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.




Great Animations – Film as Lit

These are writing and discussion activities based off short animated films:

Geri’s Game – Pixar Short, 1997

  • Great for teaching dialogue or POV.
  • Write a description of Geri. How can you change the description to make it seem like there are two different players?
  • Write a dialogue between the “two” players.
  • Experiment with 3rd and 1st person narrative.  One of the players could be described by 3rd person narrative whilst the 2nd player uses 1st person narrative.
  • What makes this an interesting short film to watch? Why do you think there are no words?


Book of Butterflies – Michael Leunig

  • Great for teaching description and imagery. 
  • Watch once as a class. Have students make a T-chart with one side labeled “before the book comes to life” and the other labeled “after the book comes to life.”
  • Watch a second time. Give students time to list descriptive words and phrases that could go in each side of the chart.
  • Have students write their own descriptions of books come to life… a book of lions/fish/other animals, a cookbook, a favorite childhood book (Dr. Suess, etc.). Focus on using strong adjectives and vivid descriptions. What does it look like? What happens? What is the “reader’s” reaction? Do the escaped “items” ever get back into the book?


The Happy Duckling

  • Great for teaching twist endings or fables.
  • Pause throughout the video to let students make predictions about the story. Why is the boy trying to get rid of the duck?
  • Have kids write stories about other ducks the boy may have saved and how he saved them…
  • Write a story from the duck’s point of view.


A Shadow of Blue – Carlos Lascano

  • Great for teaching drawing inferences, creating mood in stories, and using vivid imagery.
  • Note: This beautiful animation mixes together models and real life to create a stunning visual effect! This might work best as something taught over 2-3 lessons.
  • 2:48 – Who is the girl? Why is she all alone in the park? What do you think she is like? Why does she seem so thoughtful/sad? What do you think she is thinking?
  • 3:06 – What has just happened? What do you think will happen next?
  • 5:21-5:40 – What is the music like? How does it make you feel? Have students write descriptions of the scene here with rich imagery. Can students capture the tension of the music in their writing? (Discuss how using a pattern of several long, descriptive sentences followed by short, snappy ones could help build tension like the music.)
  • 7:42-8:46 – What are the range of emotions she is feeling?
  • 8:45 – Who is this lady watching? What can we tell from her dress? Her expression? What is she doing?
  • 9:30 – Why is she carrying the girl like that? Do we have any more ideas about who this lady is?
  • 9:34 – NOW what have we just learned? How does this change your perspective of everything that’s just happened? Why does her shadow have to have the adventure?
  • What does the butterfly do at the end? (Maybe spreading the girl’s passion for life around the hospital/orphanage?)
  • Activity: write a journal entry from the girl’s point of view about the day she had in this film.
  • Activity: write the story about what happened to the girl before what we see in the film (why she is in a wheelchair).


Don’t Go

  • Great for teaching antonyms and action verbs.
  • Compare the cat and the pink visitor using antonyms.
  • Write sentences using strong action verbs to describe several things that happen in the film.
  • Create a world for the pink visitor. Where is he from? What is it like?
  • Devise a set of instructions to avoid being caught by the cat.


The Rocketeer

  • Great for teaching newspaper journalism and character sketching/development.
  • Write a newspaper report for the events in this film.
  • Design an enemy for The Rocketeer to defeat, write a wanted poster for the bad guy.
  • Write your own adventure of the Rocketeer.
  • Write The Rocketeer’s back story, how did he become a hero?  Why does he risk his own life?  Why does he fight crime rather than get rich with his powers?  Use drama techniques to draw these ideas from the children.



Day and Night

  • Compare/contrast essay



The Meaning of Life

  • Exestentialism


  • Discrimination

The Maker

  • Life is short – it is what you make of it.


  • Spooky!

French Roast

  • Wealth/giving/appearances


  • Time

The Blue and the Beyond

  • Conformity

Wire Cutters

  • Greed, broken relationship