Higher Order Critical Thinking Skills

Hello everyone, and welcome back to #langchat! We hope your holidays were filled with joy and good companionship.

This past Thursday, we had a fantastic first #langchat of 2012 with some quality discussion and professional development. Our topic, “How do we develop higher-order thinking skills in the world language classroom?“, was a big hit and we’re sure you’ll find some useful tips and tricks in the summary below. For the archive of the chat, please go here.

Also, be sure to check out the conclusion of this summary below for a special holiday offering from all of us at #langchat!

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Higher-Order Thinking Skills: A Rundown

Higher-order thinking skills include such skills as critical thinking, analysis and problem solving. These skills differ from lower-order thinking skills such as remembering and understanding in that they prepare students to apply existing knowledge in new areas. These are cross-discipline skills that stick with students throughout life.

One characteristic of higher-order skill instruction is the importance of modeling what happens in real life as much as possible (@tonitheisen). These skills involve analyzing, evaluating and creating material, and students need to have a real-life foundation.

With all instruction, it’s a good idea to praise students’ efforts even when they are having problems communicating. With critical thinking and other higher-order skills’ assignments, this is even more important. Be sure to praise the message, not kill it (@tonitheisen).

Critical thinking can be multiple choice, but it’s tough to make it work. Instead of asking “A, B or C,” try asking “How, why and what if” (@SECottrell).

Finally, critical thinking takes time. It’s important for us to remember to slow down and allow students the time to make the meaning. Try giving students more opportunities to ask questions, rather than ask all the questions yourself (@GlastonburyFL).

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Examples of Higher-Order Skills

Critical thinking involves solving problems, such as with situational prompts and questions like why, how and what if (@tonitheisen). Creating with the language involves critical thinking by taking words that students have learned in one context and putting them in another (@Lauren_Scheller).

Determining and debating why cultures are different by comparing products and practices is an example of evaluation (@Lauren_Scheller). Any evaluating or analyzing activity is good practice. Students often have different — but good — answers that they can debate with their classmates (@SECottrell).

Inferring from context is a skill that many students have difficulties with or are afraid of doing. Students are often trained to have right or wrong answers, but with higher-order thinking skills there shouldn’t be any right or wrong responses (@tonitheisen).

Circumlocution is another higher-order skill that language students will find extremely useful. It’s also a simple matter to practice in class, and many students will develop it on their own in a communicative atmosphere.

Higher-Order Thinking Skills in the World Language Classroom

Participants shared a wealth of ideas for activities and assessments you can try in the classroom to develop your students’ higher-order thinking skills. Check some of them out below.

  • Finding errors is a fantastic critical-thinking activity. Try using it before an assessment to get your students warmed up.
  • Anything interacting with the real world is good. Production for a purpose (@Lauren_Scheller). For example, try using prompts with food such as what food should we put in the box that is nutritional (@tonitheisen). @SECottrell recommends having students think about what food means to them and to people around the world.
  • @HJGiffin regularly uses language classes as an opportunity to discuss advanced topics in the target language, such as the concept of self.
    • For example, looking at self portraits, ask students how the portrait shows the artist’s definition of self? What would they put on a portrait to define themselves?
  • @Lauren_Scheller suggests hosting an evening for ESL parents at the school to help with the school website when learning technology vocabulary.
  • If they’re up for it, try and have your higher-level students teach lower-levels an essential grammar or culture point. @klafrench’s French 5 students taught the future tense to French 4 this week, for example!
  • Similarly, have students investigate target-language ads or periodicals on the Internet and then write or develop questions for other students to answer (@atschwei).
  • Try writing some target-language prompts or questions on various Jenga blocks, then play a game in the class (@HJGiffin).
  • Use tools such as Google Maps and Google Street View to plan a virtual trip of students’ choice using a set amount of money (@kc_lewis).

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Higher-Order Thinking with Novice Students

Developing novice students’ higher-order thinking skills is difficult. These skills usually require that students already have an established knowledge base, as they generally involve applying existing knowledge in new areas. Still, there are quite a few activities you can do to develop your students’ skills. Some of the ideas above can be used for novice kids, and some of those below can be used with more advanced students — adapt accordingly.

  • Have students label classmates with descriptive words (@SECottrell).
  • Making Venn diagrams for compare and contrast on stories, photos and more works well (@CalicoSpanish).
  • Show images to students and ask them to describe the situation. Then go into detail. For example, “What needs do these people have? What can you imagine they were doing before and after this photo?” (@CalicoTeach).
    • This works well with other levels, too. @klafrench likes to show images of the target culture to intermediate students and ask them to write the story of the painting.
    • @tonitheisen likes to use art images where students play a role from the painting in a skit or dialogue.
  • This is a great method with all ages, but particularly well-suited to young and novice learners: rather than test vocabulary and knowledge with English translations, try using images. For example, @suarez712002 likes to use images for matching exercises and @klafrench often asks students to draw pictures instead of writing definitions, which makes for much improved connections.
  • @GlastonburyFL shows novice students maps (try Google Maps) and asks them to decide the best transportation method from place to place. Use real locations in target-language countries and cities and ask questions such as “Can you walk from el Prado to el Palacio Real? What would be a better way to go?”
    • @CalicoTeach suggests adding to the descriptions to give students more to consider, for example “You have two toddlers with you…”
  • @GlastonburyFL suggests letting young, novice students describe a fruit to classmates. The classmates have to guess what the fruit is. An alternative is to put a picture of a fruit on the blackboard behind a student, and the class has to describe it for the student to guess. Or in pairs, put a picture of a fruit on one student’s forehead for the other to describe.
    • These activities are actually good for any vocabulary or set depending on the students’ ages — from fruit and sports to movie plots and celebrities (@klafrench).
  • Try using irrational questions to get kids thinking and responding critically. For example, “Do you brush your hair with bacon? Why not?” (@ProfaEsp). Students interact with the real world by defining items and their use.

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Tips and Resources

Thank You!

Thanks to all our participants for joining us for our first #langchat of the new year — you shared so many great resources and ideas, and everyone appreciates your support! As we’ve mentioned for the past several weeks, we’ve been working on compiling a #langchat e-book, Web Tools for 21st-Century World Language Classroom, and we’d like to make it available to you, absolutely free!

Over the past year, #langchat has really turned into some of the best professional development out there for world language (and other) teachers. This is possible because of you joining us every week and so freely sharing your ideas for your colleagues’ benefit. We’ve compiled some of your best ideas and resources from the past year in this book for everyone’s reading pleasure, and you can download the free e-book here.

Please, accept this token of our thanks and check out the e-book soon. It’s designed to be a resource for you to consult as time goes by, no need to read it from cover to cover (though that’s a fine choice, too!). When you’re finished looking it over, please let us know what you think on Twitter or by commenting on the download page.

Thanks again, and see you next Thursday on #langchat!

Filed Under: #langchat SummariesTagged With: blooms taxonomy, world language

One of the main 21st century components that teachers want their students to use are higher-order thinking skills. This is when students use complex ways to think about what they are learning.

Higher-order thinking takes thinking to a whole new level. Students using it are understanding higher levels rather than just memorizing math facts. They would have to understand the facts, infer them, and connect them to other concepts.

Here are 10 teaching strategies to enhance higher-order thinking skills in your students.

1. Teaching Strategies to Help Determine What Higher-Order Thinking is

Help students understand what higher-order thinking is. Explain to them what it is and why they need it. Help them understand their own strengths and challenges. You can do this by showing them how they can ask themselves good questions. That leads us to the next strategy.

2. Encourage Questioning

A classroom where students feel free to ask questions without any negative reactions from their peers or their teachers is a classroom where students feel free to be creative. Encourage students to ask questions, and if for some reason you can’t get to their question during class time, then show them how they can answer it themselves, or have them save the question until the following day.

3. Connect Concepts

Lead students through the process of how to connect one concept to another. By doing this you are teaching them to connect what they already know with what they are learning. This level of thinking will help students learn to make connections whenever it is possible, which will help them gain even more understanding. For example, let’s say that the concept they are learning is “Chinese New Year.” An even broader concept would be “Holidays,” and if you take it one step further it can be “Celebrations.” Each small concept can be connected to a bigger, broader concept.

4. Teach Students to Infer

Teach students to make inferences by giving them “Real-world” examples. You can start by giving students a picture of a people standing in line at a soup kitchen. Ask them to look at the picture and focus on the details. Then, ask them to make inferences based on what they see in the picture. Another way to teach young students about how to infer is to teach an easy concept like weather. Ask students to put on their raincoat and boots, then ask them to infer what they think the weather looks like outside.

5. Use Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers provide students with a nice way to frame their thoughts in an organized manner. By drawing diagrams or mind maps, students are able to better connect concepts and see their relationships. This will help students develop a habit of connecting concepts.

6. Teach Problem-Solving Strategies

Teach students to use a step-by-step method for solving problems. This way of higher order thinking will help them solve problems faster and easier. Encourage students to use alternative methods to solve problems as well as offer them different problem-solving methods.

7. Encourage Creative Thinking

Creative thinking is when students invent, imagine, and design what they are thinking. Using your creative senses help students process and understand information better. Research shows that when students utilize creative higher order thinking skills, it indeed increases their understanding. Encourage students to think “Outside of the box.”

8. Use Mind Movies

When concepts that are being learned are hard, encourage students to create a movie in their mind. Teach them to close their eyes and picture it like a movie playing. This way of higher order thinking will truly help them understand in a powerful, unique way.

9. Teach Students to Elaborate Their Answers

Higher-order thinking requires students to really understand a concept not repeat it or memorize it. Encourage students to elaborate their answers and talk about what they are learning. Ask parents to reinforce this at home, as well by asking the right questions that make students explain their answers in more detail, or to answer their child’s question with a more detailed response.

10. Teach QARs

Question-Answer-Relationships, or QARs, teach students to label the type of question that is being asked, then use that information to help them formulate an answer. Students must decipher if the answer can be found in a text or on the Internet, or if they must rely on their own prior knowledge to answer it. This strategy has been found to be effective for higher-order thinking because students become more aware of the relationship between the information in a text and their prior knowledge, which helps them decipher which strategy to use when they need to seek an answer.

How do you enhance higher order thinking skills in your classroom? Do you have any tips that you would like to share? Please feel free to leave a comment in the section below, we would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.


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