Designing Effective Projects : Teaching Thinking
Explicit Teaching in Thinking

Teaching Specific Skills
Project-based learning offers rich opportunities for providing teaching in specific thinking skills and strategies while emphasizing subject area learning in authentic contexts. By teaching 10-15 minute mini-lessons on skills while learners are working on projects, teachers can organize teaching and learning so learners can immediately apply what they have learned in meaningful contexts. Effective explicit teaching generally consists of six components.

  1. Selection of an appropriate skill or strategy for teaching
  2. Labeling and categorizing of the skill
  3. Modeling of the skill through a think-aloud
  4. Guided practice of the skill with a partner or small group
  5. Explanation of how and when to use the skill or strategy
  6. Ongoing coaching on how to use the skill effectively
Select a Skill to Teach
Complex projects require many different kinds of thinking, and a teacher must be judicious in selecting those to target during explicit teaching. Barry Beyer in his book Practical Strategies for the Teaching of Thinking suggests asking the following questions when choosing skills to target for teaching and learning.
  • Will the learners have reason to use the skill in their everyday lives outside of the classroom?
  • Will the skill have frequent, practical use in learning many subject areas?
  • Will the skill build on skills learners have already learned and/or lead to more complex skills they will need in the future?
  • Can the skill be easily integrated into subject-matter teaching and learning?
  • Are the learners ready to learn the skill with explicit teaching and appropriate effort?
When selecting a skill, a good place to start is with the higher levels of the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy or the comprehension and analysis portions of Marzano’s New Taxonomy. Within the skills, select sub-skills that are as narrow and specific as possible. Instructions to “think more deeply” or “use higher-order thinking” are about as much use to learners as the admonition to “try harder” is to an athletic team. Without directions on what to do exactly, many learners, especially those who struggle, will have difficulty learning new skills.

For example, instead of teaching a lesson on a skill like “analysis,” teach learners how to make inferences about point of view in a first-person account of a historical event. In a later lesson, learners could learn to make inferences about assumptions behind a government press release. By repeating lessons on inferences with different kinds of information and different sub-skills, learners can build an understanding of how to apply a thinking skill in different situations.

Learners in primary grades are capable of learning a great number of skills, some of which are precursors to more advanced thinking in later grades. The following skills are appropriate for young children.
  • Determining differences and similarities/comparing and contrasting
  • Categorizing
  • Deciding if something is good evidence
  • Differentiating between fact and opinion, science and fantasy
  • Understanding different points of view
  • Giving reasons for opinions
  • Goal-setting
  • Checking work
  • Making simple inferences about stories and concepts
  • Differentiating between important and trivial information


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