Teaching Strategies That Encourage Higher-Order Thinking

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Teaching Strategies That Encourage Higher-Order Thinking

Traditional classrooms often focus too much on rote memorization. Here are some teaching strategies that encourage higher-order thinking.

Children are great at memorizing things. They remember what you tell them, then they are able to repeat it back at a moment’s notice. But is this really learning? What children really need to be successful at school are higher-order thinking skills. These will allow them to take what they’ve learned and apply it in other situations, including other subject areas.

What are Higher-Order Thinking Skills?

Bloom’s Taxonomy shows a progression of learning through 6 levels: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. The first three levels are considered lower order, and they are important. However, to take their learning to the next level, the higher-order skills–analyze, evaluate, and create–are where they need to be working as much as possible.

The benefits of mastering higher-order thinking skills are numerous. Students are able to carry what they’ve learned from one subject to another, they are able to problem-solve, they become both critical and creative in their thinking, and, most importantly, these skills make learning more interesting and will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

How Can We Encourage Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating?

There are many ways to offer opportunities to build students’ higher-order thinking skills. Let’s take a closer look at 5 of them:

1. Questioning

Often, adults ask children basic questions about what they’re learning, such as asking them who the main character in a text was or which operation they used to solve that math problem. These are good questions to ask, but they are surface questions.

To encourage children to think more critically about what they’re learning, we can ask them questions that require a little more thinking. Examples of these types of questions are:

  • Why did Character A do what they did?
  • Why did you choose addition to solve that problem?
  • What do you think will happen when you perform this experiment?

Asking children to think a little more deeply about what they’re doing gives them a chance to truly explore the material and gain more ownership of their learning.

2. Student-to-Student Discourse

Even our very youngest learners can discuss what they’re learning with others. Allowing students the opportunity to talk with–and listen to–their classmates about what they’re learning can deepen their understanding of the concepts being taught.

There are a variety of ways to have students discuss the material with each other regardless of the subject area. Here are 3:

Think-Pair-Share: Ask students a specific question about the material, then have them turn to a partner to share their thoughts for a prescribed amount of time. In the end, you can ask for volunteers to share what they and their partner talked about.

Concentric CirclesStudents stand in two circles, one outside, one inside. After a question is asked, students discuss it with the person in front of them. When time is up, the outer circle moves over one person and a new question is asked, giving the students a new discussion partner.

Gallery Walk: Set up posters around the room with concepts being studied, leaving room for responses. Small groups of students move from poster to poster, discussing the concepts and jotting down their thoughts for the next group to read and discuss.

3. Inferencing

Inferencing–the ability to use clues in a situation to come to a logical conclusion about that situation–is an important critical thinking skill.

Students need to know that they make inferences all the time. They know that if someone comes in from outside and they’re dripping wet that it must be raining. You can help them to practice inferencing with the concepts they are working on in class.

Here are 3 ideas that can be used across multiple subject areas:

Using Picture Clues: Show students a picture and have them discuss what they think is happening.

Wordless Picture Books: Find a picture book with no words (or cover up the words) and use just the pictures to talk about what’s happening.

Thought Bubbles: Make a post-it note a thought bubble for students to write what a character is thinking.

4. Concept Connection

Making connections in learning is crucial to a student’s ability to transfer skills they have learned in one situation to a new situation. They may make connections using their own background knowledge or they may make a connection between texts or ideas they have worked with before. Here are 3 ways to help students make connections:

Venn Diagram: Two circles that overlap can be used to compare and contrast characters, shapes, or experiments, or any two things that have a relationship.

Posters/Writing/Drawing: Students can either write or draw about a connection they have to the concept at hand. These can then be shared out and explained to the class.

Graphic Organizers: There are a vast number of graphic organizers out there which can be used for students to make connections. A quick search on the internet will turn up ideas for just about any lesson.

5. Analogies

Usually, analogies come to mind when thinking about standardized testing once you get to the upper grades. However, there is a benefit to introducing analogies to younger students; this can improve a student’s critical thinking skills and help them to think logically.

Students can be introduced to the idea of analogies by studying relationships: parts to a whole, synonyms and antonyms, how things work, or size, just to name a few. Categorizing objects can also help bolster a child’s ability to solve analogies. Getting students to think about how things are related to each other will help them to solve more and more complex analogies as they move through the grades.

Everyday Higher-Order Thinking

As you can see, there are many ways to develop a child’s ability to analyze, evaluate, and create. Many of them can be practiced not just at school but at home as well, with minor adjustments. These are strategies our teachers are using every single day with their students, helping them better their higher-order thinking skills. Check out what we’re doing at Pear Tree Elementary to encourage kids to think deeply about what they’re learning.

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215-2678 West Broadway,
Vancouver, B.C.,
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