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Do you have any wonders? – COT Part Three

Do you have any wonders? – COT Part Three

(Editor’s Note:  At SSWN we are excited to continue Michigan SSW Jennifer Hollander’s Cultures of Thinking (COT) series, with “Do You Have Any Wonders?” This is the 3rd of 5 articles drawing on the COT framework and her innovative applications of it in her daily SSW practice.  COT is a still-emerging theoretical framework, mostly supported by intensive and small-scale qualitative research e.g. focus groups, whole-school case studies. For more information on the evidence base for CoT, click here for their site at the Harvard School of Education. Now on to some wondering together…)

Do you have any questions or any wonders?

Remember when you were a student? For some of you it was not too long ago, but for many of us it was in an age before email, cable TV and the internet. “Just Google it” was not an option. Commonly, years ago, a classroom teacher would ask, “Does anyone have any questions?” At that moment most of the students in class were hoping that no one raised their hands. It was almost time for lunch, for recess, or for being done with the lesson. The word “question” was often not looked upon favorably. Now, fast forward to a cultures of thinking community where the word question is replaced by the word “wonder”. Do you have any wonders?

I was observing in a third grade classroom when I first heard the teacher ask, “Do you have any wonders about our lesson?” It was an “aha” moment for me! Just the word “wonder” opens up so many possibilities. It gives permission for the students to start thinking and brainstorming ideas. While the word “question” often suggests that we do not know something, the word “wonder” encourages students to hypothesize, try out an idea, be brave, take risks, guess, try.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to be in an environment where our wonders are valued and encouraged to be said out loud? Cultures of thinking classrooms (and school social work offices) do just that.


As school social workers we often teach new skills to students; social skills, friendship skills, steps for emotional regulation, drug and alcohol prevention. The thinking routine, See-Think-Wonder, lends itself perfectly to engaging students in the learning and wonderings of new skills.  It chunks down a new idea or skill in a way that helps the students to deeply understand the concept being taught. It encourages observation as an important process in learning. Then it follows with interpreting and wondering about those observations.

Here’s how it works:

  • Pick your image/object you want to explore. It can be anything. Photographs, video clips, book covers, charts, cartoons, text, poems, etc. Show it to your students. In my kindergarten social skills classes I focus in the fall on feeling identification. I use a photograph of a face to launch my See-Think-Wonder routine.
  • What do you see? In this section of the routine, students will explore the image with their eyes to share their observations. Students will want to start telling you their thinks and wonders, but it is important to focus this section on the visual aspect and observations. I always start off giving an example or two for the students to understand what I am asking. “I see black hair.” “I see teeth.” The kindergarten students easily catch on and add their observations to mine. “I see a smile.” “I see puffy cheeks.” “I see squinty eyes.” With older students they would dig deeper into this picture to notice the crumbling bricks behind the girl and the scar on her forehead. These more detailed observations will lead them to deeper thinking and wonderings as they go through the processes.
  • What do you think? Next students will explore their thought to what is going on in the image. “What do all of the things we saw lead us to think about this picture?” The goal is for the students to use what they saw to form the premise of their thinking. “What do you think is happening?” “What do you believe is going on?” With the kindergarteners, I sum up their observations and ask them what those observations tell us about how the child is feeling. This connects the feeling word with the observational data. It is teaching the kindergarteners what to look for in a face to identify how someone is feeling. It is sometimes helpful to give a sentence starter; I think…, I believe…
  • What are you wondering? Wonder, my new favorite word. When students are allowed to wonder their creativity blooms. When I show this picture to my kindergarten students and ask them to wonder why this girl is happy, I will get more ideas than I have time to listen to before I need to leave the room!  Now that the students are sharing their wonderings with me, it is a much richer discussion. They hypothesize why the child has that particular feeling and then relate it to their own experiences. I love when the other students join in and say “I felt that way too when…..!”  By more actively participating in the thinking/wondering process, they are gaining more from the lessons. For older students the thinking and wondering sections allows them to look at broader issues, generate more interest/excitement in a topic, and to ask more questions.

See-Think-Wonder is a routine for introducing and exploring ideas. By focusing in on the small details, the noticing, students broaden their thinking as they are free to openly wonder and share those ideas. The structure of this routine is what makes it so powerful. It is ideal for young students, but captivating for older students as they stretch the boundaries of their thinking.

What do you See-Think-Wonder about this thinking routine?

Here are more examples of See-Think-Wonder thinking routine lessons. Go ahead – try one out!

Middle school and high school social workers use See-Think-Wonder when working individually with students whose grades are concerning. The student looks at his/her report card and shares what s/he sees, thinks, and wonders related to the grades. The generated ideas enables the social worker to have more insight into the student and then they create a plan together toward academic success.

Remember these books from the Step Inside blog part 2? Using See-Think-Wonder with the book covers are the perfect way to introduce lessons on targets, upstanders, and bullies. There is so much detail on these covers that I had to halt our classroom discussion after 20 minutes so we could go on with our lesson. Once the student had invested so much energy into exploring the sees, thinks, and wonders of the cover, they could not wait to dive into the story. They were thrilled when their “thinks” and “wonders” were confirmed. Consequently, they truly connected to the characters and plot of the book.

Finally, think how powerful this discussion with high schoolers would be when projecting the image (shown below) on the board and using the See-Think-Wonder routine. I wonder what they would say and the things they would share. This compelling image and a See-Think-Wonder lesson would be an effective beginning to a substance abuse unit.

(1) Weird, Dare, Tough book series, (

New Social Emotional Lesson Plan Website!

Looking for more ideas for See Think Wonder and other Cultures of Thinking Routines, check out the new Social Emotional Thinking Routine website for ideas and specific lesson plans.


About The Author

Jennifer Hollander

Jennifer Hollander has over 26 years of experience as a school social worker and is currently employed by the Huron Valley School District in Milford, Michigan. She earned her MSW from Jane Addams School of Social Work at UIC in 1991. Always passionate about discovering new ways to engage students, Jennifer integrated the principles of Cultures of Thinking (CoT) into school social work, combining Thinking Routines and Social-Emotional Learning. She received advanced training in CoT with Ron Ritchhart the founder/author of the model. Since 2015, Jennifer has facilitated multiple Cultures of Thinking presentations in her own district, at the county level, at the Michigan Association of School Social Workers State Conference, and at the 2018 National School Social Work Association of America Conference. Jennifer was awarded the School Social Worker of the Year award in Oakland County, Michigan in 2017.

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