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Singapore’s 21st Century education vision of Thinking Schools, Learning Nation has set the precedence for a change in mindset and teaching paradigm in our local schools and institutions of higher learning. In this issue, we bring to you a selection of articles by various educators, both local and foreign, on their experiences with the teaching of Thinking Skills.

July 2002, Vol. 5 No. 4 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Nurturing Thinking Skills
Dr Jan McNeil
Lecturer, Centre for English Language Communication (CELC), National University of Singapore
Mr Malkeet Singh
Biological Science and Mathematics Teacher,
Canberra Secondary School

Higher order thinking requires the manipulation of ideas and information in ways that derive new implications and meaning or modify existing ones. Through such processes as combining ideas and facts to hypothesise, generalise, synthesise, explain and arrive at interpretations or conclusions, students can be led to discover new meanings and solve problems. This article briefly presents, discusses and gives examples of strategies for developing analogous, sequential and interpersonal thinking, three higher order thinking skills (Senge, et al., 2000) which need to be nurtured because they are essential to individual holistic development.1

Analogous thinking begins to develop at a young age and involves comparisons and analogies among separate events. Sequential thinking emerges later when patterns are discerned between events and is commonly applied in mathematical questions involving numbers and patterns in series. Interpersonal thinking, the highest order of these three skills, involves individual personal and social development.

To enhance the development of thinking skills, educators need to provide students with a plethora of application opportunities during lessons and assignments. Doing so not only broadens horizons but also simultaneously helps to develop multiple perspectives. Moreover, the crux of this learning involves a transformation of the way in which learning occurs. In higher education, students should be provided with opportunities to make connections between different events and situations in order to nurture emotional as well as cognitive capabilities.

Efforts should also be made to build the confidence needed for effective interactions with people who have an even wider variety of attitudes, backgrounds and opinions. In a nutshell, students need support, motivation and tangible as well as intangible rewards for continually increasing their abilities to cope with and, indeed, conquer complex situations and problems as needed. So, how is this done? More specifically, what strategies can nurture these thinking skills?

First, the Internet can be used to help students examine and learn from authentic, real-life situations in their content areas. Moreover, opportunities, challenges and motivation to choose their own research topics can also enhance learning. For example, health-related web sites, which include patient histories and nutrition as well as exercise sources, can be explored. Students can then role-play as doctors or health and fitness experts, explaining a patient’s condition and prescribing wellness programmes. Similarly, in another content area, students can explore a web site for a geographical location of their choice and role-play as community leaders, identifying problems and proposing beneficial solutions and policies. These types of learning experiences will, therefore, connect students to actual world events. Consequently, they can actively participate, gain increased transferable knowledge and become better prepared for their lives outside of the classroom. Furthermore, they can become more motivated and see themselves as valuable contributors as well as problem solvers. This can help to increase awareness that many options are available and that they can make a wide variety of choices that affect themselves and their families.

Secondly, the cultivation of good questioning techniques can help students to become critical thinkers who successfully relate to and continually test systems around them. They need to be able to look for themes and connections in what may initially appear to be isolated events and situations, thus sharpening analogous thinking abilities. This can be included in assessments and assignments, which are specially designed to give students an opportunity to apply specific skills. Students can be helped to develop these techniques by using scaffolds such as who, what, when, where and why questions as well as templates modelling different organisational patterns, which are used in academic writing.

Thirdly, students can be asked to do group work and present their findings in a stock and flow diagrammatic flow chart (Senge, et al., 2000) or mind map and a brief oral and/or written presentation or report. By organising research and thoughts into a visual pattern, they will learn to show interrelationships that emerge and increase abilities to keep track of causes and effects. Such presentations can also positively develop writing skills as well as their abilities to map and effectively communicate concepts, encouraging coherent thinking while solving complex problems. In addition, group presentations can help participants to share a vision, develop a joint sense of purpose and raise cognitive capabilities to higher levels. This simultaneously fosters the development of emotional as well as cognitive and linguistic sensitivities, which is especially needed when communicating with people from different backgrounds and opinions.

Finally, to promote effective thinking skills, a learning experience should conclude with a teacher asking mediating questions, which assist students to reflect upon what has actually taken place and other choices that could have been made.

Questions raised in this process could include:

  1. What were your main objectives or goals?
  2. What actually happened? Are you surprised by this outcome? Why? How did your assumptions and deductions differ from the actual outcomes? What do you think caused this discrepancy?
  3. Could your results have been different? How could you do this differently to achieve outcomes similar to the actual ones? What do you think you will try to do next in your subsequent assignments and projects?

These questions have important implications because they allow students to see for themselves the process of learning which has just occurred. These active participants are also empowered to take control of their own learning and to begin developing a vision for projects or tasks as well as an appreciation of the consequences of different actions, which can be taken. Priorities can subsequently be modified to achieve reasonable standards and to communicate findings, thus effectively using higher order thinking in the processes of integrating analogous, sequential and interpersonal thinking skills.


Newmann, F. and Wehlage, G.G. (1993). ‘Five Standards of Authentic Instruction’. Educational Leadership, 50(7), pp. 8–12.

Senge, P., Cambron-McCabe, N., Lucas, T., Smith, B., Dutton, J. and Kleiner, A. (2000). ‘Practices’. In T. Lucas (Ed.). Schools that Learn: A Fifth Discipline Field Book for Educators, Parents and Everyone Who Cares About Education (1st ed.). London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, pp. 153–166.


1 Educators, however, need to be aware that when using higher order thinking skills, instructional outcomes are sometimes unpredictable because elements of uncertainty are introduced. In contrast, when students merely receive or recite factual information or employ rules through repetitive routines, lower order thinking occurs (Newmann and Wehlage, 1993).

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Inside this issue
Thinking Skills in Education: Ideal and Real Academic Cultures
Fostering Thinking in Large-group Teaching and Small-group Tutorials
Nurturing Thinking Skills
An Exercise in Thinking, Writing, and Rewriting