What do you see? What do you think about that? What does it make you wonder? Debbie, Paula, and Sylvia are doing a book study with Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding and Independence for All Learners, by Ron Pritchard, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison. The book includes a number of learning routines to encourage and develop rich thinking. One of them is called See-Think-Wonder.
See-Think-Wonder has the students study an image, such as a book illustration, photograph, or painting. First, the students simply say what they see. Since first graders seem to be able to “see” things beyond the frame of the image, Debbie tells her class, “If you see an image, you should be able to walk up to it and touch it.” With this reminder, the routine seems to work just as well with Debbie’s first graders as it does with Paula’s third graders. After saying what they see, the students talk about what they think is happening, providing a reason or evidence. Finally, they share their wonderings, i.e., questions that they have about the image.
The idea behind See-Think-Wonder is to encourage the students to make careful observations and thoughtful interpretations. The whole-group lessons were going really well in all of their classrooms. However, Debbie, Paula, and Sylvia were looking for ways to take this routine to the next level by getting their students to apply it on their own almost automatically. How could they be trained to routinely stop and critically examine images, think about what’s happening, and ask questions? The teachers decided to increase the number of opportunities for their students to see, think, and wonder. Here’s how they fit those opportunities into the school day.
When the students arrive in the morning, there is an image displayed on the Smartboard. It can be a piece of art, a photograph related to an upcoming content lesson, or an intriguing illustration from one of the day’s read-aloud books. The Friday before Martin Luther King Day, Paula displayed an image of Dr. King being escorted by two white police officers. It prepared the students for this upcoming lesson.
The students have three different sets of colored sticky notes on their desks, which they use to record what they see (yellow), think (pink), and wonder (blue). Then they get up and post their recordings. This also gives them a chance to view what their classmates have recorded. The teacher peruses the sticky notes and selects a few to talk about. Since the notes are posted, all of the students feel that they have been heard.
See-Think-Wonder as Prereading
See-Think-Wonder is an engaging way to access students’ background knowledge and introduce relevant vocabulary for a read-aloud. Debbie planned to read Bernice Gets Carried Away by Hannah E. Harris. The cover shows a frowning cat with her paws on her hips and a party hat on the ground. The students had a lively discussion about whether Bernice was a cat, a raccoon, or a badger. They recognized that she was unhappy and of course wondered how anyone could be unhappy at a birthday party. Debbie discovered that they did not know the idiom gets carried away, leading them to “think” and “wonder” about someone picking up Bernice and carrying her off somewhere. The prereading activity whetted the appetite for the book, provided predictions to confirm or revise, and opened the door to a minilesson on idioms.
See-Think-Wonder Literacy Station
See-Think-Wonder does not have to be a whole-class activity. It is working well as a literacy station in Debbie’s classroom. The station contains a stack of three-column recording sheets and displays an image from a large photo chart book from the Let’s Talk About It! program by Mondo Publishing. This photo chart book contains 48 images (more than enough for an entire year of See-Think-Wonder literacy-station sessions) in the format of a large (22-by-28) flip chart that rests on a self-contained base for easy display. Students are first directed to record what they see, think, and wonder on the recording sheets. Then they are instructed to talk to each other about what they have recorded. Debbie reports that they often become so enthusiastic during this activity that they can’t wait until they are finished recording to begin the discussion.
See-Think-Wonder as Prewriting
This was an unplanned and unexpected outcome of the thinking routine. Sylvia likes to google “interesting images” to find images for her bell-ringer activity. One such image had a dog on an elephant’s back in a body of water. The kids could not stop talking about this one! Was a circus caught in a flood? Were the dog and the elephant shipwrecked? Immediately afterward, as expected, dog-and-elephant stories appeared in students’ writing notebooks. But to Sylvia’s surprise, the interest in this image persisted instead of abruptly dying down in a typical manner. She began to notice that the students were regularly continuing the discussion of what they were wondering about the dog and the elephant in their writing notebooks and writing folders. Some students were even asking her to display the image again during writing workshop. She quickly incorporated the idea in her arsenal against “I don’t know what to write.”
Enriching and Extending KWL with See-Think-Wonder
We’ve all suffered through those less-than-rewarding KWL lessons. You know, the ones when the kids say things such as “I don’t know anything about the African savanna,” or “Do nice people live on the African savanna?” See-Think-Wonder offers just enough support without giving away the answers. When students see an image of the African savanna, they see that there are not very many trees. The grass is not very green. The bodies of water are small. There are (depending on the image) elephants, zebras, giraffes, lions, and/or meerkats living on the savanna. They will think that it doesn’t rain much in the savanna because the bodies of water are so small and the grass is brown. They will think that it is hot on the savanna because the ground is cracked. They will wonder how often it rains. They will wonder how the animals and trees survive with so little water. Isn’t this a much better place to start a reading of an informational book on the African savanna than with just a KWL chart?
By incorporating See-Think-Wonder in these literacy routines, Debbie, Paula, and Sylvia are betting that it will not be long before the students are seeing, thinking, and wondering on their own with no prompts from their teachers. I think that they are right!