Visual Thinking Strategies

Visual Thinking Strategy (VTS) is an inquiry-based teaching method that improves a student's ability to describe, analyze, and interpret imagery and information through observing and discussing visual art. VTS support the development of critical thinking skills and encourage participation in collaborative discussions, especially among students who struggle with traditional text-based or lecture-based learning environments. VTS supports the University's student learning outcomes


Contact Art Gallery Learning Manager, Amanda Rainey, to collaborate on creating a customized VTS activity for your students using artwork from the Collection. 


Visual Thinking Strategies was developed by cognitive psychologist Abigail Housen and museum educator Philip Yenawineare. VTS is based on Housen’s Theory of Aesthetic Development and corresponding research. You can read a summary of Housen's work and the stages of aesthetic development she identified over the course of 20 years of research on You can read Housen's full findings in her essay, "Eye of the Beholder: Research, Theory and Practice."

VTS is noted for developing critical, creative thinking skills  that lead to increased visual literacy for students across all fields of study.

At the core of VTS are three key questions:

  1. What's going on in this picture?
  2. What do you see what makes you say that?
  3. What more can we find?

VTS Activities & Facilitator Guide

Click on the assets below to open in a new window and download.

Visual Thinking Strategies, facilitator guide

Facilitator's guide for creating your own VTS activity.

Six figures with dark skin wearing white clothing in a bright blue room. One figure lies on a bed in the foreground, the remaining figures line the back wall.

VTS activity with Painting The Stories: Cold Table Blue by Samantha Claar.

Skeletons in an outdoor market selling goods and interacting.

VTS activity for Rebumbio De Calaveras (Racket Of Skulls) by Jose Guadalupe Posada.

A group of people of varying ages gathered around a table engaged in activities like reading a paper and eating.

VTS activity for Levels of Knowledge by Ed Wong-Ligda.

A blue table holds a random collection of objects including a bowl of fruit, a hammer, a small house, and a cloth.

VTS activity with Banana Rama by Mike McDonnell.

A woman sitting on a grassy hill in a pink dress looking up toward a house on top of the hill.

VTS activity for Christine's World by Andrew Wyeth.

Four figures playing instruments including the piano, upright bass, and saxophone.

VTS activity with Untitled (Jazz Band) by Stewart Ashlee.

Additional Resources


External VTS Activities