Visual Thinking Strategies Help Children Develop Creative Thinking

Three Key Questions to Help Young Learners See Pictures in a New Light

Do you find yourself asking the same kinds of questions with children during reading time?

“What did the dog do?” “What color is the car?” “What will she do next?”

During observation and reading activities, we can move beyond basic comprehension questions to expand even our youngest learners’ experiences. One approach to teaching art with children, Visual Thinking Strategies, offers a set of useful questions to foster creative and critical thinking.

Three Open-Ended & Dynamic Questions

Visual Thinking Strategies offers a three-question framework to help children think and express their own ideas without adults’ or others’ ideas informing their thoughts. This strategy can be used with any work of art you may have in your classroom or with richly illustrated books from authors like Faith Ringgold, Leo Lionni or Jon Klassen.

The questions to ask:

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can we find?photo-37

As children respond to the questions, restate their answers without saying they are wrong or right. Then, help your little learners make connections to each other’s ideas, to things you have talked about in class, to home, and so on. As you rephrase their responses and help them explore their ideas, continue your conversation with “What more can we find?” You will be amazed where the discussion will go! Read about it here.

Next Steps with Visual Thinking Strategies

Books with beautiful illustrations, such as Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillarare good choices for VTS questions. You can take those experiences to a deeper level by adding questions to help children learn how the pictures are actually made, including:

  • What materials do you think the illustrator used to make this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you think that?
  • What colors do you see in the water?
  • Why do you think they are different?
  • What more can we find?

Add a multimedia experience by sharing videos of how Eric Carle paints his tissue paper and makes his collage. Then, provide art materials that allow the children to explore the painted paper collage technique. Encourage children to talk about their creations!


Carmen Garcia-Harris is Partnerships for Early Learners’ Manager of Public School Support. She provides information and resources to public schools in their current or new efforts to provide high-quality pre-k programming in Indiana. In collaboration with child care resource and referral specialists, she designs professional development supports that support Paths to QUALITY™ advancement for pre-k programs in public schools.