Higher Order Thinking Skills – ideas for the classroom


What are Higher Order Thinking Skills and how can we use them in the classroom?

Higher order thinking skills are the skills that we use when we do more than simply identify and remember simple facts that are presented to us.  HOTs require effort above just remembering facts and information.  They include creative, lateral and critical thinking, problem solving, synthesizing and contrasting.

Bloom’s Taxonomy states that the skills involving analysis, evaluation and creation of new knowledge (synthesis) are thought to be of a higher order and that the deep processing skills used ensure a more memorable learning experience.   Deep processing has a better imprint on our memory and is achieved through relating the language item studied in a way that is both meaningful and interesting to the student.  HOTs are most beneficial and easily implemented into a higher level language class but can also be successfully employed with lower level classes as well.

Convergent thinking vs Divergent thinking (coming to one conclusive answer vs several possibilities)

Critical thinking is deciding if something is true, untrue, being able to distinguish between categories, to generalise and exemplify.  Also, being aware of impression in a text (for example tautologous statements), recognising the logic or otherwise in a statement.  It is generally classed as convergent thinking (although not always).

Creative thinking includes lateral (outside the box) thinking, creating new ideas and is mainly divergent. i.e. Brainstorming a number of responses to a task, devising original or unconventional responses to a task.

  • Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive objectives are: *
  • Knowledge of basic facts etc
  • Understanding
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis (create)
  • Evaluation

We should use HOTs in language teaching because they encourage intellectual development together with language acquisition in a way that is interesting and fun to the learner.  ‘It is not enough to teach students how to think, we need to give them something worth thinking about’ Penny Ur

Some practical examples of CRITICAL THINKING TASKS starting with a task for elementary learners.

Task: Classifying hyponyms into correct categories (instead of the simple picture/word match activity).

A clock, a dog, a dress, a mother, black, a pen, bread, trousers, a bag, a frog, red, books, a cat, rice, a man, a baby, pink, a teenager, a hat, a t-shirt, a banana, a book, a sheep, meat, kids, a table, green , an elephant, sugar, white

Students have to identify the class of the word by putting it into the correct column.

Animals          Colours          Things          Food          Clothes          People.

On a higher level the same sort of task can be used, but in addition to categorizing, grammar can also be incorporated.

How about doing this instead of the traditional gap fill or matching exercise:

Relative Clauses

Give each student a slip of paper that has one of the following lists on it:

  • List 1 – Australia, apples, August, an airport, an artist, an African, an alligator, air
  • List 2 – a book, Bangladesh, bread, a bedroom, a baby, bottles, a bus
  • List 3 – a cow, Canada, a chicken, a carpenter, cigarettes, coffee, a cinema
  • List 4 – a duck, a doctor, Denmark, doors, December, a dream, a daughter, disinfectant
  • List 5 – eyes, an elephant, the evening, an emperor, an engine, eight
  • List 6 – Hollywood, a helicopter, hands, a hotel, happiness, a hairdryer, a horse

Each student then has to write sentences using a relative pronoun to define the items on his list, i.e.  Australia is a country that is near to New Zealand,  a bus is a type of transport which is very popular in London etc. However, when they write the sentences they omit the item (……….. is a country that is near to New Zealand.)   In this way they are creating a gap fill exercise for their partner to complete.  (Having each list in alphabetical order gives a hint to what the item is making it slightly easier).

In these lists the relative pronouns, that, who, which and also where and when are being practiced.  Better than a boring gap fill and the students do all the work too!

Getting our students to identify inherent contradictions….do these make sense?

  •  a definite maybe
  • an objective opinion
  • an exact estimate
  • the larger half

…or tautology (saying the same thing twice in a sentence)

  • a free gift
  • a new innovation
  • we made too many wrong mistakes
  • he exaggerated the situation too much
  • it’s pure undiluted orange juice
  • let’s meet together at six
  • it’s a biography of the King’s life
  • that is a basic and fundamental fact of life
  • they commute back and forth every day

Finally, an creative activity that encourages divergent thinking:

Ask the students questions like:

  • How many ways can you end the sentence ..if I had a thousand pounds….?
  • How many ways can you think of to use a tin can/a pen/a sheet of paper?
  • How many adjectives can you think of to describe a car/a movie/a song?…etc etc

All ideas noted from a recent IATEFL webinar by the amazing Penny Ur.

* Blooms Taxonomy (1956)