Higher Order Thinking Activities for School

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Educators often mention the importance of higher order thinking, and the media reports that children will need creative and critical thinking skills to succeed in tomorrow's dynamic marketplace. Many teachers concerned with higher order thinking use Bloom's Taxonomy to mold their lessons. The taxonomy consists of six levels: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating. The last three levels are considered higher order thinking, and some examples of activities that underscore these levels follow.

1 Venn Diagrams (Analyzing)

Venn diagrams prompt students to compare and contrast. Teachers can use them across all subject areas to promote analytical thinking. In reading, a teacher could ask students to analyze a character, using a Venn diagram to sort traits belonging to the character, traits belonging to the reader and ones shared by both the character and reader. A math teacher could ask students to compare the properties of geometrical figures. In social studies, students might contrast the causes of different wars, while science students could note the similarities and differences of chemicals.

2 Cooperative Decision-making (Evaluating)

Imagine a situation in which a plane crashes in the ocean. There are a dozen survivors, all with their own stories, but only one boat that can hold no more than six people. After hearing of each survivor's hopes and follies, students must work in groups to decide which survivors will have a spot on the boat. Such a task inspires students to collaborate and draw conclusions supported by evidence. Teachers can use similar higher order thinking activities in almost any subject -- e.g., soldiers who must decide which items to take with them to war or astronauts deciding how to stock the limited storage areas of their spaceship.

3 Mock Trials (Analyzing, Evaluating)

Mock trials obviously have their place in social studies, but they can be used in nearly any subject. Trials encourage students to form evidence-based arguments and examine their credibility, and both tasks require higher order thinking skills. Mock trial ideas include trying a literary character for excessive pride (or some other fault), a restaurant owner for unevenly splitting a sandwich among patrons and a scientist for proposing an invention that violates Newton's laws.

4 Engineering Challenges (Creating)

Children of all ages can hone their higher order thinking skills with engineering activities. Turning engineering tasks into challenges that will engage students' critical thinking skills. Instead of telling students to make a paper bridge, limit their supplies and ask them to create a bridge that can hold 20 pennies without collapsing. Teachers of other subjects could consider engineering challenges as well. Reading teachers could assign students to build a model bedroom with all the supplies necessary for a book's famous wizard to continue his studies, and social studies teachers could challenge students to create a survival kit for Mary Elizabeth Bowser, a Civil War spy.

Joseph Walker began his writing career in 2001 as a copy editor for MBNA America Bank. Since then he has written for several publications, including "BusinessWeek," "Dollars and Sense" and "Computerworld." Walker holds a Bachelor of Science in economics from the University of San Diego.