A Powerful Engagement Strategy For History Lessons: NOTICE, WONDER, THINK

A Strategy For Quick, Easy, but Powerful Engagement

If you haven’t heard or implement the simple but powerful strategy, “Notice, Wonder, Think”- get ready to add a tool to your toolbox that will become a favorite for you and the kids. If you have heard of this but don’t use it much- let me advocate for its broader use in your room!

Notice Wonder Think Strategy

A Quick Demonstration:

Pretend you are a student for a moment. Imagine you walk into class and this image is projected on the board, the lights are out to focus all attention on the image, and you are asked to complete the following tasks:


Notice: What do you see that seems important or interesting?

Wonder: What is one big question you have about this image?

Think: What do you think or hypothesize is going on in this image? (Sometimes I change this one to - What do you think we are going to be learning about in today’s lesson?)


This is a simple strategy that generally compliments a piece of visual media but could also be used for documents, texts, and is amazing for real artifacts that you might be able to bring into your classroom. For Visual Media- project a picture that relates to the main idea of the lesson and have students record answers to these questions:


Whats so special about this engagement strategy?

  1. Its versatile and can be used for many different topics or lessons. Using this strategy often means it can be a routine in your class so students are familiar and know they can be successful with it.

  2. It empowers all learners: Notice how its hard to be wrong with any of the prompts/questions? Even the most struggling learner or someone who has been absent and missed the last week or school can notice interesting or important details, have a question, and develop a guess or hypothesis. At the same time, it allows the brightest students to think deeper, notice things others might have missed, come up with really deep questions, and a sophisticated or creative hypothesis. We know how hard it is to come up with tasks that can challenge all learners but this is a skelton key for that problem!

  3. Gets everyone a win! Since all students are able to be successful with this quick activity, it means all students get a win.  Even those students who might struggle with their reading, learning activity, or a test, get a major win and victory. For those students, this can be so powerful and make your classroom a place where they feel successful!

  4. Discussion Sparker- Did you notice all those prompts are so open that it allows students to come up with lots of different responses. So when you ask for students to share their answers (and remember- all students have something to share at this point that they feel confident are correct!) a flowing discussion usually develops. They build on each others ideas and add meaningfully to the discussion. 

  5. Something to Remember- This activity will make a lasting imprint of whatever image you use in your students’ brains. Chances are they will recongnize images you use years later and it can really help them either later in the class when you are going through the more complicated ideas in the lesson - “Class, remember in the image how _____, well thats showing how ____.” It serves as a reference point for students to connect what they are learning to a visual they have a deep understanding of. On study guides, I include these images with the main ideas next to them and it really helps students perform!

This video shows a slight modification to how I use the strategy and though its for a math class, it shows how this can be so powerful to implement. 

Tips on how to use “Notice, Wonder, Think” Effectively:

  • Use images that are gripping, thought-provoking, and maybe even controversial. Just make sure the image relates to the main idea of the lesson in some way.
  • I love using the “Notice, Wonder, Think” as a bellwork but it can be used at anytime during the lesson.  For bellwork, it activates their brains and gets them thinking critically right away. It also cues them into the main object of the day.
  • Revisit the image the next day. Sometimes for the following days bellwork I have students write down 5 things they remember or learned about the image. It serves as a great review and refresher which can also make it a great exit pass if you prefer. They are no longer taking guesses, but now showing what they learned!
  • Allow the Discussion to Take Off: When students are sharing make sure to give plenty of time for students to build on each others ideas. When it comes to for the last question- ‘What do you think/hypothesize is the main idea?’ Have several students share and see if the class can come to a consensus? What a powerful moment if students can all come to an understanding about a historical image without you even teaching them yet! 
  • Acknowledge The Effort: If you want to ensure all students get that win make sure to acknowledge it. We all know students improve and strive to do better when their efforts are acknowledged and appreciated so give out bravos either as they share or as you bounce around the room as they work.

If you have tips and tricks on how to use this strategy or spice it up, please comment below and let me know! 


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