We expect our students to use higher level thinking skills, but too often we don’t explain to them what that means. Words such as “analyze” and “interpret” can sound a bit daunting. However, if we take time to show students how easy these tasks really are, they will find it much easier to use them throughout the school year.
1. Analyze: separate a whole into its component parts
Analyzing material asks students to break down information into pieces in order to better understand the overall meaning. To show them the importance of understanding the parts to explain the whole, take apart a spring loaded pen and ask them the purpose of each of the components in making the pen write properly. Then, have them summarize each stanza of poem and use them to analyze the meaning of the poem as whole or ask a series of questions to analyze an informational text.
2. Interpret: to explain or tell the meaning of
Bringing out the true meaning of a resource entails a deeper explanation than the definition indicates. If a student is asked to interpret a map of the Atlantic Slave Trade, he or she may simply explain that it is a map showing the Atlantic Ocean and four continents. But a true interpretation of that map would connect each continent’s role in the trade.
3. Describe: discourse intended to give a mental image of something experienced
Description is not typically considered a higher level thinking skill, but the ability to use detail properly is lacking in many students. Giving a proper mental image, as the definition suggests, requires descriptors related to emotions, sights, sounds, and smells, as well as the prudent use of adjectives. Have your students describe the school cafeteria’s ambiance and food quality and watch the description flow. Ask them to describe the Invasion of Normandy scene from Saving Private Ryan. Then have them describe a print document. The skill of description can be honed, but they have to see the simplicity in it first.
4. Infer: to derive as a conclusion from facts or premises
Students often miss context clues in a reading and get bogged down in minutiae unimportant to comprehending the document. I sometimes use children’s books (my favorite is “It looked Like Spilt Milk” by Charles G. Shaw) as a way to show how you can build an educated guess about what you are reading without having all of the information that you think you need to fully understand it. Hand out a written prelude to an important historical event and ask what do you think happens next and why so they not only make an inference but explain what facts led them to that conclusion.
5. Evaluate: to determine the significance, worth, or condition of
In their real lives, students deal very much in a black and white world, but academically they love to hedge their bets. If asked to evaluate something, students will inevitably ask, “Can I say it was good AND bad?” Taking a position is a difficult proposition for them, mostly because they fear being wrong or not having enough to say about a topic. But once they understand the simple tenets of critical thinking explained above, opinions should be firm and explanations should be lengthy. Always begin with a simple evaluation that has greater weight in their private lives. For example, you could evaluate the social importance of Facebook in the lives of teens.
The best part about spending valuable class time teaching higher order thinking skills is that they will always be a part of your lessons throughout the year. You teach the skills in September, and you reinforce them every day until June. They will be better students for it, and you may even enjoy reading their work!
For more information about essential skills, check out our social studies lessons which cover the historical thinking skills of contextualization, corroboration, multiple perspectives, and source reliability.
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