Article | Teaching to Think

One of the most talked about things in the education domain in recent times has been developing “thinking skills” in class. Educators and education systems across the world have been laying emphasis on the importance of teaching students to think rather than just disseminating information in class and having student recall information. But why has the value of “thinking skills” increased suddenly? Why is “thinking skills” considered as an essential 21st century skill?

It’s because the word today is driven by technology. Low cognitive tasks that were once being done by humans, have now been automated, and are done by computers. This means, that the jobs that are available these days or the jobs that will be available in the future will require high-skilled manpower.

For many years, developing thinking skills was thought of as an extra skill that could to be taught outside of school. Students would attend after-school classes, where they would do activities, fill worksheets or play games to help them think creatively or differently. But the scenario has changed now, and requires these skills to be taught as part of the mainstream curriculum.

The HOTS (higher-order thinking skills) questions were introduced in curriculum books in an attempt to make “thinking skills” a part of the curriculum. However, HOTS questions by themselves cannot help students think creatively. Thinking is a skill that needs to be taught, practiced and encouraged from an early age and on a regular basis.

Thinking requires students to search for reasons or find the logic in how and why things work the way they do. It requires them to consider or look for aspects that are beyond the obvious, and encourages them to generate and apply their knowledge and ideas in new situations. Through the process of thinking, students mix original ideas with some new or refined ideas and create or formulate new concepts or possibilities. All these aspects of thinking must be taught in class, by teachers, and should be practiced across all subjects.

Carol McGuinness, Professor of Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, describes thinking skills as:

the capacity to absorb information, analyse, draw conclusions, brainstorm, solve problems, evaluate options, plan, make decisions and reflect upon them.

Listed below are activities that promote thinking skills (as prescribed by Carol McGuinness) :

  • sequencing and ordering information
  • sorting, classifying and grouping
  • analysing, identifying part/whole relationships and comparing and contrasting
  • making predictions and hypothesising
  • drawing conclusions and giving reasons for conclusions
  • distinguishing fact from opinion
  • determining bias and checking the reliability of evidence
  • generating new ideas and brainstorming
  • relating cause and effect and designing a fair test
  • defining and clarifying problems
  • thinking up different solutions and setting goals and sub­goals
  • testing solutions and evaluating outcomes
  • planning and monitoring progress towards a goal and revising plans
  • making decisions, setting priorities and weighing up pros and cons

The following resources provide strategies on how teachers can implement thinking skills in class.

Video:  21st Century Skills in Action: Critical thinking, creative thinking, and problem solving – Watch teachers talk about their thoughts on teaching thinking and problem solving skills.

Video: Teaching Critical Thinking – This is a video lecture (1 hour duration) on how educators can teach critical thinking skills.

If students are taught to think, right from the beginning, they will be able to construct meaning from information provided to them, they will be able to build over prior knowledge and apply it to solve problems and express their point of view. Most importantly, they will be able to adapt to and survive in the fast changing world that we live in, or rather that they will live in. – Do you agree?

What strategies do you implement in class to encourage your students to think?
Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Kanchan Shine

Kanchan Shine

Passionate about everything related to education. I believe that the best kind of learning happens through play, experiments and fun! I love watching how children learn and love to implement play-based, hands-on teaching approaches. I get my thrill by planning activities for my children (6 yo girl & 3 yo boy) and watching them learn while having fun!

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3 Responses

  1. sheetals12 says:

    Critical thinking involves looking at problems in a new way, linking learning across subjects & disciplines. For more complex projects, where many heads are better than one or two, you may want to have students work in groups of three or more. As the term “cooperative learning” suggests, students working in groups will help each other to learn. Generally, it is better to form heterogeneous groups (with regard to gender, ethnicity, and academic performance), particularly when the groups will be working together over time or on complex projects; however, some of these techniques work well with spontaneously formed groups. Cooperative groups encourage discussion of problem solving techniques (“Should we try this?”, etc.), and avoid the embarrassment of students who have not yet mastered all of the skills required. Few of the common techniques that involves cooperative learning are mentioned below.

    Common Techniques


    Students are grouped into five or six and each group member is assigned a specific task then must come back to their group and teach them what they learned.


    Each member in a group “thinks” about a question they have from what they just learned, then they “pair-up” with a member in the group to discuss their responses. Finally they “share” what they learned with the rest of the class or group.

    Round Robin

    Students are placed into a group of four to six people. Then one person is assigned to be the recorder of the group. Next, the group is assigned a question that has multiple answers to it. Each student goes around the table and answers the question while the recorder writes down their answers.

    Numbered Heads

    Each group member is given a number (1, 2, 3, 4, etc). The teacher then asks the class a question and each group must come together to find an answer. After the time is up the teacher calls a number and only the student with that number may answer the question.


    Students work together in a group to solve a problem. Next they work with a partner to solve a problem, and finally they work by themselves to solve a problem. This strategy uses the theory that students can solve more problems with help then they can alone. Students then progress to the point that they can solve the problem on their own only after first being in a team and then paired with a partner.

  1. November 22, 2013

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    […] One of the most talked about things in the education domain in recent times has been developing "thinking skills" in class. Educators and education systems across the world have been laying emphasi…  […]

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