Category Archives: War/Peace

Colour-Symbol-Image: Focusing on visual connections

The Colour-Symbol-Image routine helps students to express their thinking non-verbally. Especially in the case of younger learners, this taps right into their natural creativity and desire for expression. It is a routine that encourages them to identify and capture the heart of ideas they have explored through reading, watching or listening to the selected source material. As they make their selections of colours, symbols, images, students are pushed to make connections and think metaphorically.

Metaphors are a powerful way to develop our understanding of ideas by associating a new concept with a more familiar one and making comparisons. The connections and ideas students come up with need to be understood as highly personal. Therefore we should not evaluate them as they occur. All ideas are possibilities and students should generate as many as they can before identifying degrees of merit.

This routine is best used after students have read a passage from a book, a short story, or a poem, listened to a radio essay or watched a short film, reached the end of a topic or unit. Language level-appropriate, students explain and justify their choices in writing.

Step 1

After having gone through the source material, ask students to take the following steps:

Choose a colour that they feel represents the ideas discussed. Explain why they chose it. (One or two colours should be chosen by students.)

Choose a symbol. Explain why they chose it. (A symbol is something that stands for or suggests something else. For example, roses stand for romance, a heart stands for love, a dove stands for peace.)

Choose an image. Explain why they chose it. (Students may use a photograph or sketch their own drawings. They should not worry about their drawing abilities as it can be something very simple that captures their idea.)

Step 2

Have students work individually, in pairs or in groups. Working with a partner or in a group has the advantage over individual work in that students learn to offer arguments and negotiate meaning.

Step 3

Share the thinking and ideas. Use the student-made output as a teaching input. Have individual students, pairs or groups present their choices and hold a plenary discussion.

Classroom practice

We tried this routine at the end of the topic of war/peace. Students organized themselves in small groups and chose what they wished to represent – war or peace. In my mixed ability primary school classroom this organization worked well. Students shared their ideas with the other members of the group before deciding on the final outcome. Members of the group could contribute in diverse ways. Some were stronger at the verbal part while others at the non-verbal, drawing part. Students first kept notes of their ideas, then shared them among their groups and we used sheets of A3 paper size for the final outcome.

Examples of students’ ideas include:

Things to note: Some groups may find it easier to start with the other parts of the routine first, i.e. symbol or image. The order is not binding.


Papalazarou, C (2015) ‘Making thinking visible in the English classroom: nurturing a creative mind-set’ in Maley, A and Peachey, N (eds) Creativity in the English language classroom. British Council: 37-43.

Ritchhart, R, Church, M and Morrison, K (2011) Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Visible Thinking, Colour, Symbol, Image Routine

War/Peace: Colour-symbol-image, Art in the English Class project

See-Think-Wonder: The impact of curiosity on learning

See-Think-Wonder is the first routine I’ve ever used and the first one I wrote about in a post for the Teaching English British Council blog community. It is a routine that asks students to observe carefully, think about what they see, and ask questions. The wonderful thing about it is that it taps right into students’ imagination and curiosity. Curiosity when aroused means they are highly motivated, alert and open to learning. This openness in turn, allows for interesting and original observations, thoughts and questions which are communicated through meaningful language.

Step 1

At the beginning of a topic or a unit, show students a painting, an image, an object. Make sure you choose a powerful stimulus to encourage observation, interpretation and wondering.

Step 2

Ask students to reflect on the questions:

What do you see?

What do you think about it?

What does it make you wonder?

Step 3

Allow for some quiet, uninterrupted observation time. Students can first jot down their responses before sharing them with the rest of the class. They work individually, in pairs or in small groups. It depends on how many ideas you want them to generate.

Step 4

Have students present and share their responses with the rest of the class. Document their thinking and ideas. You can do this by using the board, post-it notes, construction papers on the walls, by encouraging the students to jot down the ideas shared.

Classroom practice

See-Think-Wonder is a routine that works well when starting a topic. As with other thinking routines it’s important for a routine to be attached to meaningful content for thinking beyond surface to occur. I have used it with various topics: War/Peace, Asperger’s & Autism, School, The myth of Europe, Urbanization. I mainly used it when introducing the topic. I am sharing here two examples.

1. When introducing the topic of War/Peace I showed children Picasso’s Guernica. We first explored the painting through the Looking Ten Times Two routine. Groups then worked on the See-Think-Wonder. The ideas shared were:

2. A second case was when introducing the topic of Asperger’s & Autism. This time I chose Blue Butterflies Tongue, a fascinating painting by Steven Coventry, an artist with Asperger’s syndrome. This time many children chose to work in pairs so more ideas were shared:

In both these cases, the See-Think-Wonder routine unleashed in a beautiful way  students’ creative and metaphoric thinking. The surprise and curiosity evoked by the visual stimuli used led to a heightened state of consciousness and emotion brought about by something unexpected. They contemplated with joy, their interest was stimulated, the stage for further inquiry was set, and positive expectations for the next lessons to come were created.

Things to consider: Students must provide answers to all three stems at the same time (I see-I think-I wonder). When you first use the routine, they may respond only to the first stem (I see). In this case prompt responses to the other two by asking the follow-up questions (i.e. What do you think about it? What does it make you wonder?). Once they get used to the routine, they’ll provide answers to all three stems at the same time.


Blue Butterflies Tongue: See-Think-Wonder, Art in the English Class project

Future Megacities: See-Think-Wonder, Art in the English Class project

Guernica: See-Think-Wonder, Art in the English Class project

School: See-Think-Wonder, Art in the English Class project

Visible Thinking, See-Think-Wonder

Beginning-Middle-End: Creative writing and storytelling

Beginning-Middle-End is a thinking routine that stems from the Artful Thinking approach which aims at stronger thinking and learning through the power of art.
I have found it an effective way to a) stimulate students’ imagination and curiosity b) encourage their observation and strategies of making predictions and c) help develop their creative writing and storytelling skills through the power of narrative. I have tried it with intermediate+ students.

Step 1                                                                                                                                        Show students an artful stimulus (painting, image, screenshot from a film, sculpture). Ask them to look at it in silence for a couple of minutes.

Step 2
Hold a plenary discussion by brainstorming ideas about things and key elements students see in the stimulus. If students share their interpretations ask them what they see that supports this idea.

Step 3
Ask students to choose, think and respond to one of these questions:

1. If what you see is the beginning of a story, what might happen next?
2. If it is the middle of a story, what might have happened before? What might happen next?
3. If it is the end of a story, what might the story be?
Students can work in small groups, in pairs or individually.

Step 4
Have students share their thinking and ideas.

Classroom practice

When working with my students on the topic of War/Peace I showed them a screenshot from the short animation film Chromophobia by the Belgian film maker Raul Servais. Then they worked in groups and each group chose one of the questions (step 3) to work on. After that we watched the film.

Screenshot from Chromophobia

This is what students came up with:

The questions in the routine are written in an open-ended way. You can use them as such with any artful visual stimulus. You can also connect them with a specific topic – as in the classroom example above – and ask students to keep this topic in mind when they imagine their stories.

Students can come up with sentences or paragraphs.

The routine can also work well as a speaking activity. In this case work as a whole class by asking someone to begin a story and having others continue it.

Art in the English Class Project, Chromophobia: Beginning-Middle-End
Artful Thinking,
Visible Thinking,


Description: This proposal is organized around the theme of war and peace through the use of Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica, a 3D video of the painting by Lena Gieseke, a German-born artist and Raul Servais’ ground-breaking anti-militarist fable Chromophobia. The thinking routines used are Looking: Ten Times Two, See-Think-Wonder, Beginning-Middle-End and Colour-Symbol-Image.
Level: Intermediate+
Learners: All ages
Theme: war/peace
Language: war/peace related vocabulary, narrative tenses, might+infinitive, might have+past participle, present tense for dynamic narrative
Skills: Observing and describing, speaking, watching a short film, creative expression, making connections, developing metaphoric thinking
Materials: a short video, a short film, quotes slides, visual prompts
Step 1                                                                                                               

Show your students Picasso’s Guernica. Give the name of the artist and the title of the painting. Ask them to look at the painting for 30 seconds and make a list of 10 words or phrases about any aspect of what they see. Allow 5 minutes for the students to write down their list and then have them share their words or phrases with the rest of the class. Then repeat the activity. You can use a circle map to make the brainstorming visible. You can have a look at some pictures of practice here.


Step 2
Tell your students to look more carefully at the painting and ask them what they See-Think-Wonder about it (What do you see? What are your thoughts? What does it make you wonder?). This can be done individually, in pairs or in groups depending on the multitude of ideas you want to generate. Allow 10 minutes and get feedback. Keep a visible record of students’ observations, interpretations and wonderings.

You can have a look at some pictures of practice here.

Step 3                                                                                                                  

Ask your students to classify what they can see in the painting in 3 groups: humans, animals objects. Then, ask them: What colours do you see? What shapes do you see?

Step 4                                                                                                                   

Tell your students that they are going to watch a 3D video of the painting that will take them inside the work of art. Ask them to make a note of any additional things that they find interesting or important. Show the video. Then, allow 5 minutes for the students to complete their notes and get feedback.

Step 5                                                                                                                     
Ask your students: how does the painting make you feel?

Step 6                                                                                                       
Introduce briefly the historical facts behind the painting: in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, Nazi Germany supported its fascist ally Francisco Franco and bombed Guernica, the ancient capital of the Basque region in northern Spain. The town was utterly devastated by the aerial bombings and served for the Nazis as a blueprint for terror bombings of civilian populations. Picasso created Guernica to show the true horrors of war for innocent civilians.
Step 7                                                                                                          
Show the quotes and let your students guess whether they refer to war or peace. 

Step 8                                                                                                              

Show them the visual prompts and ask them to identify whether they symbolize war or peace. Ask them: What makes you say that? to encourage justifications for their responses.

You can have a look at some extracts from my 6th grade primary students’ learning journals here.
Step 9                                                                                                              
Show students the picture below. 
Organize them in groups and ask them to choose one of the 3 questions: 1. If this picture is the beginning of a story, what might happen next? 2. If this picture is the middle of a story, what might have happened before? What might happen next? 3. If this picture is the end of a story, what might the story be?
Ask them to write at least 5 sentences about the question they have chosen using might+infinitive or might have+past participle. Allow 10 minutes for the groups to write their sentences and get feedback.
You can have a look at how students responded to this routine, here.
Step 10
Tell your students that this picture is from a short film called “Chromophobia”. Explain that Chromophobia means “fear of colour”. Tell students that after watching they will have to write a short narrative of what happens in the film. Show the film.
Step 11
In the same groups ask students to write a short narrative using Simple Present. Allow 20 minutes and get feedback.
Step 12
Ask your students to work individually, in pairs or in groups. Then, let them decide what they wish to represent: war or peace. Tell them to select a colour that they feel represents the core ideas they have identified in the themes of war/peace. Have them explain and justify their choices in writing. Then, ask them to select a symbol that they feel represents the core ideas they have identified. They should explain and justify their choices in writing. Finally, ask them to select an image that they feel represents the core ideas they have identified (students need not worry about their drawing; they can complete a simple sketch).

Ask them to explore creatively their ideas and choices and share them with the rest of the class. You can have a look at some pictures of practice here. A few things about Raul Servais’ Chromophobia:

I hope you find this proposal worth experimenting with.