Thinking Outside the Box — Higher Order Thinking in Kindergarten

By Sharon Taylor on February 17, 2012
  • Grades: PreK–K

A young child’s brain is like a sponge. It quickly absorbs everything. For this reason, it is vital that we provide our young students with materials and activities that require them to think for themselves rather than simply absorbing information. To be successful in school, students need to be equipped with strong thinking skills. When a student has developed strong thinking skills, they are capable of utilizing, applying, and evaluating the knowledge they absorb. The introduction to higher order thinking can begin as early as preschool and kindergarten. Take a look at several activities I use to help develop my students' higher order thinking skills. 



Comparing and Contrasting

Teaching lessons on comparing and contrasting is a great way to develop higher order thinking skills.  When teaching students to compare and contrast two objects, ask them to explain why the objects are the same or why they are different.  Students can use Venn diagrams to compare and contrast characters in a book, animals, candy, and so much more.


Compare/Contrast Spiders and LadybugsUse Hula-Hoops to Create a Venn Diagram


Teaching patterns is an important part of the kindergarten curriculum across the United States. As children work on patterns, they begin to see and understand how things work together.  Students can learn to recognize, copy, extend, and create patterns through daily activities.  Teaching patterns can also help increase a student’s problem-solving skills. To incorporate more higher order thinking when teaching patterns, have your students practice recognizing patterns in the environment, extending, and creating their own patterns.

Creating Patterns Using Froot Loops

Creating Patterns Using Unifix Cubes




Students Reenacting "No, David!"Kids love being read to. Teachers can use this time to incorporate several higher order thinking skills. After reading a book, avoid asking your students “yes” or “no” questions. Try to incorporate several open-ended questions about the characters and various events in the story.  These type of questions will require your students to use their own knowledge and/or feelings about the subject.  Read-alouds also help students to develop their ability to predict.  When doing a read-aloud, have students explain the story in their own words. Students also enjoy creating their own endings to the story.  You will be amazed by the stories they come up with!



Field Trips

Field Trips can be a wonderful learning experience for children.  They are a great way to help your students see the connection between the classroom and real life.  Rather than just studying about the farm, my class took a field trip to a farm in our area.  Students were able to investigate and explore firsthand the many aspects of farm life.  Field trips allow students to formulate knowledge based upon their own experiences.

Field Trip to the Farm


Project-Based Learning

Student-Created Bumblebee

Project-based learning inspires students to acquire a deeper knowledge of the subject they are studying.  Students can use this knowledge while working in small groups to solve real-world problems.  The projects selected should allow students with a variety of learning styles to demonstrate their acquired knowledge.  Research indicates that students are more likely to retain the information gained through this approach than they are from the traditional textbook-centered learning. 

Project-based learning strives to activate the student’s prior knowledge by putting the information into practice through projects such as plays, presentations, and more. My students had the opportunity to perform several projects during a study on insects.  One of the activities they enjoyed most was recreating their favorite insects and identifying the parts.  They also had a blast creating their own unique insects!


Our Crazy Critters

Bloom’s Taxonomy

To help develop higher order thinking in your classroom, take a look at Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s Taxonomy was developed in 1956 by Dr. Benjamin Bloom.  The categories of Bloom’s Taxonomy are remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.  The specific verbs used at each level will help you form measurable objectives for your students.  Teachers can use the pyramid of levels in Bloom’s Taxonomy as a visual tool for monitoring learning. 

Bloom’s and Beyond by Kay Davidson and Tressa Decker is a great book to use if you would like to learn more about using Bloom’s Taxonomy in your classroom.  It provides sample questions and activities for each level of Bloom's. 






I would love to hear how you incorporate higher order thinking in you class. Please comment below!




I have just started using Dr. Miriam Small's book called Good Questions. She is math based. The book allows for differentiated instruction. I am truly amazed at what my first graders are coming up with. Thanks for sharing your ideas. I am just thinking about inquiry learning in my classroom. Your blog has given me some great information.

Thanks for a terrific article! This is my first year as a subject matter teacher; I have students from K1 through fourth grade. Planning effective instruction for that range is a huge stretch for me. I found your thoughts on student learning very helpful.

Those insect projects are adorable!!

Great ideas! I like the hula hoop diagram. Thank you for sharing! During my read alouds in PreK I have the students act out the actions, suggest sounds of the characters and predict the endings. It is my favorite part of the day.

When I taught first grade, we often played "Five Things" whenever we had a few spare moments. The game is simple. Just ask the students to come up with five things that fit a specific criteria such as: List five things that have shells. Or List five things that are pointy. If the category is too easy, we just list more things until it becomes challenging. Great for practicing fluent and flexible thinking.

~Rachel Lynette
Minds in Bloom

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