Thinking Skills

The rationale of thinking skills is to make explicit the components of thinking, allowing children to control and extend these skills to go beyond the specific present information to generalize to other situations, academic and real life.

Because humans use many different symbolic systems to capture and communicate experience, we all have different styles (verbal, pictures, images, actions or “doing” etc) of acquiring and manipulating information in the mind. Knowing this allows the learner to gain a self-control and mastery over learning. The proactive learner is one who can use his or her knowledge of their own learning style to select the learning experience in the way that suits their particular combination of strengths and weaknesses.

In contrast to this meta-cognitive state, the normal state of early learning is a bombardment of the senses by stimuli of which little sense can be made. It is not gathered systematically or labelled efficiently and it becomes difficult to consider more than one thing at a time. But usually mother is there to help categorise the world and pick out patterns of meaning so that young children are not victims of overwhelming information.

Schools can’t always continue this development of the higher order reasoning skills of hypothesizing, inferring, deduction, induction and insight, despite the National Curriculum directives of promoting observing, describing, investigating, comparing, classifying, discriminating, analyzing, evaluating and seeing things from multiple perspectives. The lower level memorizing, translating and calculating skills of the 3 R’s are too necessary for examination results.

As well, these Key stage 1 and 2 skills are usually taught as part of a subject, consequently some children can’t consciously reconstruct the routes to a solution and thereby transfer the thinking skill from one situation to another. The value of a stand alone thinking skill programme is that the separate concepts of comparison, systematic search, hypothesizing, modeling, making analogies, generalization and so on are taught explicitly so that the child has a problem solving repertoire available for new learning and the development of creativity.

Schools that have introduced thinking skills programmers have generally found their pass rates in National Examinations to be improved as well as a higher level of grades achieved.

For children with uneven learning, such as sequencing, spatial or verbal weaknesses, these thinking skills help to bridge the gaps in their cognition.

There are some dozens of thinking skills programmes, most based on the original Instrumental Enrichment Programme developed by Professor Raven Feuerstein out of his experience in integrating oriental Jewish children into the European type education system of the new Israel after the Second World War. This was a spectacular success and many countries still use it. There is an Instrumental Enrichment center in London, but this programme is complex and needs specialist teaching. A U.K. developed programme based on the I.E. programme is “The Somerset Thinking Skills Programe, published by Blagg and Ballinger, in Taunton, Somerset. For under 7 years olds the “Top Ten Thinking Tactics”, published by Questions, is similar. Other Popularized ones are Edward de Bono’s various lateral thinking strategies and the CORT programme.

Children with specific learning difficulties are likely to benefit tremendously from thinking skills. Dyslexics are often visual thinkers, not the sequential, logical thinkers that plan written expression and examination techniques competently. Dyspraxics, usually are lacking the visuo/spatial and common sense skills that make them popular on the sports field, the playground, or in the music, art or Information Technology room. Both can benefit from the spread of skills in The SSTS or Questions programme, taking what they need and continuing practice on others.


For teachers

“Teaching Thinking Skills across the primary Curriculum; a practical approach for all activities” edited by Belle Wallace, A NACE/Fulton publication (2001) (for the whole class, although an individual programme could be adapted from it)


For parents

” Teaching your child Thinking skills” by Edward de Bono (penguin)


The Somerset Thinking Skills Course

a set of 7 volumes; Foundations for problem-solving, Analyzing And Synthesizing, Comparative Thinking, Positions in Space and Time, Understanding Analogies, Patterns In Space and Time, Organising and Memorising (and also a later vocational module) (01823 336204)


“Top Ten Thinking Tactics”

Questions publishing, (0121 212 0959). This also comes with a teaching plan of points to draw out. For these younger children (4-7 yrs) the primary thinking skills project is also excellent. These are a set of storybooks (“Brill the Brave” and “Riddle of the Whirlwind”) that are designed to stimulate, excite, puzzle and provoke the thinking skills of young children. Each set comes with embedded questions for the teacher – such as; Is a house the same thing as a home? Can a thing exist if no one has seen it? And so on. Can be used at both group and individual level.