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.




Poetry for World Literature

My Mother Pieced Quilts,” by Teresa Palomo Acosta

  • A first-person testimonial of a Chicano woman who connects her mother’s practical art of quilt making with her personal family and cultural histories
  • It’s a “plain literal translation” so it has no rhyme.
  • Historically and culturally, quilts represent a visual narrative that link the universal experiences of women
  • the narrator discovers the significance of the quilts in her understanding of herself
  • quilt became a portrait of family and self, of life and death, of labor and love
  • daughter inherits the stories in the quilts her mother pieced—preserves history and culture; serves as a historical document of the family
  • Acosta personifies the quilts as living things
  • mother’s piecing involves linking the past, present and future


Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes

  • free verse; enjambment;
  • Set in 1920’s Harlem Renaissance (an African-American art and cultural movement in the early 20th century.)
  • the black speaker of the poem reflects on his presence in an all-white English class, and how this experience is representative of a larger American experience.
  • For the first half of the poem, the speaker emphasizes the ways in which his ethnicity separates him, physically and figuratively, from his white classmates and professor.
  • speaker suggests that even though he is of a different race than his classmates and professor, he is not drastically unlike them
  • Hughes uses a different rhythm in the third stanza when the speaker explains the things that he likes (similar to jazz music)
  • his classmates and instructor are all a part of what the speaker might suggest is a larger American identity.
  • Black and white — both descriptors of race and the typing on a page
  • “Will my page be colored that I write?” i.e. will I be able to complete the assignment?

Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon





“Think as I Think” by Stephen Crane

“The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats


“Gift of the Magi” and Context Clues

Purpose: Using context clues for unknown vocabulary words; expanding vocabulary; making inferences. Last day – Discussion of themes and ironies.


Context Clues

For middle school:

For High School:


Discuss the different types of context clues and work through only the first three examples on the activity and quiz worksheet. Discuss all answers.

Next, pair students up to practice with the remaining questions on the worksheet (pairs will either be assigned to complete odds or evens). After 10 minutes, students share their answers. Encourage questioning and/or respectful disagreement from the classmates as each pair shares an answer.


Using Context Clues in “The Gift of the Magi”

Explain to students they will practice using context clues with this short story.

Listen to an audio version of the story in class. Students follow along with their own copies. (Have them first number each paragraph chronologically).

Show the context clues chart on the board, and practice as a class using the first two answers provided. Students return to their pairs and are assigned two different consecutive words on the chart. After 10 minutes, have students complete the rest of the chart independently.

Formative Assessment

Choose only one entry (the same word) on each student’s chart to assess. As you assess, make a running list of common chart errors. The next day, have each student choose one word to share to the class, explaining how they arrived at that definition.


Students list and explain at least three different types of context clues.

Summative Assessment

Students will choose four words from the vocabulary list and construct four original sentences with each sentence using one of the chosen words and each sentence using one of the four context clue types. Students will label the type of context clue he or she used at the end of the sentence with the code previously identified during the Quiz & Activity. Students will write an additional sentence explaining how their sentence is an example of that context clue.


“The Gift of the Magi” Discussion

Story board, plot diagram, activities, and graphic organizers.

Vocab and study guide. More vocabulary practice.

What is The American Dream?


Brainstorm what comes to mind with the word “success.” Write the words and phrases on the board. Then have students complete the anticipation guide.


Next, watch the following video. Students are required to take notes from the video, which they will turn in at the end of class (they must have at least four major points).

Discuss key points.

Read “American Dream Faces Harsh New Reality.”


Come up with several discussion questions for the article. List each question on the board for all students to see. In small groups, students discuss each question with their peers. (You may need to point students to certain parts of the article that will help students to answer the question.) Then, each group is assigned one question to answer in writing. Finally, as an entire class, each group shares their written paragraph. Discuss.

Extension Activity

Make connections about what the class has just discussed about the American Dream to literature.


Take a look at the anticipation guide again. Would the students now make any changes to their original answers?




The Giver – Middle School Unit Plan

Anticipation Guide:

  1. Ignorance is bliss.
  2. Memories can be transferred from one person to another.
  3. It is best to forget painful memories.
  4. Individuals must make sacrifices for the larger good of the community.
  5. Pain must exist in order for creativity and imagination to exist.
  6. Without memories, knowledge is meaningless.
  7. Good memories can only be enjoyed if they are shared with someone else.
  8. It is better to have the option to make a wrong choice than not to have any choices at all.
  9. It is better to have security than freedom.
  10. Absolute peace is only possible when people are not allowed to make wrong decisions.
  11. Less pain equals more happiness.
  12. The family is the foundation of society.
  13. People should be absolutely equal.

Introduction Activities

Memories: As a class, come up with a list of common emotions—anger, fear, joy, excitement, embarrassment etc. Ask students to compile personal memories they associate with each emotion in a journal. Students might choose to include photos or drawings along with their written memories. Have each student choose a memory to “transfer” to the class, paralleling how the Giver transfers memories to Jonas. Discuss as a group whether there are any memories they might choose to forget, if it meant they would also forgo the emotions associated with the event (shame or trauma, for example).

Utopia: Have students create the “perfect” community — Name, system of government, physical descriptions, roles of community members, family life, education, jobs, how people interact with each other, religion(s), how people spend their leisure time, etc.

Themes to Discuss Throughout the Reading

  • Diversity
  • Equality
  • Euthanasia
  • Feelings
  • Family
  • Individual vs. Society
  • Pain
  • Freedom

During the Unit Activities

Envelopes: As students come into the classroom one day during the unit, hand each of them an envelope. Tell them not to open the envelope. Build up the anticipation and suspense during the beginning of class, then explain that you are having a ceremony to announce what each student will be doing with the rest of their lives. They will be given one of the jobs members of the Community are assigned at the Ceremony of Twelve. Just like in the novel, the students have no say as to their future roles in society. Ask each student to complete a job application for the position they received, including the traits and qualities they feel the ideal candidate would possess.

Memoirs: Write a “snapshot” memory using action verbs, sensory detail, and figurative language. Bring the memory to life by writing in the present tense, as if you are in the moment. Possible categories:

  • Name stories (How you got your name, why your name is significant.)
  • Stories about where you grew up
  • Pain stories (someone who hurt you, argument with best friend/family, etc.)  First day of school stories
  • Rites of passage/realizing you are growing up stories
  • Weather stories (tornadoes, hurricanes, thunderstorms, etc.)
  • Holiday stories (traditions, memorable holidays)
  • Physical hurt stories (broken bones, stitches, surgeries, bee stings, etc.)
  • First-time-I… stories
  • Funny family stories
  • Important people stories (events that show the influence someone had on you)

End of the Unit

Have students discuss the last chapter in small groups. What does it mean? Where did he go? This would be a great opportunity for differentiation. Artists in your classroom may want to draw or paint the last scene. Music lovers might want to compile a soundtrack for the novel using various genres of music. Kinesthetic learners may prefer to block and act out an important scene from the novel. There are many ways to celebrate the reading of a great book!

Additional texts:

“Lois Lowry’s Newberry Acceptance Speech, June 1994”

Select one of the memories Lois Lowry shares in her acceptance speech. Summarize how the memory is portrayed in The Giver. Then explain how Lois Lowry uses and alters her memories to create a section of The Giver. Provide details from both texts to support your response.

Interdisciplinary and Extension Activities
Science of color: Research and report on the following subjects: the nature of color and of the spectrum, how the human eye perceives color, what causes color blindness, what causes the body to react to any stimulus. Is it possible to train the human eye so that it does not perceive color?
Utopian communities: A number of utopian communities were established in the U.S., such as the Shakers in the eighteenth century, or Fruitlands, led by Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May Alcott) in the mid-nineteenth century. Choose one of these communities and list the principles that guided it, as well as the assumptions behind those principles. What generalizations might be made about why such a community may not last?
Sociology: Choose a group in the U.S. today that actively seeks to maintain an identity outside of the mainstream culture: the Amish or Mennonites, a Native American tribe, the Hasidic Jewish community, or another group. Have students research and report on the answers to questions such as the following: What benefits does this group expect from defining itself as “other”? What are the disadvantages? How does the mainstream culture put pressure on such a group?
Alternate Ending: Many students are discontent with the ending of “The Giver.” If this is the case in your class, a good last activity before putting aside the novel is having them write an alternative ending that they think would be more satisfactory.