Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS)

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is an inquiry-based teaching strategy for all grade levels. You do not need any special art training to use this strategy. The goal of VTS is not to teach the history of a work of art but, rather, to encourage students to observe independently and to back up their comments with evidence.

How to do VTS

  1. Project artwork. Choose a work that is not abstract.
  2. Ask students to look closely and silently at it for a minute or two.
  3. Three questions guide the discussion.
  • Open with: “What’s going on here?”
    Summarize student responses using conditional language (“Raoul thinks this could be…”). This keeps the conversation open to other interpretations by other students.
  • If appropriate: “What do you see that makes you say that?”
    This encourages students to back up their statements with things they see in the work of art.
  • Ask the group: “What more can we find?”
    This continues the conversation.

Tips for doing VTS

  • During discussion, link responses together—compare and contrast what other students have said.
  • Avoid inserting information. Let students look closely and reason out their responses, rather than discussing the facts. If a student comes to a factually incorrect conclusion, gently correct if absolutely necessary during your classroom lesson, not during the VTS conversation.
  • Allow the conversation to go where it will, even if it gets off topic. Remember, the goal is not to share information, but to encourage critical thinking.
  • At the end of the conversation, continue with your lesson, linking the content with comments that students made.
For more information about Visual Thinking Strategies, visit their website. Below is a video of VTS in action with first grade students (you can find more videos on the VTS site at this link).

A VTS Discussion with First Grade Students from Visual Thinking Strategies on Vimeo.

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