The Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) method was created by Abigail Housen, a cognitive psychologist in the Harvard Graduate School of Education. VTS is targeted at developing creativity and thinking skills. It also presents a very effective method for tapping into students' background knowledge.




  1. The teacher selects an interesting picture or painting.

  2. A copy of this picture is placed on the overhead projector so everyone can see it.

  3. The students are asked, "Please look at the picture silently for a minute and think about what you see."

  4. After about one minute, the teacher then asks, "What's going on in the picture?"

  5. The students' responses often start out with the obvious — "The picture looks old. I think it was taken in a city."

  6. The teacher points to the objects the student is talking about.

  7. When a student offers a qualitative statement, the teacher asks for more information. "You said the picture looks old. What makes you say that?" The students justify their answers by providing evidence from the picture.  

  8. The teacher links student ideas and/or asks if they agree or disagree with a statement as she/he asks students to provide justification for their opinions.   

  9. Once a line of questioning begins to fade, the teacher then asks, "What more can we find?"

  10. The discussion goes on until students have shared all they can about the picture.

  11. The teacher summarizes what the students said. "So, after looking at this picture we think that, maybe relatives — who lived a long time ago. We can tell this because of what they are wearing and because the picture is black and white."

  12. For the next activity, the teacher can either have the students write a few sentences about what they discovered, or read a text related to the picture.