Thinking Routines – Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas (part 1)

Routines for Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas (Chapter 5)

1) CSI: Color, Symbol, Image (Capturing the heart through metaphors) – Nonverbal routine that forces visual connections


Although a hard sell for math content, I think it could be used as a way to get to know students at the beginning of the year. I could ask them to represent themselves with CSI and explain the reasons for their choices. This could be followed up with teaching them MicroLab routine (I’ll detail that tomorrow), which is a reflection and discussion strategy. If this were completed on the computer and printed, it could be a nice bulletin board (check out my example below). Another option would be to use this as a means for students to reflect about their own performance at the end of a term, or use it as a means to discover how and what they think about math or learning.

CSI Example


CSI Template to use at the beginning of the school year. CSI Template

2) Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate: Concept Maps (Uncovering and organizing prior knowledge to identify connections) – Highlights the thinking steps of making an effective concept map that both organizes and reveals one’s thinking. “This provides structure to the process of creating the concept map to foster more and better thinking.”

Visible10 This could be used at the beginning of a unit to reveal prior knowledge or at the end to bring all ideas together. This would be great for any unit with many different components (e.g., functions and trigonometry units in Pre-Calculus; angle and triangle units in Geometry; linear equations in Algebra 1). During the ‘Generate’ phase the teacher could give students post-its or note cards to encourage more discussion during the ‘Sort’ phase. After they independently generate ideas, they could share with a partner to gather more ideas. If this is a small group activity, the teacher should provide large chart paper to help with the ‘Sort’ phase. The sort phase has the potential of generating great conversations as they organize the note cards and explain the connections that they are making. An extension of the ‘Connect’ phase would be for students to write a description of the connection on the line that they draw. This routine could be adjusted into a a whole class activity by using the whiteboard to Sort and Connect.

I’ve wanted to have students create concept maps as homework, but I didn’t know how to support them in that process. I think this is a great structure that I’m excited to try! After we’ve used it in class and they are familiar with this routine, I’m going to try it as a homework assignment, then the next day we would create collective concept maps.

3) Connect-Extend-Challenge (Connection making, identifying new ideas, raising questions) – Key synthesis moves for dealing with new information in whatever form it might be presented: books, lecture, movie, and so on


“Ideas and thoughts are dynamic, ever deepening and growing, and that’s a big part of learning is attending to the information we take in.” p.133

In some units this could be an ongoing class routine. After each exploration or activity we could do the ‘connect’ and ‘extend’ phases and create a unit list of connections. At the end of the unit we could revisit this list identifying common themes and important ideas that surfaced over the course of the unit. Teaching this routine would require a lot of modeling so students learn to produce strong connections. A lesson idea from the text is a sorting activity with examples of “OK Connections” and “Strong Connections”.


Some sentence starters could be given to help students as they begin. A few examples, Connect – “This reminds me…”, Extend – “This added to my thinking because…” or “I used to think…Now I think…”, Challenge – “This makes me wonder…” or “This surprises me because…”

Once students are familiar with this routine, I think it could be used for homework. If using it for a homework assignment, I would add a component to start where they summarize what they learned in class that day, then Connect-Extend-Challenge.

**I would love to hear if you have used these routines OR if you have any ideas of what math topics for which they could work well.**

(Note: This is the first of two posts that detail one-third of the ‘Thinking Routines’ outlined in Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison. After each number is the title of the Thinking Routine followed by the ‘Key Thinking Moves’, then ‘Quick Notes and Descriptions’. All of this information is directly quoted from the book Table 3.1 Thinking Routine Matrix. Then are the details of the routine and questions to accompany it. Finally, in italics, is a brief brainstorm of how I thought I might use this in a math classroom and/or in math department meetings.)



1 thought on “Thinking Routines – Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas (part 1)

  1. Pingback: Thinking Routines – Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas (part 2) | Making Math Visible

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