Posts Tagged ‘thinking prompts’

Finding Thinking Prompts

Friday, July 12th, 2013

This is a column I wrote for a different blog a few years back.  

I recently received an email asking a great question:  ”Where can I find good Thinking Prompts for my math class?”  Thinking Prompts, in case you don’t know, are provocative objects we share with students to create lively conversations in the classroom. In fact you can download a mini-manual for Thinking Prompts at this link, and read about and download other mini-coaching manuals at the Big Four Ning

Coincidently, the day I received that email, I was talking about the very same topic with Laura Parn, an instructional coach in Lincoln, NE.  Laura was looking for a video to use as a Thinking Device for her elementary students to talk about measurement.  What Laura did helped me understand how I could find good Thinking Prompts.

Laura told me she sat at her computer and took a few minutes to think about things students needed to measure and convert to other forms of measurement.  She said she wanted something that would be very familiar to her students, and she came up with something simple: pennies. So, she just Googled “pennies” and “video” and a bunch of options came up.  In less than a minute, she found a great thinking prompt for a lesson on measurement; you can view it here.

I decided to try out her strategy on a higher-level topic, and I chose statistics.  Again, in less than a minute, I found a famous, but great Thinking Device for my topic.  You’ve probably seen it before, but watch it again as a way to introduce statistics in a high school algebra class.  You can view it here.

So here’s my advice. If you’re looking for video Thinking Prompts, all you have to do is go on You Tube, search for your topic, poke around a bit, and you should be able to find appropriate Thinking Prompts.  And if you find any great ones, we’d love to see you post them on the Big Four Ning.

By the way, a simple way to download video from You Tube, if you haven’t tried it out, is Kick You Tube.

You can also find a checklist for evaluating Thinking Prompts from my most recent book, High-Impact Instruction: A Framework for Great Teaching, here

Critical Thinking

Monday, November 15th, 2010

“Only dialogue … is … capable of generating critical thinking.” Paulo Freire

Of course we want out students to think.  Freire’s comment, though, is a powerful caution because he suggests that our students won’t think unless we, ourselves, approach them with openness and a desire to learn from them. We need to be, as David Bohm and others have said, thinking partners with our students.

We can ask one simple question to keep the focus on student learning, “am I letting my students do the thinking?”  There are many strategies we can employ to foster a thinking environment for our students.

Connect learning to student interests. Not much learning will take place if our kids don’t give a rip about what they are learning. For that reason, one of the most important places to start, if we want students to think, is by making sure what we offer is, whenever possible, of particular interest to students.

Much has been written about linking learning to student goals.  You can read a nice summary of much of this writing, here.

One particular program that guides students to identify goals, strengths, fears, and develop an action plan to make their dreams a reality is Possible Selves, developed by colleague Mike Hock.  You can download an article about Possible Selves here.

Ask good questions. E. E. Cummings beautifully sums up the importance of a good question

Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question

How, then, do we find beautiful questions?  Fortunately, the web is rich with resources to help educators craft questions that prompt thinking.  The following sites provide an overview of many good ideas related to levels of questions:

Bloom’s original taxonomy

The revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy

Art Costa’s Levels of Questions.

Lynn Erickson’s Know Understand and Do

My free manual on crafting and asking effective questions.

Use learning structures that prompt student thinking. One instructional approach that is designed to foster thinking is problem-based learning, pioneered at McMaster University.

Edward DeBono’s work has great potential for promote critical thinking in the classroom, in particular his Six Thinking Hats

Finally, I’ve written about thinking prompts previously on this blog.

These are only a few strategies, so I have a question for you, radical learner.  What do you do that works for you?  How do you prompt student thought? We want to know.

Celebrate the Free Mind

Monday, September 13th, 2010

John Steinbeck writes in East of Eden:

This I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is the one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system.

Would you fight for the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes? A free, exploring mind is a defining characteristic of our humanity. One reason we love being educators is that our work prompts us to think – there is magic in wrestling with a challenge, working through a problem, inventing something that has never existed before, or creating something that is beautiful, meaningful, or true.  We are born to think, and thinking makes us happy.

And thinking makes children happy, too.  Give kids a problem and a chance to reflect, imagine, create, or problem solve and you’ll find that you can’t stop them.  One way to do this – many others will be described in future postings on this blog – is to use thinking prompts in the classroom.  A thinking prompt is any provocative object you present to students that … makes them think!  A thinking prompt might be a video clip, a painting, a poem, a cartoon, even a single word that you use as a catalyst for learning. You can download a free manual about thinking devices at the Big Four Ning.

Another way to encourage thinking is simply to watch students and ask yourself a few questions about what you see. Are they thinking?  Are they engaged in the lesson?  If not, what can I do to help?

These ideas are just the beginning. We can fight for our students’ free minds every day, every class, every moment we teach.  And we should.