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Teaching Strategies to Develop Higher-Level Thinking

Janelle Cox

Higher-order thinking skills are skills such as critical thinking, analyzing, and problem solving. They are essential 21st century skills that prepare students to apply what they already know (their previous knowledge) to what they are currently learning. These skills have students use higher-level thinking instead of lower-order thinking, where students just memorize facts. It’s essentially having students use complex ways to really dig deeper and think about what they are learning. They have to not only understand the concept, but infer it, as well as connect it to other concepts. Here are a few teaching strategies on how to enhance your students’ higher level thinking skills, as well as a few teaching strategies on how to promote and utilize these skills through the use of technology.

Teaching Strategies for Developing Thinking Skills

While there are many teaching strategies for developing students’ higher-level thinking skills, there are a few essential skills you can start with, beginning with teaching your students what higher-order thinking is. Explain to your students what it is and why they need it. You can do this by showing them how they can ask themselves questions while learning. Here are a few more suggestions.

Encourage Questioning

Encourage students to ask questions, a lot of questions. A classroom where students feel free to ask questions without any negative reactions from their classmates is a classroom where students will feel free to use their minds and be creative.

Teach Students to Infer

Having the ability to make inferences is another higher-level thinking skill. Teach students to make inferences by giving them “Real world” examples. One way to teach young students about how to infer is to teach an easy concept like the weather. Simply have students look outside of the window and infer what the weather is.

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Encourage Creative Thinking

Creative thinking is when students invent, imagine, and design what they are thinking in their minds. Using your creative senses, help students process and understand information better. Research shows that when students utilize creative higher-order thinking skills, it helps to increase their understanding. Encourage students to think “Outside of the box” and never judge them for what they are sharing.

Show Students How to Connect Concepts

Show students how to connect one concept to another. Teach them to connect what they already know with what they are currently learning. This will help students learn to make connections whenever it is possible, which will help them to gain even more understanding of what they are learning. Each small concept can be connected to a bigger, broader concept.

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. For example, they can use graphic organizers to help them solve a problem. Graphic organizers provide students with a nice way to frame their thoughts in an organized manner. They can also use mind movies. Students can solve a problem by closing their eyes and creating a movie in their mind.

Apps that Promote Higher Level Thinking Skills

Tablets have become increasingly popular in the classroom because of the low cost compared to a class set of computers. If a teacher doesn’t have access to a class set of tablets, then they can use their own and just plug the device into a classroom projector. Here are a few popular apps that can be used to promote the development of higher order thinking skills.

Inventioneers App

This app is an amazing tool to help children learn about physics. Students get to create or build their own invention. The focus of this incredibly engaged app is that children learn by doing. Students will use their higher-level thinking skills to learn about numerous physics and engineering concepts through exploration and experimentation. In create mode, students get the opportunity to create their very own invention. In the other mode (which is more like a video game), students must arrange tools and help inventioneers complete a specific task. The full version of this app costs just $4.99, and is worth the money because it allows you to unlock the game’s full potential. One of the best features of this app is that students can work in teams in the create mode.

The Robot Factory

The Robot Factory is an app that will challenge students in engineering design. This game won “App of the year” and is a “Parents’ choice award winner” and favorite among STEM educators because engineering is a component of 21st century learning. Appropriate for grades K-8, The Robot Factory starts off by having students create their very own robot from scratch. Choosing parts like the head, torso, facial features and such, students can be creative and even give their robot a voice. Students can then bring their robot into the real world and navigate it throughout different obstacles. Teachers love how there is an open-ended construction kit for students to build, test, and play while developing their higher level thinking skills.

Critical thinking skills takes time to learn. Be patient and implement these strategies and your students will get there in no time.

How do you develop your students’ higher order thinking skills? Do you have any teaching strategies to share? Please leave a comment in the section below, we would love to hear your thoughts on this popular educational 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 Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educatorsor contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.