Higher-Order Thinking

Learners employ higher-order thinking skills, such as applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating, to complete learning activities.


Graphic Icon showing two students having a conversation, one has a question mark bubble and the other has an exclamation bubble

Respond to open-ended questions that require analysis, evaluation, and synthesis of ideas and concepts

Evidence of Learner Behaviors

  • Use academic sentence frames to respond to questions at high levels of learning taxonomies

  • During discussion, combine ideas being discussed into larger understandings

Questions to Ask Learners

  • How do you share your thinking during class discussions?

Graphical icon of a head with images inside the brain

Use background knowledge and ask extending questions about ideas and concepts

Evidence of Learner Behaviors

  • Connect learning from a prior learning target to the current learning experience

  • Ask questions about how concepts and ideas relate to the real world or their community

Questions to Ask Learners

  • In today's learning experience, is there another learning target or prior lesson that you can connect this to? In what way?

  • Do you often have questions about a lesson that go beyond the lesson? Can you give me an example?

Graphical icon of a lightbulb with connections coming out of it

Make meaningful connections within and between concepts, ideas, and processes

Evidence of Learner Behaviors

  • Identify ways that texts or concepts overlap and build them into a presentation

Questions to Ask Learners

  • In today's learning experience, what kind of connections can you make between what you're learning and other ideas or things in your life?

Graphical icon of a young child with a baseball cap and binoculars

Change perspectives to increase understanding

Evidence of Learner Behaviors

  • Actively listen to peers or class discussion to consider other ideas

  • Use academic sentence frames to honor and respond to a peer's perspective

Questions to Ask Learners

  • If another learner or the class have different ideas on the topic, how do you consider what they think?

  • How do you respond to their ideas?

Graphical icon of a tool box with a wrench and hammer

Apply learning to new contexts, situations, and real-world problems

Evidence of Learner Behaviors

  • Create a presentation or other demonstrations of learning that shows the new learning and how it connects to a real problem in the community or society

Questions to Ask Learners

  • What kinds of real world problems do you often connect to your learning?

  • Can you give me an example?

  • How do you show this learning and connection?

  • Why does that matter?


Learners who engage in higher-order thinking experience greater cognitive and metacognitive development. A learner’s ability to apply higher-order thinking indicates a high level of complexity and abstraction in their learning, adequately utilizing their background knowledge to solve problems.


Designing learning with higher-order thinking requires learning facilitators to ensure learners are doing the cognitive lifting through open-ended and extending questions and complex tasks that require learners to connect interdisciplinary information.

Educator Actions

Learning facilitators support learners in developing cognitive skills.

CSTPs: 1.5, 2.4, 3.3, 3.4

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In the K-3 content levels, the Ready math strategy of Try-Discuss-Connect requires learners to engage higher-order thinking by trying, discussing, and then connecting ideas and methods in their mathematical thinking.

At the 4-12 content levels, Socratic Seminars allow learners to ask meaningful questions that stimulate thoughtful interchanges of ideas and respond to one another with respect by carefully listening.

Both of these academic discussion structures foster an extension and deepening of learning!


  • Utilize instructional strategies to reduce load on short-term working memory, such as frequent repetition of new material, explicit instruction, deliberate practice, and external memory aids (P)

  • Use problems that have multiple solutions or solution paths (P)

  • Provide learners with opportunities to apply their learning to new contexts and
    problems (P)

  • Provide multiple sources of information that vary in type (e.g., visual, written, audio (P)

  • Engage learners in creating final products that reflect deep mastery (P)

  • Include tasks that require learners to evaluate and synthesize a blend of factual and conceptual knowledge in order to draw and defend conclusions (P)

  • Ensure the majority of instructional prompts are open-ended questions at higher levels of depth of knowledge (P/F)

  • Understand learner thinking and asking extending questions that probe and guide learners to appropriate depth of thinking (F)

P = planned F = facilitated spontaneously