Teaching Higher Order Thinking

Decorative: "HOTS" = "H - Higher," "O - Order," "T - Thinking," "S - Skills"


"How to Increase Higher Order Thinking" (online article) offers 30+ strategies for instructors to use in cultivating higher-order thinking among their students. Though ostensibly aimed at a younger audience, the strategies can be effectively used in post-secondary classes with only minor changes:

Each of the following strategies is elaborated more fully in the article:

  • "Take the mystery away": "Teach students about higher order thinking and higher order thinking strategies."
  • "Teach the concept of concepts": "[M]ake sure students understand the critical features that define a particular concept and distinguish it from other concepts."
  • "Name key concepts": "Students may need help and practice in highlighting key concepts."
  • "Categorize concepts" as "concrete, abstract, verbal, nonverbal, or process."
  • "Tell and show": "Simply working problems again and again with no verbal explanation of the problem will do little ...."
  • "Move from concrete to abstract and back": "If a person is able to state an abstract concept in terms of everyday practical applications, then that person has gotten the concept."
  • "Teach steps for learning concepts."
  • "Go from basic to sophisticated": "If students have not mastered basic concepts, they may attempt to memorize rather than understand."
  • "Expand discussions [beyond class]": "Ideas from reading or issues in local or national news can provide conceptual material."
  • "Connect concepts": "By doing this level of thinking, students learn to see how many connections are possible, to connect to what they already know, and to create a web of concepts that helps them gain more clarity and understanding.'
  • "Teach inference."
  • "Teach Question-Answer Relationships (QARs)": Teach students to "label the type of questions being asked and then to use this information to assist them in formulating the answers."
  • "Clarify the difference between understanding and memorizing."
  • "Elaborate and explain": Have students "relate new information to prior experience, make use of analogies and talk about various future applications of what [they are] learning."
  • "A picture is worth a thousand words": "Students should be encouraged to make a visual representation of what they are learning."
  • "Make mind movies": "When concepts are complex and detailed ... actively encourag[e] [students] to picture the action like a 'movie' in their minds."
  • "Teach concept mapping and graphic organizers."
  • "Methods matter": "[G]ive credit to students for using a step-wise method of accomplishing a task in addition to arriving at the correct answer."
  • "Identify the problem": "[P]recise problem identification is the first step in problem-solving."
  • "Encourage questioning": "When students realize that they can ask about what they want to know without negative reactions from teachers, their creative behavior tends to generalize to other areas."
  • Encourage "[c]ooperative learning": This helps develop "oral language and listening practice and ... increases ... the pragmatic speaking and listening skills of group members."
  • "Use collaborative strategic reading" to "engage students in reading and at the same time improve oral language skills."
  • "Think with analogies, similes, and metaphors": "Model both verbal and nonverbal metaphors."
  • "Reward creative thinking."
  • "Include analytical, practical, and creative thinking": "[U]sing all three increases student understanding."
  • "Teach components of the learning process": "To build metacognition, students need to become consciously aware of the learning process."
  • "Actively teach metacognition" to "facilitate acquisition of skills and knowledge."
  • "Use resources": Books, articles, SoTL studies, and the resources of the Teaching Commons are all available to you. 
  • "Consider individual evaluation."
  • "Make students your partners": "[O]ften the student will bring very practical and effective strategies to the table that the teacher may not have otherwise considered."
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