Teaching Young Learners to Think

fat thinking and higher order thinking skills

Encouraging Fat Questions Over Thin

Coetzer (IHJournal June 2017) calls them "chubby questions". Questions that get people, and importantly our learners, drilling down deep for answers. If you're aware of HOTS and LOTS, you'll know they refer to "Higher Order Thinking Skills" and "Lower Order Thinking Skills". We want learners to move beyond LOTS, that include activities like memorising, applying and answering short Yes/No answers into the challenges of HOTS: investigation, interpretation, analysis, manipulation, critique and creation.

Fat questions start like:

  • How do I know when....
  • What would happen if....

Thin Questions start like:

  • Is this green or blue?
  • True of false

Another way of looking at it is like comparing binary to analog. We want analog.

Coetzer suggests that as teachers, we need to develop a learning environment; building and supporting our learners to come to expect the fat questions, and are expected to formulate fat questions too. We build this up through modelling  - using "Think Aloud" or "Work Out Loud", where, as the terms suggest, we show our learners how we think through a question or issue out loud.

What Age should We start Teaching YLs to Develop Their Fat Thinking?

We start immediately. Children as young as two years old are capable of complex ideas. The key for the VYLs or very young learners is that the questions are presented in a state of play. In fact, even for adults, complex problem solving is better served when the participants are in a state of play, not under pressure or aware of being assessed. But that's a whole other exciting story.

The Book: Teaching Young Learners to Think

This book offers 80 activities with photocopiable worksheets and easy-to-follow teacher's notes. Herbert Puchta is an author of many innovative teaching materials, and Marion Williams, known for her book "Psychology for Language Teachers", have developed specifically designed tasks that develop children's foreign language competence while promoting the basic thinking skills they will need as they grow older.

Further Reading

Chubbier is Better! - by Elna Coetzer


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