Let’s Get Pupils Thinking Hard pt.2

Following on from the previous blog, this post is all about getting pupils thinking hard. Whereas pt.1 focused on some basic principles, pt.2 aims to provide some practical suggestions for the classroom. The focus of these activities is to ensure engagement and active learning from pupils. We all know pupils who can be present in our lessons without actually being tuned in to the learning opportunities being offered. So, how do we make sure that they do not have the opportunity to opt out?

New A Level specifications contain more content than their predecessors. In addition, the skills tested are more complex and require greater synoptic thinking. Pupils who just ‘go through the motions’ of learning will not be successful in the reformed examinations.

Traditional approaches to new material involve making notes, highlighting important information and answering comprehension questions. Whilst these may develop understanding and produce revision notes, they are ‘low thinking’ options. The essence of the ‘Thinking Hard’ approach is high challenge and low preparation.

The aim is for pupils to achieve mastery of knowledge through development of:

  • knowledge and understanding,
  • analysis and application,
  • flexibility of thinking.

To develop these skills, we have listed 12 ‘Thinking Devices’ that can be used. These are simple words of phrases which can be used to generate ‘Hard Thinking’ tasks. The list is below along with the handouts from the inset session and a link to the PowerPoint. These resources contain examples of how the devices might be applied in different subject areas.

12 Thinking Devices

There are 12 devices which underpin the ‘Thinking Hard’ process:

Knowledge and Understanding





Analysis and Application




8.Trends and patterns


Flexibility of thinking

10.Make connections



For example, I recently introduced some new content to my A Level class on the topic of language and gender. Instead of taking notes from the hand out or ‘going over it’ as a class, I asked them to transform it into an annotated screenplay to illustrate the concepts.  Is it possible to complete this task without knowledge and understanding? Can the same be said of conventional note taking?

It seems important to mention that this is a linear process. So pupils can only analyse and apply something which they understand. Similarly, they should analyse ideas in isolation before comparing them to each other and making connections. This is shown below. thinking-hard-1thinking-hard-2

The PowerPoint (here: twilight-vi-form-thinking-hard) from our recent inset contains lots of examples for applying these ideas in different contexts. It would be great if you could share more examples from your own classrooms in the comments section of this post.






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