Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

Making Thinking Visible & The Characteristics of 21st Century Learners

Happy Monday, Teaching Friends. I'm hoping MY Monday is better than my last two Mondays were as they were bad enough to make a saint swear!  This morning, I still have metacognition on my mind. Last week, I wrote about using the 3-2-1 strategy in my math workshop.  I used another powerful strategy later on in my teaching week: CSI.  This little tool is powerful because it allows students to talk through their thinking, as well as gives the teacher a "formative assessment view" into students' reading comprehension. In addition, it develops, as do all the strategies in Making Thinking Visible, students' ability to think creatively and critically, communicate and collaborate with others, and create, evaluate and utilize information.

CSI: Color, Symbol, Image
The purpose of the CSI strategy is for students to summarize their reading or capture the heart of a big idea.  Through its use, students learn how to make visual connections to their thinking.  It begins as a nonverbal routine.  
My guided reading groups were wrapping a novel at the end of last week.   I zoomed in on the CSI strategy in order to discuss theme with them.  One group was finishing Wolf Shadows by Mary Casanova, while another group was finishing How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor.  We had been talking about possible themes for a few days when I introduced the assignment.  I used our mentor text Because of Winn Dixie (whole group workshop lessons) by Kate DiCamillo to model the thinking move. Here's a snapshot of how it went:
T: Colors can have many different meanings for different people.  For example, when I think of the color black, I think of extreme sadness or hopelessness.  What do you think of?
S: I think of scary stuff because scary movies always happen when it's night outside.
S:  Yeah, I think about something dying.   Like when my grandma died, everyone wore black to the funeral.
T: So black is an unhappy color for many of us, it sounds like.  If you were going to assign a color to the book Because of Winn Dixie, knowing what you know about Opal and the other characters as well as the theme of that novel, what color would you pick to represent the book?
S:  I'd choose pink because pink is a friendly color and she makes a lot of friends in the book.  She's not lonely anymore.
S: I'd choose yellow, like those lemon drops, because the book is bitter and sweet at the same time.
T: What do you mean by that?
S:Well, it's sweet because Opal makes friends and her dad starts to pay attention to her finally.  But it's bitter because the problem of her mom missing isn't solved.  Opal still misses her mom.
S:Yeah. Good idea.
At this point, I went on to ask them to think about their novels in the same way: What color would they choose to represent the "essence" of their novel?  I introduced a peace sign organizer that I had created for this purpose.  We then talked about symbols...what they are and how they are used in our everyday lives.  Some symbols we discussed were: The American flag...freedom: dove...peace;; an X O for kisses and hugs, etc.   I explained that I wanted them to also try to come up with a symbol for their book and record it on the organizer.
Finally, we talked about image.  One student said that a rain cloud with the sun poking out behind would be a good image for Because of Winn Dixie because real life is both rain and sun.  I asked them to think about what image they might sketch to represent the essence of their novel. Then, I sent them on their way to do their thinking. 

The next day, we reconvened.  Students began talking with a chat buddy, showing their CSI wheels to each other and describing their color, symbol, and image choices.  It was interesting to listen to students because I heard some unexpected "stuff."  For example, students had a pretty easy time assigning a color to their novels.  They were able to explain their choices, using the text for evidence.  They really focused on the overall mood of their book.  They were able to explain their sketches, too, although these tended to be illustrations about the book and not a sketch that represents the essence of the book.  For example, see the pictures and captions below:
This student sketched a house because this was the need of Georgina in How to Steal a Dog.  The student did not think of the house as something that symbolizes safety, warmth, family, or a sense of belonging.   He simply saw it as what the character wanted in the story.

This student drew a car because it was Georgina's home in How to Steal a Dog.  The student was able to explain the importance of the car but had difficulty explaining why this picture was THE picture to represent the essence of the novel.

The Wolf Shadows reading group, which is a higher level reading group, was able to think and talk about symbols with greater ease.  This was really interesting to watch.  I wonder what would happen if I were to bring the two groups together...if the How to Steal a Dog group's understanding of symbolic representation would be changed?

This student is from my Wolf Shadows (higher) group.  He explained his wolf symbol as representing the choices we make in life...that we're free like the wolf to make our own choices, but that they have consequences!

This student is an "outlier" in our classroom.  His thinking and drawings show it. Focus in on the symbol on the top right of his organizer.  He created this symbol like a family crest, and it shows three characters' varying viewpoints on wolves in the novel.  He included a smiley face, an angry face, and a neutral face.  He explained each face, relating them to the characters and citing evidence from the text.

This activity was a great first step into thinking about symbolism in text.  The CSI thinking move allowed students to create nonverbal representations of their thinking and then share their thinking orally.  It gives me a "leaping off the comprehension cliff" point with my students for next time.  Give it a try in your own classroom.  If you do, please let me know how it goes!  Be sure to stay tuned for my next adventure into Making Thinking Visible!

                                                                   Until then, teach on , my friends!

If you're interested in this graphic organizer, you can check it out below.  Just click the pictures!


  1. I love learning about all things metacognition! Thank you for this post, and thank you for linking up with my Teaching Tuesday link up party. I appreciate it!
    ~Heather aka HoJo~

  2. It was interesting to read the powerful effectiveness of the CSI strategy. I'm surely going to try this in my classroom. Thank you for this comprehensive article!

    1. Thank you, Laurane Rae. I would love to hear how it goes if you use it!

  3. Great post, and I loved seeing the response of your little divergent thinker!