Learning to Look, Looking to Learn: Visual Thinking Strategies

Anyone can look at art, but what does it take to truly see it? Art has so much to teach, whether what we physically see or how we feel, imagine, and think about it. Hone your investigational skills through Visual Thinking Strategies, looking closely, and thinking critically to describe what you see and what it means to you. Using the imagination, actively engage in looking closely, practicing descriptive vocabulary, and making personal connections.


Grades 3–adult


Grades 3–adult: 60 minutes


105 visitors


Exploring art; language arts; math/sciences


  • Close looking
  • Conversation and vocabulary development
  • Critical thinking/scientific method


Visitors will use the Visual Thinking Strategies© (VTS) method, which allows them to examine art, to think critically, to contribute observations and ideas, to listen, and to build understandings together.

Close looking: Close and careful observation is the basis for developing visual literacy.

  • What is going on in this artwork?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can we find?

Conversation and vocabulary development: VTS fosters a collaboration among visitors by facilitating a process of building on others’ ideas. Visitors express themselves without fear of being judged right or wrong. They develop their language skills through group conversation and learn to appreciate the opinions and ideas of others. A polite exchange of ideas encourages respect for the opinions of others. The docent’s role includes linking and synthesizing visitors’ ideas through paraphrasing.

  • Encourage visitors to describe the details of what they see
  • Paraphrase to introduce new vocabulary
  • Link visitors’ responses to connect the conversation

Critical thinking: Visitors create personal narratives. VTS supports critical thinking skills through the visitors’ use of evidential reasoning – the ability to provide logical and factual support for their statements. Using the VTS method, visitors support their assertions with evidence, frequently using “because” statements in their responses. This process is identical to the scientific method.

  • What do you see that makes you say that? Why?
  • Encourage visitors to back up their reasoning with visual evidence.

For teachers

Click on a link below to explore tour correlations with Alabama Courses of Study.