Return to Sandbox Pages

Page with anchor links

Overview of the Visual Thinking Activities Project

Visual Thinking Activities Database

Outline for this page: Background | The Goal of this Project | Q & A | General Guidelines for Activities in the Database


Visual thinking involves mental processes of representing, analyzing, and drawing inferences about 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional objects and spatial relations. (I use the terms ‘visual thinking’ and ‘visualization’ interchangeably.*) 

Visual thinking in 2- and 3-dimensions has been shown to have numerous benefits in sch ool and outside of school.  See my Why are Visual Thinking Skills Valuable? page for links to research. While some students may have more ‘natural’ visual thinking skills, all students can grow their visualization abilities, regardless of innate abilities. 

Often students are not provided activities (which are often enjoyed by students!) to build their visualization skills.  This project addresses this need to make visual thinking activities readily available for teachers, parents, and students.  

The Goal of this Project 

The Goal: Compile an annotated list of high quality learning activities, in a usable form, that can be used by students to grow their visual thinking skills.

The database will be compiled and maintained by Jim Olsen as a Google sheet. It will be made available, free of charge, on the internet.

Q & A

Q: What types of activities will be included in the database?

A: Examples include: 

  • Online game
  • Hands-on activity 
  • Puzzle
  • Building activity
  • iPad app
  • Commercially-available game (e.g., Quarto), but these may be down-played since they are not free

Q: What are the visualization abilities we want to develop?

A: The following is a (non-exhaustive) list of visualization and reasoning abilities which we want to develop through the learning activities:

  1. Think about multiple representations,
  2. Manipulate (physically and mentally) the object or components,
  3. Analyze – break it into parts (decompose),
  4. Compose (synthesize), 
  5. Describing the structure,
  6. Consider properties of the components,
  7. Consider relationships among components,
  8. Develop strategies to deal with the components and complete the task,
  9. Planning,
  10. Reasoning, to draw conclusions,
  11. General executive function.

Q: Does the learning activity need to relate directly to a school learning standard?

A: No. Many will, but visual thinking learning activities enhance general reasoning skills, having an indirect relationship to school objectives, but not a direct, immediate link to school learning standards.

Q: Are the activities keyed to a grade or age level?

A: No.  While some activities may generally be more appropriate for certain grade levels, the visual thinking activities generally do not require prerequisite knowledge and the growth of visualization skills is a lifetime endeavour. 

Q: How can I contribute to the database?

A: If you have an idea for a visual thinking activity, email JR-Olsen ‘at’

General Guidelines for Activities in the Database

The learning activities should:

  1. Have some goal, something to achieve (We may also include some purely exploratory tools.).
  2. Be engaging for the stud