all ‘practice makes permanent’.

So what are they and how do they work?

There are several routines to choose from. One of the core thinking routines is See, Think, Wonder.

In Social Studies, I show my students a picture from the news and ask them to consider 3 questions before they report back.


Med handväskan som vapen

Image Source: Hallands Nyheter


  1. What do you see? – what do you notice about this picture?” Students are encouraged to carefully observe and comment on as much detail as possible.
  2. I ask students to thoughtfully interpret the picture. “What do you think is going on?”
  3. To stimulate curiosity, students are asked to share any questions they might have. “What does this picture make you wonder?”



Visible Thinking

This simple routine is also designed to make thinking visible. The students share their thoughts and we can see how they are processing this information. 

Our lesson continues by exploring the topics raised in the news story. In this case, the story was about the controversy surrounding the unveiling of a statue. The statue, ‘Med handväskan som vapen” was inspired by an event from 1985 in Växsjö when an elderly woman struck a neo-Nazi demonstrator with her handbag. 

The subject of human rights, particularly the right to protest, as well as the issue of controversial statues and memorialisation are all discussed in the course of the lesson. 

At the end of the lesson, we return to the picture and the See, Think, Wonder thinking routine. Having now contextualised the picture and explored some of the issues associated with it, the students are invited to reflect over this picture and what they have learned.

  • The See, Think, Wonder thinking routine was developed by Project Zero, a research center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
  • ‘Med handväskan som vapen’ is a statue created by Susanna Arwin. It is inspired by events in 1985 first captured by Hans Runneson in his photograph ‘The old lady with the handbag’.

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