Thinking Skills

Mathematics is certainly a subject that can develop good thinkers. This development needs to be planned for as it does not always happen by chance. Thinking skills are essential for using and applying mathematics and efficient and creative problem solving, communication and reasoning.

Information Processing Skills

These enable pupils to locate and collect relevant information, to sort, classify, sequence, compare and contrast and to analyse part/whole relationships.

Reasoning Skills

These enable pupils to give reasons for opinions and actions, to draw inferences and make deductions, to use precise language to explain what they think and to make judgements and decisions informed by reason or evidence.

Enquiry Skills

These enable pupils to ask relevant questions, to pose and define problems, to plan what to do and how to research, to predict outcomes and anticipate consequences and to test conclusions and improve ideas.

Creative Thinking Skills

These enable pupils to generate and extend ideas, to suggest hypotheses, to apply imagination and to look for alternative innovative outcomes.

Evaluation Skills

These enable pupils to evaluate information, to judge the value of what they read, hear and do, to develop criteria for judging the value of their own and others’ work or ideas and to have confidence in their judgements.

In the document Leading in Learning the UK Department for Education and Skills suggested ten teaching strategies to address these thinking skills, each strategy being suitable for developing one or more of the thinking skills.

The following links provide resources on the Transum website to support these strategies. [Click the buttons to see the links]

Advance Organisers

Advance organisers are devices used to enable pupils to orient themselves to a topic through what they already know. They are organisational frameworks that teachers present to pupils before teaching a topic to prepare them for what they are about to learn. It could be: a handout outlining what will be covered in the topic; concept map; spider diagram; flow chart; story or anecdote; or study guide. The chosen advance organiser should help pupils access what they already know about a topic and focus them on the new information.



An analogy, in this context, is being used to describe a teaching device that helps pupils understand an unfamiliar concept or process by comparing it with familiar objects or processes.


Audience and Purpose

In life, we spend a lot of time either making things or constructing messages (communicating with people) - both can be regarded as products. These products are usually designed for a particular audience with a particular purpose, although these are not always clearly defined. This strategy enables pupils to give consideration to audience and purpose. The audience could be people of a particular age, from a particular region or with a common interest. The purpose could be to entertain, inform, explain, persuade, serve a practical need or a decorative function.



Classifying is a thinking skill we use naturally to organise information and ideas. It is a vital skill for processing information and for the ability to use and apply information in new ways. A common way of setting up a classification task is by means of a card sort, although it can also be carried out using objects rather than cards. Pupils work together to sort these into groups that have shared characteristics, which establish criteria for a classification group. Having to consider and justify their criteria helps them to develop their skills and understanding.


Collective Memory

In this strategy pupils work in small teams to recreate a map, picture, diagram, photograph, advertisement, poem, sheet of music or other item that has some obvious physical structure. Each team sends one member at a time to look at the image for 10 seconds. They return to their group and start to reproduce the original. After a short period of time, the next representative from the group looks at the map for 10 seconds. After each turn, groups reflect and plan the next visit. After a few turns each, pupils are asked to compare their versions with the original.


Living Graphs and Fortune Lines

Living graphs and fortune lines are strategies that relate to graphical representation. Both strategies require pupils to consider how one variable relates to another, such as the heart rate of a football player over the period of a match or the mood of Hamlet during different episodes of the play. In Living graphs a line graph is presented, together with a set of related statements. Pupils have to position the statements on the graph and give reasons to justify their decisions. In Fortune lines pupils are asked to suggest a scale and then to plot the fortunes or emotions of one or more individuals over a sequence of episodes in time, and then to justify their decisions.



In a mystery pupils are presented with between 15 and 20 items of data on slips of paper about a situation where there is a single open question or problem for them to resolve. The statements can be general or background information, specific details and sometimes 'red herrings' or irrelevant information, but always there is an element of uncertainty or ambiguity. Pupils work in groups to read and sort the statements, link information on different cards and come up with a solution to the mystery question. Later they are asked to explain their answer.


Reading Images

This very basic but powerful technique involves providing pupils with a photograph or other visual image as a source of information and asking them to annotate or label it. They are asked to make links to what they already know, whether from previous work or general knowledge, and should suggest a title or overall heading for the image. There are variations around this basic approach. As with other thinking strategies, it is important for pupils to be able to explain their thinking to others.


Relational Diagrams

Relational diagrams provide a clear and accurate medium through which pupils can communicate their thinking. They illustrate the meaning that pupils give to terms that stand for classes of objects or concepts. Pupils are able to use overlapping, separate or subsumed shapes to show whether all, some or none of the terms of a particular class belong to another class. The visual simplicity of relational diagrams makes the explanation of the relationships easy to understand and more likely to be remembered.



We use summarising naturally, for example, when recounting an event. But effective summarising, selecting salient points and presenting them in a concise and ordered manner, is a skill that needs to be developed. Pupils who tend to give narrative accounts when they summarise need to make the step to sifting out themes and main messages. The basic idea is for pupils to find the main threads in the information and make connections between these threads.



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