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Implementing an Interactive Thinking Frame

Updated: Jul 1

Interactive Thinking Frames are powerful tools that encourage collaboration, higher-level thinking, deeper connections, and conceptual understanding. Here's everything you need to know to set one up today!

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Here’s a list of the recommended materials:

What is an Interactive Thinking Frame?

If you’ve ever struggled with student engagement, participation, and real-life connections to learning, then an Interactive Thinking Frame is your solution. This simple, yet effective framework  is a physical place for students to share their ideas, questions, and findings. 

Each of the four quadrants is focused on a specific thinking prompt. These are based on Sandra Kaplan’s GATE Depth & Complexity prompt icons. The thinking prompts help students dive deeper into the standards and make stronger connections to the learning objectives. In addition, students view the content through the lens of a specific disciplinarian (scientist, mathematician, historian, etc.) This is where the real-life application comes in. The frame can be used with ANY subject!  It is an ongoing frame that can be continually growing throughout a unit (1-3 weeks).

What are the benefits of an Interactive Thinking Frame?

  • Students are empowered to make a deeper connection to the content, and are motivated to research, explore, and think critically about the subject matter. 

  • Students gain confidence in sharing their ideas, and collaborating with their peers (and teacher)! Both the teacher and students add ideas to the frame. 

  • The frame is an excellent visual for students to refer to throughout a unit of study, and can be used with ANY subject! 

  • Whiteboards. What student does not like going up and writing on a whiteboard?!

  • The frame engages students in active learning, and fosters a dynamic learning environment.

How to set up an Interactive Thinking Frame:

  1. Decide where you are going to set up the frame. I recommend a large space on a magnetic whiteboard, but this can be done wherever you have room. I’ve even seen it created on a piece of anchor chart paper. 

  2. Create the frame using strong tape. I recommend electrical tape, but masking tape or washi tape would work as well. Use a yardstick or measuring tape to help keep the lines and sections straight. You will need one rectangle in the middle, and four quadrants.

  3. Print out the Thinking Prompt Icons, cut, and laminate. If you are using a magnetic surface for the frame, adhere small magnets to the back of each icon. Find a space either to the side or above the frame to keep all the icons. You will be using one to two icons per quadrant. If you don’t print out the icons, you could draw them into the frame.

Here’s a list of the recommended materials:

Now you are ready to add the academic thinking materials:

  1. Prepare any printouts, images, or visual materials you might want to add to the frame. These can be added using magnetic push pins or tape. Gather different colored dry-erase markers, and an eraser to have on hand. 

  2. Based on your area of study and academic standards, decide on a specific discipline that will be the lens in which the students view the content. (Think Like a Mathematician, Think Like a Biomimicry Engineer, etc.). Write this in the center rectangle. 

  3. Write a thinking prompt for each icon you have selected for the four quadrants. Here is a resource for over 80 questions, if you need ideas! An example for the “Language of the Discipline” icon would be: “What words and phrases would a mathematician use when applying multiplication?

How to implement an Interactive Thinking Frame:

  • Engage: Get students excited about the lens in which they will be viewing the content. “Today, you are not just a third grader, you are a Mathematician!” Explain the discipline to the students, and use photos, videos, and illustrations if possible. You could mention famous people in the field, and their contributions. You could describe the profession, and what it would be like if they were to become someone in that field in the future. 

  • Explain: Go through each icon in the four quadrants, and explain the scholarly thinking prompt. Give an example of a scholarly response, and model how to write it in the frame (size, handwriting, format, etc.). Allow a few students to contribute to the frame during this time. Remind them that they will continually be adding to the frame throughout the unit, and there will be more opportunities to write their ideas and findings. Here's a free student reference page:

  • Explore: As students learn more through reading, researching, investigating, labs, projects, etc. they will use this knowledge to add to the frame. I recommend keeping the frame up for at least one week, and no more than three weeks. I also recommend having each student keep their own smaller paper version of the frame that they can add to. Let them personalize these, and get creative! You can get printable frame templates here, or you can have them draw their own. 

  • Extend: Take the learning even deeper by having the students actually CREATE something with this new knowledge and perspective. For example, when we had the frame “Think Like a Biomimicry Engineer”, the students designed and created an engineering project that was inspired by an adaptive trait found in nature. Creation and innovation is where learning really comes alive, and becomes very memorable for students. 

Need ideas?

Now that you know how to use Interactive Thinking Frames, the next step is to pick a subject matter, discipline, and determine which thinking prompts to use. If you need inspiration, or a lesson plan and framework already designed for you.... I'm here for you!

Like I mentioned, I have created a frame for almost every subject, and I can save you a lot of time by providing all those materials once you have the frame set up. You can find these in the Lodge's Learning Resource Library, or clicking on the links below.

4,843 views3 comments


Depths and prompts icons in the interactive frame is a great way to engage all my differentiated learners. Thanks for the great ideas in this blog. Can’t wait to try them.


Love that students can share their thinking in a fun way! It definitely can help build confidence for those kids that might keep to themselves


So thankful for this post! Truth be told, this is my 34th year teaching, and about the 5th time I've had any "training" for the Depth and Complexity model, which I love -- in theory. Your descriptions, pictures, and details are a GAME CHANGER for me!! I have been missing some essential pieces of the puzzle, and you provide them here. I cannot wait to give it a try with my gifted elementary students. I will post my pictures once I do this in my classroom. THANK YOU for sharing!

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