Thinking These three strategies can help you ensure that
every lesson encourages students to think deeply.
Susan M. Brookhart

emorizing facts is boring. Drill-and- Strategy One: Open Questions
practice is boring. But thinking, for most I recommend that you plan two or three open questions for
students most of the time, is actually every lesson. Craft those questions carefully to make sure
fun. The good news is that lessons that they tap the particular content and thinking skills you want
support higher-order thinking are also to teach. And to deepen the learning even further, be sure
likely to interest and engage students. to include in your lesson plan some follow-up strategies
In this article, I share three of the many strategies to get students to respond to one another instead of just
available for infusing higher-order thinking skills into your to you.
lesson plans. Try one or more of these, and experience the
magic of students thinking together. With support and scaf- Designing Open Questions
folding (students who are used to memorization and drill Ask students to describe similarities and differences. Be
may need to be convinced you really want them to think), careful; asking for similarities and differences can be a
both learning and motivation should improve. And that simple comprehension strategy (for example, “Compare
may inspire you to find other ways to infuse higher-order and contrast the physical characteristics of mammals and
thinking into your classroom lessons. reptiles”). Instead, you need to go for comparisons that

10 Educational Leadership / October 2016

Brookhart.indd 10 8/24/16 3:10 PM

“How are 11 and 16 alike? How are they dif. o r g 11 . tence or two—describing the work or thoughts of a fictional But figuring out what Conrad was thinking requires PHOTO BY KEVIN DAVIS ASCD / w w w . you might ask. students can analyze the thinking of a fictional ferent?” Students will come up with all kinds of ideas. but they also must use reasoning to make and 45 – 141 – 3x = 0 defend the comparisons. for example. and then ask for student responses. student. what would you tell him?” dents must know and comprehend both elements in the 45 – 3x = 141 comparison. ways this can work. First. “How was the political climate in President how they would correct it. 96 = 3x Describe a fictional student. Obama’s first term like that in his second? How were the “Conrad solved this problem. when teaching number sense. so fictional student. stu. Do you agree with Conrad’s two climates different?” To answer these questions. ascd . you might say. Students sometimes find it x = 32 easier to critique an idea if the object of their criticism is a This math problem has a correct answer (x = -32).require analysis and reasoning about concepts or situations. For example.” describing social studies. finding the answer to the problem itself is a closed question. answer? If not. There are two In mathematics. Or in student who performed a procedure “wrong. Write a brief scenario—even just a sen.

then time to talk question: “Sometimes chemical and preting informational text. This strategy works at all engineering is?” “Sonjai. You can also start a whole- you agree with either position? What class discussion. Instead. after a class as you can. that George Washington was uniquely population in the river is to pass a suited to be the first U. not just the few Not Retelling Respond to One Another students who are called on. during which you asked stu- to chance. can you tell us in your own and their school is near a river. ask follow- about different sides of questions that time. resist the temptation to dents is to elicit student thinking to get their thoughts together. which is gered?” Or for a social studies lesson should have something to say— a chemical change. can you add students disagreeing: “Elijah thinks grade levels. do you think the author describes the tunity to share with the whole group. and everyone has had the Strategy 2: Thinking. strategy for simple waiting. take it in a productive would you say to Elijah or Nicholai?” and engage students. A retelling task asks students merely Use wait time. Ask follow-up questions in small- so the trout will have more food. for silence while students have time you’ve asked. For example.S. When all to respond. wait time is by literally waiting. No one is stranded or disen- franchised. “Think comment yourself. For example. ask an open question and give students into small groups with another open For example. before By the time students must share their physical change. Nicholai Lessons that support just said about the speaker in Robert thinks the best way to help the trout Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’? Why or population is to increase the number higher-order learning why not?” of flies and other insects in the river. if stu. Do are also likely to interest group work. Open ques- and explaining his errors opens up either no responses or surface-level tions. Can you think of about World War I and its aftermath. and then Ask students to make an argument or send students into small groups to explain their reasoning. ferent. physical changes happen together. but the basic idea is that you explanations. try to preload some “Why?” strategy. waiting until a to think out loud as they process discussion about how chemical and student says something interesting and their thoughts. If you don’t that the teacher will tell them whether example. you’ll get they’re right or wrong. Here are some examples: dents are studying the local ecosystem the students have thought about the “Ella. analysis of his partially incorrect steps. you might send them questions into your class discussion. something his partner was example is a chemical change? Which the United States became isolationist thinking. thinking with everyone. students answer mation—artfully perhaps. a teacher assigns students 12 Educational Leadership / October 2016 Brookhart. Of course. can support more par- the question to a variety of student responses. As students offer approaches. but especially for young another reason to Sarah’s argument that the best way to increase the trout children. For questions about facts. Students will need more Ask follow-up questions in whole-class to look up and reproduce infor- time to answer higher-order thinking discussions. Typically. and then the oppor. or something they cooked up is a physical change? Why?” in the period right after World War I?” together. every student cut part of the grass to die. cutting the grass is a life of tigers first in the article. One way to give students ticipation than that. ask “Why with a partner. but it causes the she talks about how tigers are endan. in a lesson on inter. provide enough wait time. A classic strategy for physical changes are alike and dif- then asking her “Why?” leaves a lot achieving this is think-pair-share. a brief time to think. For example. direction for a few minutes. so when you’re preparing There are many variations of this dents to elaborate on one another’s a lesson. however. ask for words what Matio’s position on genetic open question might have two fictional volunteers. but without questions than they will to answer closed questions with the expectation additional cognitive processing. Encouraging Students to opportunity to think. president?” law prohibiting manufacturers from “Jamal. whether it’s something the student was other examples? Which aspect of your “Why do you think many people in thinking. no hands up” is a good general up questions that allow other students are already open. Probably the discuss an open follow-up question simplest suggestion for designing open Another way to give students wait that furthers students’ thinking about questions is to ask “Why?” as often time is to structure a way for them the content. do you agree with what Julia dumping waste into the river. your question and everyone is ready. asking their thoughts about the open question A second way to use fictional stu.indd 12 8/24/16 3:10 PM .

ana- a retelling task. Both strategies start with content that might have been the © SUSIE FITZHUGH subject of a retelling task. but not necessarily to under- stand it or even remember it. As one step above simple copying information. Many of them look good. students will might be an interesting problem to (For example. poster. it would present. one where students would have you might need some equipment that would provide heat. Asking learning about the planets. Look at the characteristics of and critically about the information. make it colorful and attractive. even comprehension-level retelling tasks stop short of asking stu- dents to use higher-order thinking. For example. with no evidence of what each of the eight planets in the solar Ask “what if” and “what else” to system. or find out about the natural resources in their state and assemble these facts into a report. if students are studying ASCD / w w w . Such tasks have a place— for example. The assignment requires stu- dents to locate information. but solve. In the process. Ask yourself. each student artistically illustrated one element of the periodic table of elements. ascd . But in the end. and “poster child” for a retelling task—one a poster showing its characteristics. For example. social studies. or brochure. all they had was a pretty reproduction of the periodic table. we can use them to assess comprehension in reading lessons. assignment. the challenges orate on what they’re studying. What equipment you might need to settle it. in one high school class. in poseful problem. of course. Here are two of the many ways you can turn retelling tasks into active thinking tasks. students Pose a purposeful problem. understand what they mean.) they’ll also have to wrap their heads to know something about ___? For around it in a more active way. all over the Internet. they have a completed and why. You have been asked to help the planet (your original learning poster. example. some retelling tasks ask students to put information in their own words. However. start by posing a pur. decide what planet you’d like to settle intention) and also think analytically and voilà. if the planet is very cold. and some of the lyzing. prioritize them in terms of challenges that you find in many classrooms and give them this task: they would be interested in facing. All students have You are one of a new generation of That means they must learn about to do is copy information onto their astronauts. but instead have students ask (and answer!) some- thing meaningful about that content. want to try to settle. and decide which one you’d they understand about their topic. Instead of will have to look up planet character- students to make a poster is the having them choose a planet and make istics. o r g 13 . suppose your students are To accomplish this task. Make a poster compel students to expand or elab- Whenever you are tempted to assign describing your planet. There are tons of examples of retelling tasks on the Internet. have to comprehend the content.

and the presence indicate learning. (An even more open of bodies of water.) You’ll need to teach some stu- develop their own what-if scenario. cycle. students might think on the paper. Instead. They are able to ask focused questions when they don’t understand or when they’re stuck. if students supporting details to back up my rea- students choose the election year and are learning how to do long division soning. and then ask. I defended it with reasoning. such as the climate. students will also be ­processing what it means to divide.) using the standard algorithm. Here are three strategies for building student self-assessment into lessons to © STEFANIE FELIX promote higher-order thinking. ask with the qualities listed in the rubric. I put my name United States were not embroiled in their projects. the for self-assessment of qualities that to interpret those facts and understand geology of the land. in the 1968 presidential election if the would function there?” In working on with such criteria as. If them a problem (such as 46 ÷ 3). or other algo- rithms. you you need to know about a particular are better for helping students assess could ask “What might have happened region to predict how the water cycle how well they’ve followed directions. give dents to match qualities in their work Here’s an example in science. They are poised to use self-regulation strat- egies and to be their own best coaches as they learn. and I used at least learning facts about the 1968 presi. students would have given location. (I stated a position. checklists That’s a retelling task. resist the temptation to comment yourself. Rubrics are better dential election. algorithm. you might be cycle. instead of giving them a retelling students a tool they can use. I used version of this question would be to let Or in mathematics. perhaps). counters. Strategy 3: Student Self-Assessment Students who can self-assess are poised to be life-long learners. Clear success criteria in the form of checklists or rubrics give presidential elections. I wrote an introduction the Vietnam War?” Instead of simply about factors that would influence and conclusion. Teach students to self-assess with rubrics. how the water cycle functions in any three sources. to assess the quality of report on the election of their choice. ask them “What else would their own work. “How else could you solve this problem?” In figuring out other methods (using drawings. As students offer their thoughts about the open question you’ve asked. what they mean. alone or tempted to assign students to write a task like making a model of the water with partners. In general. students are learning about the water them to solve it using the standard There are many ways to infuse the 14 Educational Leadership / October 2016 .

Or you In most lessons. on the rubric using a different color students with medium-quality work Whether you use these strategies or for each attribute. 2010). have students put red. however.use of self-assessment with rubrics they understand a specific term or work. ASCD / w w w . This higher-order. “I know what exercise requires students to look at to stop at some point and have stu. are of high or low quality. quality. creative into lessons. yellow. tions and Tasks to Assess Student their learning. She is the author of many ways to ask students how sure they teria. o r g 15 . Here are a few. There are many Have students co-create success cri- Montana.” they can highlight that feedback targeted to specific errors. For example. For learning goals with which books. medium-.” yellow means “I think I dents place anonymous dots indicating understand but I’m not sure. or green circle stickers on their work. This pause will not derail private—for instance.” and red A Key Decision for Every Lesson their appraisal of the current status of means “I don’t really understand this The most important question you can their work. Brookhart (susanbrookhart@ be more confident or less confident in assistance. may need feedback about the learning Use confidence ratings. During individual seatwork or into piles of high. but also to apply self-assess against a rubric and share high-quality work with a red sticker. and then highlight who show more and less confidence. 2014) and How to In open discussion. by signaling just acteristics. Probably the simplest is concept (for example. These votes are best kept low-quality. quality work with a green sticker that students are required not only to Another variation is to have students shows something quite different from know something. Organize the resulting list into a rubric that students you can hang a poster-sized version of Green means “I am confident I under. and low Use of rubrics for self-assessment writing.” You can use this information ask when you plan a lesson is probably be aware of their own self-assessment. For example. bresnan. Students with medium-quality work opportunity to engage in higher-order if the rubric asks students to “take who believe they understand may need thinking in every lesson. For example. and describe those char- rubric itself. decide whether they dents. can use for self-assessment. The result a position. to give more nuanced responses in this: How will I infuse higher-order but all you’ll see is an aggregated your is an independent edu- cation consultant based in Helena. low. EL highlight the place in their essay where who believe they don’t understand they take a position in the same color. an adjective is”) by holding up “fist. Students can target in general as well as specific Susan M. medium. others. Give groups of students your lesson or take time away from in front of the chest while facing the an unlabeled set of student work (for things you need to cover. use the tool to-five” (where a fist means zero confi. either on a sticky note or on the confidence). alone or in pairs. your rubric on the wall and have stu. 10 different poems that use spent. including How to Design Ques- are about the quality of their work and students already have some familiarity. or low-quality work. and “dramatic” are getting at the same quality in an image). thinking into this lesson. ascd . will be students who are more engaged phrase on the rubric in yellow and Students with medium-quality work and who learn more deeply. making sure picture of overall class self-assessment. work samples. student self-assessment can begin Thinking (ASCD. “vivid” their own best coaches as they learn. and in the long run it will make or peer pressure. I urge you to give students the their work accordingly. Individual students will yet. what they know? The strategies I’ve their thoughts with a partner. List all the descriptions from Students who can self-assess are poised all the groups on a whiteboard or on newsprint. ask students to with jointly creating the criteria you Assess Higher-Order Thinking Skills in indicate how confident they are that and the students will look for in their Your Classroom (ASCD. Have them sort the work learning more effective and efficient. with descriptions of what makes these poems high-. imagery). stand this. It’s time well teacher—to minimize embarrassment example. Then ask students to group to use self-regulation strategies and to be like descriptions (for example. and then ask them to come up can be more elaborate. the more described here have just scratched the can ask students to highlight phrases likely distinctions will be between surface of the many methods available. decide to self-assess and record their current dence and five fingers means complete what makes them high-quality or status. their self-assessments.