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Teaching Strategies that Enhance Higher-Order Thinking

Janelle Cox

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.

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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, as well as a contributing writer to and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.