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Higher-order Thinking in the Classroom (and Why It Matters)

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Photo of Alison Smith
Updated | 4 min read

What’s all the fuss about teaching and learning higher-order thinking skills?

Higher-order thinking is a hot topic of discussion. Without a doubt, there’s a real need to address ways to build higher-order thinking into your already crammed teaching program.

Imagine students leaving school without any numeracy or literacy skills. Imagine the outcry. Now, suppose for a moment students leaving school without the life skills that they need to succeed in the 21st century. The sad reality is, is that many students do leave school without the ability to think for themselves and without the experience of thinking critically and creatively.

In order for our students to be equipt and prepared to live in the 21st Century, there is a very real need to teach our students to:

  • think about the problems that we face in life
  • explore possibilities
  • come up with creative solutions to problems
  • consider and appreciate other points of view
  • critically evaluate what we read and hear
  • make reasonable judgements.

Higher-order Thinking in the Early Years

It is essential to introduce and develop higher-order thinking skill in the early years. Wondering how to do it? I’m going to share ways that you can take your teaching to the next level and give your students the greatest gift. The gift of higher-order thinking.

The cognitive process of higher-order thinking begins with questions. As Socrates, the great Greek philosopher once said, “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.”

Take a look at this inspiring video of higher-order thinking in action…

The Brains Behind Higher-order Thinking

Is higher-order thinking a buzz term in your staffroom? If it is, it’s time to get clued up with a little bit of history and background knowledge!

The classical Greek philosopher, Socrates (470 – 399 BC), is often thought of as the founder of critical thinking skills. In a nutshell, Socrates introduced the idea of teaching by not providing answers but instead, teaching by asking questions: questions that explore, investigate, probe, stimulate and engage.

From here, Bloom’s taxonomy was created by Benjamin Bloom in 1956. In one sentence, Bloom’s taxonomy is a set of six cognitive skills (in a specific order) that teachers, students and anyone can use to promote higher-order thinking. The Bloom’s framework was revised in 2001 by Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl. The six levels of the revised Bloom’s taxonomy are:

  • remembering -recalling known facts
  • understanding – explaining ideas or concepts
  • applying – use information in new situations
  • analysing – drawing connections among ideas
  • evaluating – justifying a point of view or decision
  • creating  – producing something new or original.

Higher Order Thinking for Middle Years


As with all areas of the curriculum, there is a learning continuum for critical and creative thinking. Typically by the end of Year 4, students will be able to:

  • pose questions to expand their knowledge about the world
  • identify main ideas and select and clarify information from a range of sources
  • collect, compare and categorise facts and opinions found in a widening range of sources.

Have you seen our brilliant Length Maths Investigation – Which Plane Flies Best? In this mathematics investigation, the students imagine that they are entering a paper plane competition. They have designed three different paper planes and can’t decide which one to enter in the competition.

For more creative and inspiring ideas read our blog Investigations – Making Mathematics Fun!

Higher-order Thinking for Upper Years


This Financial Mathematics Maths Investigation – Let’s Play Mini Golf offers so many higher order thinking opportunities for upper years. It builds on the inquiry skills that students developed in Years 3 and 4. Typically by the end of Year 6 students will be able to:

  • pose questions to clarify and interpret information and probe for causes and consequences
  • identify and clarify relevant information and prioritise ideas
  • analyse, condense and combine relevant information from multiple sources.

In this investigation, students must use their knowledge and understanding of a range of mathematical concepts to design a mini golf hole for their backyard. They are required to submit a detailed diagram and financial plan for their mini golf hole. This must have teaching resource includes worksheets and everything else that you need to tee off.

For more information on how you can use this resource to promote and develop higher level thinking read Holly’s blog Maths Investigation – Let’s Play Mini Golf Financial Mathematics.

Higher-order Thinking and Entrepreneurs

Do you have students in your class who do not necessarily excel in numeracy and literacy but show huge potential in thinking outside of the box? If you do then, you’re likely to find that they will shine during higher-order thinking based tasks. Your job is to give them an opportunity to shine.

Entrepreneur, Richard Branson is dyslexic and he dropped out of school at the age of 16. According to The Telegraph, Richard Branson’s headmaster told him he would either end up in prison or become a millionaire. He went on to achieve phenomenal success by thinking critically and by coming up with innovative and creative solutions to problems.

Where Next?

Wisdom begins in wonder. — Socrates

Watch this space for up and coming higher-order thinking teaching resources! Also, keep an eye out for my soon to be published blog that will reveal how to incorporate higher-order thinking skills into teaching and learning across all key learning areas.

Share your higher-order thinking wins on Instagram #teachstarter


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