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  • Writer's pictureMyla


Updated: Nov 14, 2020

What kind of thinking do we need students to do in PBL and how can we best scaffold that

thinking? As an instructional coach, that is what I ask teachers as they design and implement projects in their classrooms. So often, teachers get caught up in creating the product, managing the process, or if they are new to PBL, finding the balance between student autonomy, team collaboration, and teacher control. It becomes too easy to focus on the work and forget about the thinking and the learning.

Beyond a well-designed unit, PBL is a change in mindset and a cultural shift. Every classroom already has a culture. Some classroom cultures are more conducive to facilitating PBL than others. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “What do we want our culture in project based learning to exemplify?”

Thinking Routines and PBL Why include thinking routines in PBL? In addition to the reasons previously mentioned, certain thinking routines lend themselves to the type of thinking required in the flow of a project, as shown in the ta

ble above. For example, at the launch of a project, you would want your students to engage in thinking routines for introducing and exploring ideas, such as “See-Think-Wonder” or “Zoom In.” As you build knowledge,

you would most likely implement routines that synthesize and organize new information such as the “4C’s” or “Headlines.” As you dig deeper into ideas through critique and revision, you may find yourself using routines such as “Circle of Viewpoints” or “What makes you say that?” that lend themselves to that kind of thinking.

Even with these guidelines, no particular thinking routine is meant for only one part of a project. For example, “Chalk Talk” can be used to introduce and explore new ideas. While some teachers use it as a silent conversation in the launch to help

generate questions for the need to know list and as a formative assessment of what students already know, other teachers have used it as a way to generate critique and feedback as highlighted in the table.

When designing or implementing a PBL unit, the following questions help teachers identify which

specific routine to use: “What kind of thinking do my students need to do with this content? How can I best engage them in that kind of thinking?” As students become more familiar with thinking routines, they will be empowered to be more intentional and independent in using them. That is the ultimate goal. One teacher summed up the relationship of Cultures of Thinking to Project Based Learning: “To have high-quality PBL, we need to have a culture of high-quality thinking.” The chart above shows some examples of how teachers used thinking routines in their PBL units. (Here's a Google Doc version of the chart.) Remember, these are only some suggestions of how a routine may be embedded in the project path. What routine you choose depends on how you want your students to engage in thinking.

Project Zero by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Visible Thinking Website, and Ron Ritchhart’s Cultures of Thinking website are great resources to get you started.

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