Implementing Visible Thinking Routines in the IB PYP

When it comes to reflection and assessment of our IB PYP transdisciplinary inquiries, we are fundamentally assessing the abstract; understanding of concepts, transfer of knowledge and development of skills. These are not things that can be monitored with multiple choice assessments. (If you'd like to explore more about assessment in the PYP, start with this article here. ) Part of our assessment strategies include on-going documentation of the learning process, which includes the children's thinking and this is where the valuable visible thinking routines assist. I am delighted to welcome my guest writer, Jahnavi Aswani, a homeroom teacher-facilitator with PYP 3 from Mount Litera School International, Mumbai. She is bringing her experience with visible thinking routines and practical ideas to share with our community. As you read through Jahnavi's article, consider the Approaches to Learning Skills that are put into practice within the different thinking routines. Read on for some great takeaways!

By Jahnavi Aswani:

What is the meaning of inquiry? In simple English language, inquiry means “a seeking or request for truth, information, or knowledge”. That is exactly what inquiry based learning emphasises. One very effective tool to facilitate inquiry based learning is through the use of Visual Thinking Routines or the VTR (as we popularly call it). Visual Thinking Routines are very simple tools but efficacious and compel the learners to use their critical thinking skills . These routines are designed to help learners connect, understand, analyse ,synthesise and communicate their thoughts and ideas to the class. In this blog we will understand the importance of visual thinking routines in inquiry based learning.

Structure and Guidance

One of the key benefits of visual thinking routines is that they provide a direction to the thoughts of learners, thus making thinking visible. Inquiry based learning is very open ended but there needs to be a path that learners can follow in order to achieve the learning outcome. With the use of VTR our learners are given a structured direction to guide their thinking.  Below is an example of the VTR “I used to think and now I think”. This is a grade 3 learner who has framed the purpose, objective and task and also beautifully channelled her thoughts and presented them in a systematic manner.  The unit was “Who We Are” and inquiry was around rights and responsibilities. The use of VTRs helps learners to deeply understand the concept and present their ideas in a more logical manner. 

Skills-Based Learning

VTRs help in the development of metacognitive skills also known as “ thinking about your thinking” which helps them become more reflective. They tend to reflect back on the process of learning and they come to the conclusions easily. Thinking routines, if used regularly, enables the learners to practice deep thinking and notice things beyond the classroom as well. It becomes a habit and works very well on the development of metacognitive aspects. Another very important benefit of VTR is that it gives a lot of opportunities for collaboration and coming together in teams which helps learners to understand the perspective of their peers. It helps them gather information and understand what others in their class think as well. Given is an example to show collaboration and how learners respect each other’s perspective. It is  work done by my grade 3 learners. It helps them to be good listeners and build positive relationships with one another. Below is an example of a group task assigned to my learners. They used the VTR “Make Meaning” The minute I displayed the picture, my learners began to work immediately without much explanation. It was wonderful to see how in the group they identified each other’s strengths and assigned  the task to each other all developing that sense of community and through self-directed learning.  The learners had to write the definition as per their understanding during the discussion and then add on as per the headers given. The most satisfying part for me as a teacher was immediately after the session and presentation of the same we went down for free play. During this time, the children observed worms in the soil around the plantations and saw a sparrow quietly tried to catch the worm and flew in a quieter place to feed on. The entire class started to discuss the food chain and the food web that can be formed from here and the learning extended beyond as they could make real life connections.

Providing Differentiation

In a classroom we have various kinds of learners. VTR allows the learners to engage in a variety of ways through images, diagrams and other visual aids . This helps the learners to retain information especially those with different learning styles. While researching for my class I came across this interesting site ‘’ where I found the VTRs with very interesting visuals. It works very well as the visuals help learners to get a better understanding of the expectations and enables greater options for the children to select their preferred method. You'll find great material from John Hattie, author of Visible Learning for Teachers.  These are a few examples of how to facilitate the inquiry process through visible thinking routines. There are many routines available which facilitators can use depending upon the concepts and skills focus. One important thing to keep in mind is that the choice of routine should be based on the grade level and also the understanding level of the learners. If used correctly the VTRs can do wonders in enhancing the cognitive skills of the learners. In conclusion, the use of visual thinking routines is essential for effective inquiry-based learning. By making thinking visible, promoting collaboration and communication, supporting different learning styles, and developing metacognitive skills, visual thinking routines help to create a culture of inquiry and discussion in the classroom. As educators, it is our responsibility to promote and facilitate inquiry-based learning, and visual thinking routines are a powerful tool for achieving this goal.


P.S. Jahnavi is also a co-author of a fabulous ebook that supports understanding of the Learner Profile. Along with her colleague, Ameeta Salvi, the ladies created this colourful book that demonstrates international mindedness beautifully. They are kindly sharing access to our community. You can click through to their book right here. 


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