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Write From the Beginning…and Beyond

Posted on by Thinking Maps

Narrative, Expository/Informative, Argumentative…Oh My!!!

By Brenda Baker

The 1939 MGM adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s book turns 75 this year.  The Wizard of Oz tells the story of Dorothy, an innocent farm girl whisked out of the safety of her comfortable existence by a twister and into a land one could only imagine. Dorothy’s journey in Oz will take her down a yellow brick road with her little dog and some unusual but earnest friends. Multiple generations of baby boomers (including me) know not only the story, but can repeat selected dialogue as well.  “ToTo, I have a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore.” As I thought about Dorothy’s statement of bewilderment, I began to realize that many educators may be feeling these same emotions.  College and Career Readiness Standards, 21st – Century Skills, as well as initiatives such as Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have not been present in our educational landscape for a number of years.  As a result, writing is now treated as an equal partner with reading and has become the channel that will improve not only composition skills but critical reading skills as well. What can Thinking Maps offer administrators and teachers as they are confronted with these new rigorous curriculum standards?

We believe, with respect to writing, the answer lies in Write from the Beginning and Beyond (WFBB). WFBB is a K-8 comprehensive, systemically structured, writing curriculum designed to assist educators and students develop the knowledge and skills necessary for age-appropriate and domain-specific writing achievement.  Each of the domains of writing utilizes a combination of modeling, analytic rubrics, and mini-lessons that focus on the essential elements of effective writing. With our curriculum model, students have consistently demonstrated the ability to produce writing that is  more authentic, more engaging, and better organized, while never being flat or monotonous. For me, WFBB is the “Yellow Brick Road” that leads educators on the path to successful writing achievement for our students throughout and beyond the school years.


Most teachers are comfortable assisting their students write a simple personal Narrative that is organized in a chronological sequence of events. They can then take this basic structure into the more erudite narrative organized categorically, often referred to as memoir or thematic writing.  WFBB extends this basic model to include the autobiographical incident.  Included in this domain will be strategies to elevate students’ ability to think and write more rigorously.  Because the narrative domain of writing is what teachers and students are most familiar with, it is a good place to start.

Expository / Informative

It might be helpful to take a moment to reflect on the types of writing that most of us encounter in our daily lives. When we read a newspaper or magazine, study a map or brochure, or even peruse a menu, the authors use expository writing to inform the reader about the topic. In the work place, expository writing is utilized when prospective employees define their skills and abilities as they complete applications. Technical writers employ how to methods to demonstrate the steps involved to accomplish specific tasks, as well as explain why a specific occurrence or change is taking place. While research confirms expository writing is the most natural for students, it often receives minimal attention in the lower grades. When we empower our students to embrace expository writing, we also are developing competent readers of expository text, a skill that will encourage a lifetime of learning.


Argumentative writing is a connected chain of declarations or reasons that support one side of a particular issue about which rational people disagree. When students have mastered Expository to Explain Why, they are ready to begin Argumentative. Under the Argumentative umbrella, each WFBB mode is delivered in order of complexity, sophistication, and critical thinking. Teachers and students then progress to persuasive, problem/solution writing, the evaluative argument, and the formal logical argument. With WFBB, instruction is layered to insure that the students have the opportunity to internalize and build on the information as it is being presented.  Each teacher, then, delivers instruction according to the students’ level of writing proficiency within the Argumentative continuum.

The “Magic”

We at Thinking Maps firmly believe that all students have the ability to write effectively.  The Tin man, the Scarecrow and the Lion needed a bit of “magic” provided by the Wizard of Oz to help them discover their hidden talents. WFBB, in the hands of a skilled educator, can provide the “magic” that will unlock the writing abilities of students and set them on the “Yellow Brick Road” to successful writing.  We invite you to come home with WFBB which can be your standalone writing curriculum or can also be used to supplement the strategies you are currently using in your classroom.

So tap those Ruby Red Slippers, and let’s get started, because as Dorothy says, “There’s no place like home!”


When Am I Ever Going To Use This Stuff?!

Posted on by Thinking Maps


Summer is our busiest time of the year — and our favorite! We dedicate our time to strengthening your understanding of Thinking Maps through our Training of Trainers (TOTs) and conferences. Every summer, we are infused with the energy and enthusiasm that connected educators bring to the table, especially when we talk about improving schools and student achievement.

Last week’s TOT was just like the rest. It was amazing! What made it special was receiving heartwarming feedback from our Thinking Maps community. Kristen Valenzuela at De Anza Elementary School reached out to Chris Yeager and shared with us her Thinking Maps AH-HA moment. Below you will find the letter that Kristen sent to Chris.

First of all, thank you Kristen for letting us share your AH-HA moment with our Thinking Maps community. It means so much to all of us to see our Thinking Maps community grow! Secondly, if you have experienced the same AH-HA moment, please share it with us! You can reach us at or leave a comment at the end of the post.

We look forward to hearing from you.


Double Bubble

Dear Chris,

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the 3-day training I finished today.  It was simply MIND-BLOWING!  I am seeing everything around me in MAPS!  (I haven’t figured out if this is a good or bad thing yet. I think it’s going to make my family crazy) What I wanted to share with you was an AH-HA moment I just had.  I am currently taking online course towards my Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction in Elementary Reading through Grand Canyon University. Tonight’s NEW discussion question was this :

Compare and contrast two assessment tools and explain when each would be most effective in evaluating a particular learning objective in a curriculum. Explain how you would adjust your teaching based on the results.

I instantly grabbed a piece of paper out of my printer and drew a DOUBLE BUBBLE map (and I can hear you saying it with your melodic southern drawl). Talk about answering the question, “How and when am I ever going to use this stuff?”!  I used it IMMEDIATELY.

To add to that, the other question I had to answer had to do with assessment tools.  Guess where my mind went to?  I instantly thought of Thinking Maps, formative assessment and authentic evidence.  My entire response was based on today’s topic of how do I use THINKING MAPS in the classroom.  Without giving away any “Trade Secrets” from Thinking Maps, Inc, I described the idea of 8 essential questions (8 cognitive patterns) and how they apply to CCSS.

So, not only did you teach me how to be a more effective teacher, you also taught me how to be an effective student. As soon as I finish emailing you I am taking my Double Bubble Map and writing a structured response to the question.

Kristen Valenzuela
De Anza Elementary School

Lessons in Baseball, in School…in Life

Posted on by Kevin Dougherty


As I sit here at my son’s collegiate league baseball game on a breezy June morning, I am reflecting back on the decade and a half I have spent sitting in the stands watching him play.  For twice that period of time I have either been an educator or have served educators.  Spending time at his games has always provided me time for relaxation and reflection.  During my relaxed reflection this morning, I begin to wonder what it is these two of my life’s past times have in common.  Several things immediately come to mind.  In both instances I have observed examples of perseverance, teamwork, competition, and enjoyment.

Lessons in Baseball 1 of 5


First of all, I must frame what I am about to share with you by mentioning the fact that for the past several years my son has been a pitcher-only.  It is for this reason that when he is not pitching, which he is not doing today, I have the luxury of time to wonder about such things.

Lessons in Baseball 2 of 5

On the ball field, as in school, fresh starts present themselves continuously. New pitches, new at bats, new games. New classes, new teachers, new school years.  Acknowledging the existence of these fresh starts helps to fuel one’s optimism and to maintain a focus on opportunities. Success depends upon framing current actions with plans for the future and lessons learned from the past.  In both education and baseball our future plans provide purpose and direction while lessons learned from past shape current perspectives and actions.  These understandings prompt a persevering spirit in both instances and promote a focus on perpetual growth and improvement as well.

Lessons in Baseball 3 of 5


In baseball, as in education, this growth and improvement occur within the supportive context of a team.  The educational team comes in the form of a staff, department, grade level or administrative team. These team members, like players on a baseball team, each possess unique talents and skills that best equip them for the position they play.  Working collaboratively as a team to achieve shared goals synergistically enhances the impact of each team member’s individual contribution.  When everyone does their part, the load is lighter for each individual member of the team.  This happens most effectively when each individual on the team clearly understands his role and how the position he plays contributes to the success of the team as a whole.

Lessons in Baseball 4 of 5

Whatever level of teamwork is present, competition is inevitable in both schools and baseball.  While there are always lessons to be learned from losses, games are played to be won.  Wins and losses are recorded and reported, so too are pitching ERAs and batting averages.  Such reporting for professional baseball teams may be found real-time online as well as in our daily newspapers.  Such comparisons are similarly reported for our schools and districts.  These results largely reflect student performance on standardized assessments.  In baseball this reporting may serve to offer encouragement to players whose names appear at the top of the list and potentially discourage those whose names appear near the bottom.  Equally, reported results of educators and students in states/districts/schools/classrooms may serve to exalt the efforts of some while seemingly dismissing the efforts of others.  Despite the temptation (especially when on the low end of the standings) to cite such reporting as a reason for reduced attention to continuous improvement, the educator/student and coach/player must strongly resist such temptation. Instead, regardless of one’s standings, it is imperative to continuously set and strive to achieve high expectations for one’s self.  Working to be the best that one can be may be the most important competition of all. It also ensures one’s value to the team remains as significant as possible.

Lessons in Baseball 5 of 5

While one strives to be the best on the diamond or in educational environments, it is essential to experience some level of enjoyment daily.  Experiencing this enjoyment may serve as a relished reward for the effort necessary to effectively engage in activities of the day.  Such enjoyment offers fulfillment and purposefulness for work on the field and in the classroom.  Neither school, nor baseball should simply be about preparation for various benchmark events, as there are no guarantees such events will occur. This reminds me of John Dewey’s writing regarding the purpose of school.  Dewey insisted school is not merely preparation for life, rather – school is life.  I imagine the same could then be said about baseball as well! 

I encourage you to thoughtfully consider and share commonalities that may exist between your favorite past time outside of school and the work you do in school.

How Do You Teach Someone To Think Creatively?

Posted on by Chris Yeager
Photo Credit: Purple Sherbet Photography

Photo Credit: Purple Sherbet Photography

So how do you teach someone to think creatively? That always makes me think about an observation I did during my coaching career. The young teacher was trying to be supportive of a struggling student, trying to provide feedback that would help the student learn to go beyond a simple yes or no answer or even the dreaded “I don’t know” response. She looked at the young girl and said “I know you can answer this question. Just think harder.” I watched the child knit her brow trying so hard to do what the teacher asked her to do, but, like me, she wasn’t really sure what “thinking harder” involved.

So like all good 21st century learners, I Googled “What does thinking creatively mean?” The Partnership for 21st Century Skills provided me with three simple (?), specific bullet points:

  • Use a wide range of idea creation techniques (such as brainstorming)

  • Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)

  • Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts.

Ok, that should be easy enough. Let’s think creatively about the first bullet point. I truly believe that using Thinking Maps helps students become better critical and creative thinkers, so let’s see if I could apply the maps to accomplishing the first point.

I could use a variety of Thinking Maps to “think about” thinking creatively. Maybe I could study creative people to see what they do.

1. Use a Circle Map to brainstorm all of the creative people I know.  Then choose two or three people from very different fields or walks of life.

Then I could access a variety of sources and …

2. Use a Tree Map and/or a Flow Map to trace each person’s life – key events in his/her lifetime, key details about his/her life, education, influences, etc.

3. Create an ongoing Bubble Map to capture the characteristics and qualities each creative person possessed.

4. Choose one or two of those major events and create a Multi-Flow identifying the causes and effects of these defining times.

5. Using all of the information from the maps listed above, I could create a Double Bubble Map comparing any two people.

6. Finally, I would use the center of the Double Bubble to identify the common attributes of creativity.

Once I had the list, I could start identifying how to awaken each attribute in my own life so that I could be more creative. Does that sound like thinking creatively? If I used these Thinking Maps to accomplish the first bullet point, “Use a wide range of idea creation techniques,” wouldn’t I also be doing the other two?


Visible Thinking

Posted on by Kevin Dougherty


As educators who have served in the field of education for any time at all, we may find ourselves pondering the question, “Why did I become an educator in the first place?”  I believe we are most inclined to ponder the answers to that question when we have found ourselves on a path that is not leading in the direction in which we were initially headed when we entered the profession.  It is at times such as these we most need the encouragement and redirection necessary to revitalize the purposefulness and fulfillment we once felt.  Since my work involves supporting educators, I benefit from such encouragement and redirection as well.

In the past year, it was brought to my attention that several school districts we serve throughout the country have been studying the work of Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison.   In their book, Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners, published in 2011 by Jossey-Bass, the authors present the profound argument that making thinking visible is essential to learning.   They probe deeply and get to the core of what needs to happen in classrooms for students to truly learn.  One of the primary prerequisites they discovered addressed the reason visible thinking is essential to learning.  “As we make thinking – our own as well as that of our students – visible, we draw attention to the mechanisms by which individuals construct their understanding.” (21-22)

The authors offer the following additional support, “One major goal of making thinking visible is to facilitate greater understanding among students.  Another aim is to enhance students’ engagement and independence.” (22)

As a member of a community of learners devoted to enhancing the thinking of educators and students through the systemic institutionalization of a common, visual, cognitive language, I was uplifted, encouraged and affirmed by the position these authors presented.  They stated that as educators, when we limit the thinking we ask our students to do, we limit their learning.  They challenge educators to recognize that students’ thinking may be invisible to us, so in order to fully address their learning needs it is imperative that their thinking be made visible.  “We need to make thinking visible because it provides us with the information we as teachers need to plan opportunities that will take students’ learning to the next level and enable continued engagement with the ideas being explored.  It is only when we understand what our students are thinking, feeling, and attending to that we can use that knowledge to further engage and support them in the process of understanding.  Thus, making students’ thinking visible becomes an ongoing component of effective teaching.” (27)

Ritchhart and his associates emphasize the fact that in our classrooms, we not only want students who “…can think but who do think.”  (29)  They expand on this by noting that when students are thinking, and this thinking is made visible, their thinking becomes something concrete thus making further exploration of their thinking possible.  Doing so, provides significantly enhanced opportunities to extend student learning.

Following their presentation of a sound rationale for requiring visible thinking in classrooms, the authors explain the importance of establishing thinking routines.  They argue that teachers in effectively managed classrooms establish routines for nearly every aspect of its functioning.  “Just as routines for lining up or handing in homework become engrained, thinking routines also become part of the fabric of the classroom over time.”  (45)  The authors present these routines as tools, structures and patterns of behavior.  I have summarized this information in the following Tree Map:

Visible Thinking Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison encourage educators to create their own thinking routines and offer several ones to implement in the classroom as well.  While self-created routines and those shared in their book are certain to establish essential thinking routines, it seems that Thinking Maps also provide the  tools and structures which will result in the patterned thinking behaviors that lead to deeper levels of understanding.  Whether or not you are currently implementing Thinking Maps in your school, I recommend you take some time to read Making Thinking Visible.  Thinking Maps users will find it to be highly affirming.  Individuals not yet introduced to Thinking Maps will want to learn more about them, as the Maps provide practical applications and extensions of the ideas and information shared in the book.

Take Learning Further With A Frame Of Reference

Posted on by Thinking Maps



A Frame of Reference is a box drawn around any Thinking Map. By adding a Frame of Reference, students are asked to “think about their thinking” which then leads to greater reflection, adds layers of metacognition, and unlocks creativity. This collection of blog posts hint at some of the ways in which the Frame of Reference plays a pivotal role in learning and in teaching with Thinking Maps.

The Importance of Frame of Reference by Chris Yeager

It’s All In How You Frame It  by Kevin Dougherty

Unfettered Minds by Carol Lloyd

Thinking Maps Help Students Find Order In Their Thinking by James Dean

The Pitfalls of Venn Diagrams  by Chris Yeager

Transform Learning With Our New Thinking Maps Learning Community

Posted on by Chris Yeager

TMLC Preview

The best part of my job is meeting with teachers after they have applied Thinking Maps in their classrooms.  They are excited about the thinking their students are doing, and they can’t wait to show me their maps.  Once teachers understand the maps and see how successful their students can be when they use Thinking Maps correctly, they can’t wait to talk about new ways to connect the maps to their rigorous standards.

Our new Thinking Maps Learning Community (TMLC) is a place where this collaboration can take place any day, at anytime, anywhere, on any device.  Here connected educators can engage with other Thinking Maps educators by:

Map Gallery


Exploring a Map Gallery of thousands of examples from all content areas and grade levels submitted by teachers and vetted by our consultants.  Unlike examples you might find by searching the internet, these examples are accurate and notes about each example help you understand how to replicate the ideas in your own classroom.



Participating in job-embedded professional development, in bite-size pieces. Each online course can be completed in 30 minutes and is designed by our consultants to help teachers apply the maps to their standards-based lessons.  These courses are comprised of 2, 3 or 4 modules that are interactive and deepen understanding of implementation.  Teachers take the modules by themselves (like a Flipped Classroom) and then discuss the ideas in their PLC’s or small group teams, collaboratively planning ways to implement the ideas in their classrooms.

Map Builder



Creating Thinking Maps electronically in the web-based Map Builder software.  Students and teachers can create maps at school or home.  A writing window can be used to construct summaries or write essays based on the information in their maps.


The ultimate goal of TMLC is to provide a place where teachers and students can connect with other like-minded learners as they strengthen their use of Thinking Maps and enhance the critical and creative thinking of all school members.

Thinking Maps, Inc is a company of school teachers who want to partner with schools, teachers and students to transform learning.  We believe TMLC is going to make this transformation possible.

Two Voices

Posted on by Kevin Dougherty


As a new teacher, there is primarily one voice we hear. That voice is a voice of HOPE and POSSIBILITY. It tells us we CAN and WILL make a positive difference in the lives of the students we teach. It is that voice that speaks us into the profession without reservation or concern. We follow the lead of this voice because we BELIEVE in our ability to meaningfully engage students in the learning process. We have FAITH in our ability help each student to identify, then foster his or her unique talents, skills, and abilities.

Somewhere along the way, after entering the profession, another voice may begin to speak to us. This is a voice of FEAR and DESPAIR. This voice tells us that despite our best efforts, there are too many factors working against us and the students we serve for us to make any real difference at all. It is the voice that reminds us we have too much to do and too little time and resources with which to achieve our goals. This voice convinces us we are POWERLESS – that the system is structured to extinguish our creativity and confine our focus to conformity and compliance.

When this second voice fights to make itself heard, we must strive to amplify the sound of the first voice which is designed to foster a GROWTH MINDSET. At a LEARNING FORWARD Summit I attended in Denver, I heard Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, share that her new favorite word is the word, “YET.” Apparently, use of the word “yet” is one of the most powerful ways to combat the demoralizing second voice, as it simply reminds us that however dire a situation may seem it will not last forever. Consider the voice that says, “All of my students are not mastering the objectives I am teaching.” Instead of allowing the second voice to jump to the conclusion that we have been ineffective and our job may be in jeopardy, adding the word “yet” to that sentence reignites the flame of hope and possibility. “All of my students are not mastering the objectives I am teaching…YET.”

Modeling such a mindset will also serve to ensure that the first voice overpowers the second voice in the ears of the students we serve. Like a new educator, a child enters this world with an innate desire to learn. Initially, the ONLY voice they hear is the first voice. Unfortunately, if we are not mindful, schools can be a primary place where students are exposed to the second voice. Since the majority of us enter the field of education to make a positive difference in the lives of the students we teach, maintaining a growth mindset is imperative. Amplification of the first voice in our own ears and those of the students we serve must remain a priority.

When I was first introduced to Thinking Maps, I was struck by the way in which they turned up the volume of the first voice. The Maps also allowed me to dismiss the discord that any initiative, program, or assessment could cause me to hear. Using Thinking Maps and the Frame of Reference, any standard in any school structure can be taught in a manner that is meaningful, engaging, relevant, and respectful. Using the Maps, the voice of HOPE and POSSIBILITY overpowers the voice of FEAR and DESPAIR. The result is positive transformation in our classrooms/schools/districts. Has this transformation occurred in your classroom/school/district…YET?

It Takes A Village To Raise A Child

Posted on by Hortencia Piña

Pre-K Oral Presentation

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Bonham Language Center in Grand Prairie ISD which houses the Pre-K Dual Language Program. I was blown away by the level of Thinking Maps Implementation. Not only were teachers using the Maps with fidelity, but the students were moving beyond the visual language of the Maps and using them as tools for creative and critical thinking. The language development, in both English and Spanish was evident throughout their Thinking Maps, their writing, and oral language. What was most inspiring about my visit was the ingenuity in using technology in a way that enhanced rather than complicated the classroom experience.

Incorporating 21st Century Technology within the classroom is not a decision to take lightly. From losing as much as thirty minutes to figure out why the projector isn’t working to saving worksheets in a format that can opened by all devices and more, the decision can be weighed down by ease of use. However, there are times when technology can be simple and it can add multiple dimensions to a classroom project that would be impossible without it.

The teachers at Bonham Language Center used Quick Response (QR) Codes to capture students’ voices as they learn a second language. For every oral presentation they first recorded students’ voices with an audio recorder. They created QR Codes using a QR Code generator and attached them to the map. Each code is unique to each presentation.

By scanning the QR Code in the photo above, you will hear an English-speaking child try her best to speak in Spanish. The teacher gently encourages her and she continues. The teacher also honors her language by allowing the rest to be in English. Remember, she is only 4 years old. Because of the vocabulary included in her map, the level of language used was high. Also, in the middle of her presentation, you hear her try to say it in Spanish again which demonstrates the level of comfort she felt to continue to take risks.

One of the many benefits that this technology provides is in assessment. Listening to an oral presentation while at the same time assessing the work requires multitasking. But by recording the presentation, the teachers were able to separate the listening from the assessment. Teachers could then focus on encouraging their students in a productive manner during the presentation and listen to the presentation in the recorded form to evaluate the student’s oral language development.

Another benefit that the QR Codes provide is the ability to save and share students’ language development as an artifact. It is evidence that the student’s ability to speak a second language is improving and it also allows parents to hear their child present. They enjoyed sharing it with family and friends.

Kudos to these teachers, students and the administrative team for a job well done. It does take a village to raise a child!