Adult Learning Strategies

Department of Professional Growth/Visible Thinking Rountines

Visible Thinking Routines/Project Zero

Project Zero out of Harvard has developed this series of Visible Thinking Routines. These routines work with learners of any age, but I like using them in trainings because you can always make the link that your adult participants can use these routines with their students. Teachers/participants then leave with something they can use in their classrooms the very next day. That's important to teachers.

Collection of Adult Learning Protocols: Visible Thinking Routines

PZ Thinking Routines

Chalk Talk (Looking at the topic or question written on the chart paper)

  • What ideas come to mind when you consider this idea, question, or problem?
  • What connections can you make to others' responses?
  • What questions arise as you think about the ideas and consider the responses and comments of others?

3-2-1 Bridge (Thinking about the key concept or topic, identify:)

Initial Response: 3 Words, 2 Questions, and 1 Metaphor/Simile

New Response: 3 Words, 2 Questions, and 1 Metaphor/Simile

Bridge: Identify how your new responses connect to or shifted from your initial response.

Compass Points (Consider the idea, question, or proposition before you:)

E= Excitements. What excites you about this idea or proposition? What's the upside?

W= Worries. What do you find worrisome about this idea or proposition? What's the downside?

N= Needs. What else do you need to know or find out about this idea or proposition?

S= Stance, Steps, or Suggestions. What is your current stance or opinion on the idea or proposition? What should your next step be in your evaluation of this idea or proposition? What suggestions do you have at this point?


Think of the big ideas and important themes in what you have been learning.

  • Write a headline of this topic or issue that summarizes and captures a key aspect that you feel is significant and important.

CSI: Color, Symbol, Image

Think of the big ideas and important themes in what you have just read, seen, or heard.

  • Choose a color that you think best represents the essence of that idea.
  • Create a symbol that you think best represents the essence of that idea.
  • Sketch an image that you think best captures the essence of that idea.


Consider what you have just read, seen, or heard, then ask yourself:

  • How are the ideas and information presented connected to what you already knew?
  • What new ideas did you get that extended or broadened your thinking in new directions?
  • What challenges or puzzles have come up in your mind from the ideas and information presented?

The 4C's (After reading a text:)

Connections: What connections do you draw between the text and your own life or your other learning?

Challenge: What ideas, positions, or assumptions do you want to challenge or argue with in the text?

Concepts: What key concepts or ideas do you think are important and worth holding on to from the text?

Changes: What changes in attitudes, thinking, or action are suggested by the text, either for you or others?

The Micro Lab Protocol

Reflect individually on the issue or topic being examined, then working in groups:

  • Share: The first person in the group shares for a set time (usually 1-2 minutes). The other members listen attentively without comment or interruption.
  • Pause for 20-30 seconds of silence to take in what was said.
  • Repeat for persons two and three, pausing for a moment of silence after each round.
  • Discuss as a group (5-10 minutes), referencing the comments that have been made and making connections between the responses of the group.

Circle of Viewpoints

Identify the different perspectives that could be present in or affected by what you have just read, seen, or heard. Record these in a circle with the issue or event at the center. Choose one of the perspectives to explore further, using the following prompts as a starting place:

  1. I am thinking of {name the event/issue} from the point of view of...
  2. I think...{describe the topic from your viewpoint. Be an actor-take on the character of your viewpoint}. Because....{explain your reasoning}
  3. A question or concern I have from this viewpoint is...

Claim-Support-Question (Drawing on your investigation, experience, prior knowledge, or reading: )

  • Make a claim about the topic, issue, or idea being explored. A claim is an explanation or interpretation of some aspect of what is being examined.
  • Identify support for your claim. What things do you see, feel, or know that lend evidence to your claim?
  • Raise a question related to your claim. What may make you doubt the claim? What seems left hanging? What isn't fully explained? What further ideas or issues does your claim raise?

Tug-Of-War (Place a line across the middle of your table to represent a tug-of-war rope.)

Working with a dilemma that can be considered from multiple perspectives or stances:

  • Identify and frame the two opposing sides of the dilemma you are exploring. Use these to label each end of your tug-of-war rope.
  • Generate as many "tugs," or reasons that "pull you toward." that is, support each side of the dilemma as you can. Write these on individual sticky notes.
  • Determine the strength of each tug and place it on your tug-of-war rope, placing the strongest tugs at the farthest ends of the rope and the weaker tugs more toward the center.
  • Capture any "What if...?" questions that arise in the process. Write these on sticky notes and place them above the tug-of-war rope.


In your discussion group, review the text that you have read and select your own:

  • Sentence that was meaningful to you, that you felt captures a core idea of the text
  • Phrase that moved, engaged, or provoked you
  • Word that captured your attention or struck you as powerful

As a group, discuss and record your choices. Begin by each sharing your words, then phrases, then sentences. Explain why you made the selections you did. looking at your group's collective choice of words, phrases, and sentence, reflect on the conversation by identifying:

  • What themes emerge?
  • What implications can be drawn?
  • Were there aspects of the text not captured in your choices?