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See, Think, Wonder Thinking Routine for Creative Classroom Learning

Posted by Tatum Moser on Oct 2, 2022

Student observing something closely with magnifying glasses

"To acquire knowledge, one must study. But to acquire wisdom, one must observe.” Marilyn vos Savant

Updated on April 5th, 2024.

What is the See, Think, Wonder Thinking Routine?

Ron Ritchhart and the researchers at Project Zero developed the See, Think, Wonder thinking routine to support students to zoom in and experience the purpose and benefits of careful observation in the learning process.

This thinking routine uses visual imagery, artifacts, and media to engage students to carefully notice the different parts and features of objects, ideas, phenomena, etc. See, Think, Wonder engages students by allowing for open exploration of a concept rather than the more common teacher-directed delivery of information and knowledge transfer. Creating a meaningful purpose for close observation and description of a new idea or concept is also the first step toward developing thoughtful explanations and interpretations and identifying areas of further inquiry.

Choosing the Content

The first step for an impactful See, Think, Wonder experience is choosing meaningful imagery, artifacts, or media. Consider your learning objectives for a lesson or unit. Once your objectives are clearly defined, you can embark on the search for an image, object, or other media that will naturally capture student interest and curiosity about the idea or concept. Use yourself as a litmus test. What you choose has a better chance of being interesting to your students if it is truly interesting to you.

Ideal Features of See, Think, Wonder Images, Artifacts, or Media:

  • Presence of Ambiguity
  • Novelty for students
  • Multiple visual layers

Steps for the “See, Think Wonder” Thinking Routine

Once you have your content selected, outline the routine for your students. Sometimes you may choose to do this as an entire class or in smaller groups. You may record students thinking to themselves on chart paper or have them record their thinking on index cards to be posted around the room. Whatever your choice, ensure your students understand the process. This routine will have the best results if students have the opportunity to build off of the group's thinking as the routine progresses.

Step 1: Asking Students “What Do You See?”

When engaging students in this part of the routine, give them 2-3 minutes of silent time to observe. When students learn the routine, asking for observations students could physically point to is helpful. This helps students demonstrate and share their observations and will help them to differentiate this part of the routine from the next section, where they will have a chance to make interpretations. This step is essential for evidence collection, as students will use their observations to inform their interpretations.

Useful "See" Prompts:

  • What do you notice?
    "I notice _______."
  • How does this make you feel?
    "It makes me feel _______."
  • Why does it make you feel that way?
  • "It makes me feel that way because _______."

Step 2: Asking Students “What Do You Think?”

This second step in the routine asks students to answer the question, “What’s going on here?” or, “What do you think about this?” This offers an excellent opportunity for students to practice reasoning with evidence by using the observations they made in the first section as evidence for their thinking. If students are still getting used to offering evidence, ask them, “What makes you say that?”

Useful "Think" Prompts:

  • What do you think is going on?
    "I think that_______ because _______."
  • What makes you say that?
  • Why do you think this is happening?
    "I think _______ is happening because _______."
  • What do you think is responsible for what we’re seeing?
  • Tell me more about how that works.
  • What do you think is responsible for what we’re feeling?
    Tell me more about that.
  • How might this be related to other things we have seen/experienced/felt
  • What is unlikely but possibly happening here?

Step 3: Asking Students “What Do You Wonder?”

This last step is a key transition point for the student-centered educator. It naturally helps students identify ideas and issues raised by the subject matter as they develop questions and identify areas of inquiry they would like to explore. However, that is only possible, if you make room for following up on those investigations in your lessons and units. Options for follow-up could include students recording their wonders as discussion seeds for Socratic dialog. Socratic dialog promotes further discovery and an opportunity to improve one's understanding by exploring the ideas and thinking of others.

Useful "Wonder" Prompts:

  • What do you think is going on?
  • What does it make you wonder?
    “I wonder if (or I wonder why) _______________________.”
  • Where would you look to find out why/if ______?
  • If ________ how would that change your wonderings about ______?
  • If _________ wasn’t here / didn’t happen would you still wonder ____?

How to Ensure a Student-Centered Approach with See, Think, Wonder

One of the best reasons to integrate the See, Think, Wonder routine in your classroom is because it generates student-led inquiry into science phenomena. Instead of the teacher guessing what their students want to learn more about in a lesson, the See, Think, Wonder activity is a student-centered approach that allows them to take the lead.

When students respond to a new phenomena with their own thoughts and questions, they are tying it to what they already know. When they have a chance to ask questions and work with their peers to answer them, these students are building on their own knowledge to better understand the world around them. Student-centered classroom learning promotes creativity, critical thinking, and active classroom discussion where students feel comfortable sharing their knowledge and experience.

Follow Student Thinking

This routine unearths students' creative thinking. You may be floored by the connections students make that would have never occurred to you. For this reason, be patient. Permit yourself to follow students’ thinking. Sometimes, when a student makes a connection that’s not obvious to us, we may think they are getting off track. We may be tempted to intervene and push them back in the direction of the observations and wonderings that were obvious to us. Question this inclination so you don’t miss an opportunity to learn from your students and celebrate their deep thinking.

Make a Plan for Further Investigation

This routine is an excellent tool for helping students identify areas of further inquiry, but it’s only possible if you make time for it. We know time is a luxury but can assure you the sense of agency your students will feel and the engagement that will result is always worth it.

Are you ready to get started with the See, Think, Wonder thinking routine? Download a free anchor chart and graphic organizer to share with your students and start zooming in and looking closely as a way of learning every day!

Ready to learn even more about thinking routines? Visit this page dedicated to the topic.



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Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making thinking visible. Jossey Bass Wiley.


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