Friday, May 16, 2014


They're at it again!

I have now twice (April 25, 2014 and March 28, 2014written about teachers in my school using the Visible Thinking Routine Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate (Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrisonas a way to help students uncover and organize prior knowledge to identify connections.

In first grade, teachers used this Thinking Routine to help invite their students into the unit of inquiry Sharing the Planet. Students will investigate the changes that animals experience throughout their life cycle. Part of the invitation step in the inquiry process is to pre-assess what students already know, understand, and can do prior to the study to help plan and guide further learning.

Teachers began the thinking routine letting their students know that they were interested in seeing and hearing the students' thinking about livings things.

Students then generated a "collection" of living things, writing and drawing on slips of paper.

Together, students sorted the living things into categories that they created. Students were asked to explain their thinking throughout the sorting process. After the categories were established, the class labeled their categories.

Next, students made connections between the groups, again being asked to explain what they were thinking. Finally, students elaborated on their groups, by adding other living things to the categories they had previously established.

It should be noted that during this process, as students made their thinking visible through their explanations, many interesting ideas and misconceptions were brought to light.

Is a rock a living thing?
How about water?
What about love?
How about blood?
What makes a living thing living?
Should a shark go in the same category as a whale and a dolphin?
Is a dinosaur living, if there aren't any living now?
Should we sort animals by what they eat or by where they live? Or perhaps by how they act?

As students explained their thinking, teachers made mental (or in some cases written) notes on what their students were saying. These notes will help teachers plan future learning engagements.

Below are the products of the Thinking Routine Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate from different first grade classrooms. Note that each one is different, because it was constructed by the particular students in each of the different classrooms.

This is the same Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate as above, just a couple of days later. The pink panda paper in the upper right corner of the picture is research that a student completed at home on her own without any teacher direction. Also, note the difference between the two pictures, especially the number of connections students made between the groups.

Note how the students basically crafted the central idea of the unit of inquiry in the middle of their sort.

"Love" made it through the first round of the sort, as did water. In this version, those items were taken off.

After reading about how first grader teachers used the Thinking Routine Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate to invite their students into the unit of inquiry about changes and cycles, how could you or have you used this Thinking Routine with your students?

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