Strategies for Higher-Order Thinking Skills

Strategies for Higher Order Thinking SkillsEducational trends seem to change almost yearly. One year ‘this method’ is the best thing ever invented. The next year ‘this method’ has lost its appeal, and a new idea is a must-try. However, the one trend that has remained constant year after year is higher-order thinking skills (HOTS). HOTS encourages learners to go far beyond the memorization of facts. Students analyze, evaluate, and create. So, where do you begin? First, help students understand what HOTS is.

You can download the organizer here

What are Higher-Order Thinking Skills?

Bloom’s Taxonomy is as popular today as it was when Benjamin Bloom created the method in 1965. Teach students the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Also, go over what each level means.

Bloom's Taxonomy


Activities for Higher-Order Thinking Skills

Making Connections

This is the first of three lessons on teaching ‘Making Connections with Text.’ Teaching students to make connections between previous knowledge, experiences, and emotions and the text will greatly improve their understanding.Have students make connections with their current knowledge and new concepts. Check out this post.  It is the first of three lessons on teaching ‘Making Connections with Text.’   Best of all, free printables are included.

Use Photos

Have students make inferences using photos. When beginning, real-life examples are easier to understand. National Geographic’s “Photo of the Day” is a great place to get interesting photos. This link goes to the National Geographic Chrome Extension. After the app is downloaded, two weeks of photos become your wallpaper. These change daily to the most current selections.

Use Graphic Organizers

Who doesn’t love interactive notebooks? Organizers help in many ways. Firstly, they encourage students to categorize concepts. Additionally, organizers classify ideas. Use organizers as a springboard for brainstorming. What’s more, they help students find relationships between topics. Also, organizers structure information before writing.

Printable or digital options can be utilized. Now digital versions are available for hundreds of resources.

Concept Maps

Concept Mapping is a great way to help students make connections with information.

Use concept maps. With this method, students draw diagrams that show relationships. For example, students can visualize cause-and-effect connections. Even more, main idea and details are well-defined. Another result is sequencing becomes clear.

Expand Answers 

Students often take shortcuts with answering questions. Encourage students to elaborate. This can be done by having students organize information before writing. Lists will guide students into more detailed responses.

Next, ask students to go a step further. Students can relate their answers to personal experiences. Another higher-level question is to explain the future applications. 


Make your classroom a question-friendly environment. Do your students need help asking better questions? This blog post provides instructions for several questioning games. You’ll learn how to ask Siri. Ten Questions and Question Swap are explained.

Use the Here, Hidden, Head, Heart Method of Questioning

“Here Hidden Heart Head” Anchor Chart

When questioning students, go from basic to complicated. David Hornsby created this method to help students understand levels of comprehension. This alliteration makes remembering the levels fun and easy.

Problem Solving 

When possible, have students use step-by-step problem-solving strategies. This encourages higher-level thinking. Also, have students develop different methods for solving the same problem.


Assign projects that include creative higher-level tasks. This includes inventing, imagining, and designing.

Home Discussions 

Provide questions for students to talk over with their parents.

  • Should the school have a dress code?
  • What do you think of this world event?
  • What should our town do about this local issue?
  • How can we make a difference in our community with …?

Learning Styles 

Give students a learning styles questionnaire. Here is one to try.

Student Partners 

Pair a student who prefers “tell me” with a student who prefers “show me.” This pairing connects visual with verbal learners. As the two work together, each student will model examples that will strengthen his/her partner’s weaknesses.

Cooperative Learning Groups 

Group students into learning groups by mixed abilities. 

Reward Creative Thinking

When students provide “out of the box” answers, PRAISE. PRAISE. PRAISE.

A Teacher’s Reference Guide To Questions

This organizer provides a quick reference for teachers to come up with higher-level questions on the fly. The staggered flip organizer is divided into five areas teachers use in reading class. The organizer includes

  • inference
  • main idea
  • summarizing
  • compare and contrast
  • problem/solution

This free staggered flip organizer can be added to the inside of your plan or grade book for quick easy access to higher level questions.

Higher-Order Thinking Skills Questions

To improve my level of questions, use this simple, yet effective, staggered flip organizer. Each page provides example questions that could be asked during a lesson. Glue the organizer on the inside front cover of your grade book. During class, use the organizer as a reference to quickly ask higher-level questions. After a short while, using a variety of questions became automatic.

You can download the organizer here

Gay Miller

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    • Carol on December 20, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    Hi Gay,
    I am wondering if you still have the Quick Guide to using higher level questions available for download?
    I really like your website and availability of materials. I thank you for many free resources. I am sure you know it adds up to pay for so many things. I am also looking for the download for the SWBST graphic organizer for summarizing.
    Thank you so much,

    Happy Holidays! 2015

    1. I just checked. The link works, but it is difficult to find. Click on the last word of the post “here.”

    • Caroline on June 15, 2017 at 9:45 am

    Hello! I was really excited to find this until the link didn’t work :'( Is there another location I could find it?

      • Caroline on June 15, 2017 at 9:47 am

      Oh! Never mind! I was opening it from Pinterest and it just needed to be opened from a browser.

    1. I’m glad you figured it out.

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