How to Support Thinking in the Classroom

Teaching children to think sounds easy…but really, how do you teach a child to think? Aren’t they born knowing how to form thoughts? Well, having the ability to think is something we are born with but being able to think in such a way that you absorb information and learn from it is a very different thing!

Thinking While Reading:

Some students have been taught from a young age how to “think while reading,” others have not been taught this skill. In our classroom, we encourage thinking while reading ANYTHING. One thing we love to use is the Scholastic Order Forms to help push our thinking.

I love this activity because the order forms are FREE and I always receive a ton of them. I pass them out about twice a month and the students use this form to do some creative and critical thinking about the different types of books they are discussing.

I also encourage my students to do critical thinking while they are reading in book clubs, or just for leisurely reading. We use bookmarks to guide our thinking daily during reading. Then students respond weekly in their journals to me about what they are reading. The response is derived from the questions on the bookmarks. Win win!!

By encouraging this type of thinking every day, it is improving their reading skills but also improving their thinking in other subjects. The students are learning how to stay focused, and think while reading math problems, science passages or experiments, or anything else that may come their way. 

Peer Thinking:

Letting your peer think for you? Sounds great! Ha! Peer thinking isn’t exactly how it sounds. When we use Peer Thinking, we are relying on our peers to help us come to a deeper connection with the story, activity or problem. When students team up to work on activities, they become more creative and think on a deeper level. I believe it is because the students feel more confident but whatever the reason, it works! 
Classroom Management is important here though…so I encourage you to come up with a plan that works for your kids. I use timers, and bell, and constant student monitoring to make sure they are on topic, but the kids love it!
We gather together to do hands-on activities (which also helps with creative thinking!) Interactive journals and task cards are exciting in our room! Here is a few snap shots of my kids working on Point of View Task Cards, and Interactive Journals! The interactive journals guide the students thinking and allow them to have more confidence in their discussions. 

When we work on the task cards, I make sure that all of the students are “pulling their weight.” I want all students participating or I do not feel like good critical thinking is happening! It is a beautiful sight when all people get involved in the discussion (or sometimes a debate when they feel very passionately about something!) 🙂

Assessing Outside of the Box:

Lastly, we LOVE to use fun assessments in our classrooms. I am not a testing machine…actually I hate assessments…but I do know they are necessary for understanding student success. I have learned that I can assess in my own way though. Sometimes the assessments are traditional looking (still showing critical thinking though) and sometimes they are in a completely different form. This year I have fallen in love with Exit Tickets. They are quick, can hit multiple skills, they are creative, and above all…the questions on the Exit Tickets show some wonderful critical thinking!! I also can get four on one sheet of paper! Can you say–SAVE THE TREES? lol. I love it!
Here is an example of how this looks in my classroom! I usually give two or three at a time. I know that is not traditionally how Exit Tickets work, but I love having a different variety of questioning!
My students get very excited when they see Exit Tickets and they know they will be learning and practicing a valuable skill. 
Now, creative and critical thinking can be done in so many ways. I could have written many, many posts over this one but hopefully this will give you some ideas on how these strategies work in my classroom! 
I have taught in 3rd and 5th grades and love encouraging kids to think outside the box. Children so badly need to learn how to think in a creative way and in a way that helps encourage deeper thinking. We (their teachers) are the best resource they can have for learning these valuable skills!