The 3–2–1 bridge thinking routine is an effective tool for students to identify changes to their thinking across a learning task, lesson or project.

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There are three core components to the strategy; reflection on initial thinking, reflection on new thinking and consideration of how thinking has changed or developed.

The 3–2–1 Bridge strategy is flexible and can easily be used with a wide range of subjects and learning experiences.

How does 3–2–1 Bridge work?

To begin, the students are asked to use the 3–2–1 thinking process based on their current knowledge and understanding. At this stage, the students must think of 3 thoughts and ideas, 2 questions and 1 metaphor or simile that they can think of related to a new learning topic. This is a useful activity to encourage students to consider their prior knowledge of a topic and for the teacher to pre-assess the students’ current level of understanding.

For example, if the students were about to start a unit of learning about day and night in science, a student might record:

3 thoughts/ideas

1. The day is when I go to school.
2. I like the day more than the night.
3. The night is when I sleep.

2 questions

1. Why is night dark?
2. Why is day sunshine?

1 metaphor/simile

1. Day is light and night is dark

Once the students have completed the lesson or unit of learning on that topic, the students can be asked to engage in the 3–2–1 bridge activity again. The students should complete the exact same task as they did previously, but it is likely that the students answers will be quite different. This then acts as an effective post-assessment, allowing both the students and the teacher to recognise the development in understanding across the learning period.

For example, the student learning about day and night may reflect at the end of the unit:

3 thoughts/ideas

1. The Earth rotates on its axis giving us day and night.
2. It takes 24 hours for the earth to rotate, which gives us 1 day and 1 night.
3. Night time is when Earth is facing away from the sun’s light and warmth.

2 questions

1. When it is daytime here, where else is it daytime?
2. When it is daytime here, where is it night time?

1 metaphor/simile

1. A day is like a 24-hour rotation of the Earth around its axis.

This is where the students consider and reflect on how their initial responses connect to their new responses, as they consider how their thinking has changed or developed. This allows for metacognition, or thinking about thinking, as the students work to better understand their own thinking process.

For instance, the student learning about day and night might reflect that “At first I thought about day and night in my daily life, but after learning about it in science, I thought about it in a more scientific way. I know more facts about day and night and I have been able to answer my initial questions. The new questions that I have asked show my curiosity to find out more about day and night around the world.”

Possible alternatives

Although the structure for the 3–2–1 bridge routine shared above is the traditional thought process stemming from the Harvard Project Zero Visible Thinking project, the strategy itself can be adapted depending on your subject area, the age of your students and the needs of your students. For example, asking for a metaphor/simile could be too difficult for younger students, so instead you may want to ask your students to write a sentence about the topic instead. Or you could change all three of the criteria, though still using the 3–2–1 model, for example asking students to think of 3 words that they associate with a topic, draw 2 pictures of that topic and ask 1 question about it.

How to do 3–2–1 Bridge in LAMS

To demo this strategy, we will use an example using Democracy as subject:

Outline of Activities

1. Introduction to Lesson (Noticeboard)

2. Pre-Assessment 3–2–1 (Q&A):

What 3 thoughts/ideas do you currently have about democratic governments?
What 2 questions do you have about democratic government?
What simile/metaphor would you use to describe a democratic government?

3. An Introduction to Democratic Governments (Share Resources)

4. Post-Assessment 3–2–1 (Q&A) -pose the same questions after students review the resources:

What 3 thoughts/ideas do you currently have about democratic governments?
What 2 questions do you have about democratic government?
What simile/metaphor would you use to describe a democratic government?

5. Bridge Your Thinking (Notebook)
This is where the students consider and reflect on how their initial responses connect to their new responses, as they consider how their thinking has changed or developed. This allows for metacognition, or thinking about thinking, as the students work to better understand their own thinking process.

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For a step by step run of the learning design or to download it and adapt it to your own teaching, take a look at this card:

I’m a Communication Manager and Outreach Officer at LAMS (Learning Designer App).