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.  You can also view A VTS Discussion with First Grade Students from Visual Thinking Strategies on Vimeo.