Creating a thinking classroom

As my teaching has developed over the past two years I have focused more and more on creating a thinking classroom. Beginning with learning mind maps in my first school to reading everything from Buzan to DeBono to Bloom to Costa, is it now a staple of my teaching. It is hard to believe anyone teaches without teaching critical thinking.

The longer I teach, however, the more I realise that not everyone is comfortable teaching these vital higher order thinking skills. As a result, I have found myself showing a number of other teachers how to implement thinking tools in the classroom. Of course, most people have heard of the Six Thinking Hats, or Mind Mapping, or the Habits of Mind, but not everyone is confident in using them effectively. Below are the ways that I use various thinking tools in my classroom, and have found successfully improve students’ critical thinking skills.

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is the brain child of Tony Buzan, who created it as a more effective way of note-taking, one that would match our natural desire to make connections between words and ideas.  Mind mapping needs a clear introduction with plenty of opportunities for students to practice. If you have it available, Matthew Boyle’s Learning File has some great exercises to introduce students to mind mapping, and for proving to them that it works!

The different between ‘brainstorming’ or ‘concept mapping’ and mind mapping also needs to be made. It is not something to be rushed in one colour pen, or to just every thought down. The rules of mind mapping are very explicit and there for a reason, to improve students’ memory and interest in learning. Once the students understand and can apply the rules, then they can begin breaking them.

Mind mapping is such a vast idea with so much research behind it that it difficult to summarise in a paragraph.  As always, the first place to look for more information on mind mapping are Buzan’s range of books on appling mind mapping with students, in business and for life. Once you begin mind mapping you will always wonder why you did not start earlier!

Mind Mapping Guidelines

Mind Mapping Guidelines 

Six Thinking Hats

In my experience, many students have been introduced haphazardly to the Six Thinking Hats. They may know of them, and may have even used them, but don’t really understand how to apply them in their learning. The most important thing here is applying them in the most authentic ways possible, connecting them directly to the students’ learning. They must also be used regularly in then beginning, otherwise students forget how to use them effectively.

Introducing the students to sentence starters for each hat is a good way to begin. This helps students understand what types of comments may be associated with each hat. As their confidence grows, they can then comment more generally based on the hats.

Class discussions are also useful, especially as students become used to the concept of the Six Thinking Hats, as this allows students to develop their ideas. It is in considering all of the different perspectives that the strategy becomes particularly useful and really challenges students to view other perspectives and have evidence for their opinion.

Six thinking hats

Six thinking hats

Habits of Mind

The Habits of Mind are wonderful for teaching with a whole-child approach. Rather than just teaching students facts, the Habits of Mind allow students to learn how to learn.I have found that it works best to introduce the concept of the Habits of Mind as a whole and then focusing on a habit a week. Each habit needs a different strategy for students to successfully learn it.

Different strategies and approaches for each habit are outlined by Costa and Kallick here. Most teachers, however, should be able to use each habit as a prompt to associate with skills and strategies they are already familiar with, and may already use in their classroom.

Once the strategies have been introduced, continue referencing to them throughout the year. There may be a task that needs one habit in particular, or a student who is always successful in displaying another attitude. Without this referencing back, students will turn their attention elsewhere and will not apply them as effectively.


This is only a very short introduction to three thinking strategies that have been effective in improving the thinking skills of my students. There are many books and articles written about all three, and I recommend looking at them in more detail once you decide to implement one of the strategies. No matter what thinking strategy you decide to implement, as long as you are persistent and explicitly teach it, you will find significant improvements in your students’ thinking skills.

How have you used these thinking tools in the classroom? What are other useful thinking tools you have used?

Rebecca Davies

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