Teaching Higher Order Thinking Skills

Teach Inference

Teach students to make inferences by giving them “Real-world” examples. You can start by giving students a picture of a people standing in line at a soup kitchen. Ask them to look at the picture and focus on the details. Then, ask them to make inferences based on what they see in the picture. (Also: teach inference with commercials) 


Teach How to Cite Textual Evidence

Ask students what evidence is. What are the advantages of strong evidence? Does it always convince people to agree with you? Then ask, “Why is it important to cite textual evidence in your writing and discussions about what you read?” Make sure students understand the meaning of quotations, paraphrases, summaries. You need to use textual evidence when making logical inferences. You’re trying to prove that your idea is correct. Model the process. Explain that doing this will support our ideas and make our argument stronger.

  1. State your idea. Give the specific argument you’re trying to make about the text. (If you’re responding to a question, make sure your idea restates the question.)
  2. Cite what part of the text led you to that idea. You can paraphrase the author’s/character’s words, or you can point to a direct quote. (In the ___ paragraph, the author says…. The text states/describes…. For example…. The author explains….)
  3. Explain the evidence. Explain how the text you referred to supports your idea. (This shows…. This is because…. This means/reveals/illustrates…. This highlights the difference between….)
  4. Be prepared to respond to follow up questions.

Teach the Use of Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers provide students with a nice way to frame their thoughts in an organized manner. By drawing diagrams or mind maps, students are able to better connect concepts and see their relationships. This will help students develop a habit of connecting concepts.

Teach Close Reading and Annotation

Read once for comprehension. Students should be able to identify the key ideas of the text and circle any words they don’t know after the first reading. The second reading is to pay attention to language, narrative, syntax, and context. Language. Ask yourself: why did the author choose these particular words? What emotions do the author’s words make you feel? Are there any words the author repeated or emphasized? Narrative. Is the author an expert in the field (non-fiction)? Who is the narrator (fiction)? Context. Does the author have a bias?

Teach Higher Order Questioning

Give students the tools to be able to consciously ask higher order questions. You can actually teach them about Bloom’s Taxonomy and Costa’s Levels of Inquiry. The following ideas come from this video.

  1. Costa’s Levels of Inquiry. Use the question starters to form a question related to the text.
    • Level 1: recite, list, define, observe, describe, identify, complete
    • Level 2: contrast, analyze, compare, reason, explain (why), infer, synthesize
    • Level 3: if/then, imagine, predict, hypothesize, speculate, apply a principle
  2. Verb starters. Choose a verb from one of the levels of Bloom’s taxonomy to incorporate into a question. You will have had to spent time going over each verb’s meaning and how to use it prior to students independently forming questions.
  3. Frayer model. Use the Frayer model students have already done for an idea or word used in the text. Further examination of those ideas can be used to spark a question
  4. Notice.” As they’re reading, they make observations of the text, recording quotes that stand out to them. Form a question around something that creates a reaction inside you while you read.



Different Discussion Structures:

  1. Students come to class having prepared at least three questions regarding the text. During a group discussion, students pose one of their questions and others respond. After group discussion, students pair up. Students in each pair choose a question to give to their partner. This time, each student responds in writing. Go around the class and have students read the question they were given and their answer.
  2. The teacher poses a few questions to the class. The first few minutes are spent doing a “quick write” individually. Then they discuss in table groups. Finally the entire class has a discussion.




Social Courage and Thresholds: “Revisionist History” Lesson

Activate prior knowledge:

  1. Discuss what causes peer pressure.
  2. Ask: Is it always a bad thing to be easily influenced by other people?
  3. Discuss what the “mob mentality” is.
  4. Ask: What kinds of character qualities must a person have in order to master a skill?

Play the Revisionist History podcast “The Big Man Can’t Shoot” in segments for students. Create a worksheet for them from the given outline so they can take notes on while they listen: Outline.

Discuss, and look at the following articles:





Artificial Intelligence – article analysis

AI’s are always depicted as “going bad” in movies and pop culture (back when the reality of AI’s were still science fiction). Now, we’re actually having to deal with the reality of AI’s. Can we teach them right and wrong/good and bad? Many ethical dilemmas that come with AI technology.

  • U.S. military building autonomous vehicles
  • Newest ethical dilemma: Will humans allow their weapons to pull the trigger on their own without human oversight?
  • 2018 – U.S. Military long range anti-missile (LRASM) which can shoot down enemy missiles autonomously. Makes decisions on flight path and target.

Is it okay for robots to kill humans?

Movies: 2001 Space Odyssey. iRobot. Terminator.

Robots becoming more human-like. Key aspect of being human is morality. Can robots become moral agents?

Teaching Robots Right From Wrong 

In science fiction, the moment at which a robot gains sentience is typically the moment at which we believe that we have ethical obligations toward our creations. An iPhone or a laptop may be inscrutably complex compared with a hammer or a spade, but each object belongs to the same category: tools. And yet, as robots begin to gain the semblance of emotions, as they begin to behave like human beings, and learn and adopt our cultural and social values, perhaps the old stories need revisiting. At the very least, we have a moral obligation to figure out what to teach our machines about the best way in which to live in the world. Once we’ve done that, we may well feel compelled to reconsider how we treat them.

If AI’s are able to learn right from wrong, they’s have to do it through us—mimicking humans. Humans have an innate sense of morality, some level of ability to make those decisions. A machine doesn’t have that, so we have to help the machine.

One method for “robot morality”—teaching them like children “blank slates.” BUT are we blank slates?

Ethics can’t be taught—tacit knowledge (like driving a car). More than facts and experiences, but putting them into practice.

Article assumes that ethics is all about behavior. Knowing right from wrong is different than doing right/wrong.

What are the consequences of humans having to teach/input ethics into a machine?

Morality is based on values (value of objects, property, life, etc.). How are those values determined?

  • Utilitarianism – decisions based on the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Problem – You can never figure out how a particular event/person’s life is going to unfold. If you have to choose between saving a group of people or saving one—how do you know that the one person won’t be the one to come up with a cure for cancer, or start up an orphanage, etc. You can’t calculate what will happen down the road.

When Your Boss Wears Metal Pants

AI’s can be good! The problem is when a society that doesn’t have a firm foundation of what a human being is willing to give up our humanity to a machine that mimics our humanity, giving them human value. It doesn’t actually give them value, it removes our value. (Same thing for animals given as much value as humans.) Question to ask: How is this effecting our humanity?

Myth of Narcissus – he looks into a pool at his reflection, falls in love with himself, and it ultimately leads to his death. This is where we are headed with technology — we’ve made it to reflect ourselves in such a way that it’s now taking the place of human interactions. We’re “falling in love” with an imitation of humanity. Consumed with ourselves through our technology.




Close Reading and Analyzing Text

Close reading means reading for meaning and understanding. Follow these steps to perform your own close reading.

  1. To begin, read your passage slowly. You just want to get the general idea.
  2. Next, read the passage again; but this time you will be marking and writing on the page as you go. Look for the following things:
    • Vocabulary – Circle any vocabulary you are unfamiliar with. Can you guess what the word means by using the context? Look up the definitions if necessary.
    • Language choice – Underline any language that attracts your attention for any reason. Why do you find it interesting? What emotion does it evoke in you? Jot down your reasons.
    • Repetitions or patterns – Look for any words, phrases, or ideas that are repeated. Do you see any patterns? Mark them. If you have any ideas on why the author chose that pattern or repetition, make a note of it.
    • Questions you have – note them down, and remember there is no such thing as a stupid question. Try to list more open questions than closed questions.
  3. Now, go back and read the passage a third time. This time, you are looking for answers to your questions. If you find something that answers your question, write the answer down next to the question you had. Also, if you have any general comment to make, now is the time to write it down as well.
  4. The final step of close reading is reflecting on what you read and learned.
    • Do you still have any questions that are unanswered?
    • What are your overall thoughts and opinions? Do you agree/disagree with the author?
    • What is one idea from the author that stood out to you the most? Why?
    • Can you make any connections to your own life? Does the passage remind you about your own experiences? Other books or films? What are the similarities?
  5. Be prepared to discuss your reflections, insights, and questions with the class!





First Week Activities


Great for older students. In this activity, I create six pieces of chart paper with one statement on each piece of paper. I group students and give each student a marker. Students rotate through the pieces of chart paper responding to the prompt on the paper. Each student has to write something since each student is holding a marker. At the beginning of the year, I make the statements more low-key, but as the year progresses, I increase the complexity of the statements, even using academic questions to review content. Here are some suggestions for topics at the beginning of the year:

  • Favorite moment
  • What I wonder about
  • What I want to be when I grow up and why
  • Things that scare me
  • Things that get me excited
  • What I like about school
  • What I dislike about school
  • Things people do that annoy me
  • Things that people do that I like
  • I feel sad when


Know Your Neighbor

Great for a class of students that already knows each other pretty well. I write down a bunch of questions on index cards. Each student gets a question and secretly writes down his/her answer on the back. Students take turns reading their questions out loud, while the rest of the class tries to guess what their answers are.


Gallery Walk Consensograms

I place various posters around the room with different topics for students to respond to. For some questions, students submit their own answer on post-it notes (Favorite food? Favorite sport? Favorite form of entertainment? Favorite subject?). For other questions, students “vote” by using stickers on one of the answers listed on the poster (How do you feel about 6th grade? Excited/just okay/nervous. How do you do your best work? In a group/with a partner/alone.)


Marshmallow Challenge

Team-building activity. Student groups are given the following materials: 20 pieces of spaghetti, 1 yard of tape, 1 yard of string, 1 marshmallow, and scissors. The challenge is that students must create the tallest freestanding structure out of these materials with the marshmallow on top–in 18 minutes or less. At first, students may think a marshmallow would be light and easy prop upright. But they soon find out that it’s much harder than it seems at first. The best part was the recap at the end of the challenge where we discussed that most everything in life has a “marshmallow aspect” to it, where it kind of throws a wrench in the plans and how we can overcome it in reading/writing.


Letter to the Teacher

Either on the first day of class or at some point during the first week, I will pass out a letter I have written to my new students to introduce myself. Students will begin class by silently reading the letter. I’ll then go over the letter with the class and go into more detail about who I am (using a PowerPoint slideshow with photos to go along with it). Students will then have a chance to write their own letters to me. I tell them that can write to me about whatever they want me to know; but I also have ideas to help the students who prefer more structure.

  • What is something I should know about you?
  • Who are you closest to in your family?
  • Tell me about your pets.
  • What are some questions you have for me?

If you have time, this is a great way to start off with a “mini lesson” over friendly letters. Jump right in to the “academic” stuff and give students an idea of what your teaching style is. Once students are ready to begin, I give them the rest of class time to work on their letters. I usually allow them to finish their letters at home because some students really want to put a lot of thought and effort into their letters to me.



Other Resources for Preparing for the First Week

How to Write a Syllabus