The Learning Blend
This post is the third in a series on discussion prompts. It should stand alone, but you can also click here to start from the beginning.
In my last post, I looked at the value of making your discussion prompts open-ended. However, that alone is not sufficient to make a good discussion. We’ve all had that student who can connect anything to irrelevant personal experiences. The student, if allowed to continue down this road, is making connections, but is probably not engaging in much higher-order thinking.
The Verb is the Word
So, how do we encourage higher-order thinking through discussion prompts? The key is remembering that higher-order thinking exists in service to doing things, and doing things is signified by verbs, and (you may have forgotten since your undergraduate days) we have a list of verbs related to higher-order thinking.
If you’re telling your students to design, criticize, evaluate, compare, etc., they’re probably engaging in higher-order thinking. If you’re telling them to list, name, choose, it’s a little less likely (though not right out). To write prompts that challenge higher order thinking, it can be helpful to look at these keywords and affix your content as the object of these verbs, i.e. change legislation, explain energy use, evaluate a floor plan (angles), or predict plot.
Here are some example prompts that challenge higher-order thinking.
If you were a senator, how would you change the laws of the United States? How would you justify those changes? Read your peers’ posts, and reply to a post by evaluating that student’s proposed changes.
Explain a way your family could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Then, read some other posts and choose some ideas that would also work for your family. Use these ideas when you plan your greenhouse gas reduction strategy in the next lesson.
Using these keywords is easy and fun when you combine them with role playing, which we know to be a great way to show the value of class content and have fun. Now, I’m not talking about pretending to cast spells around a kitchen table, but, rather, playing the roles of contributing, creative members of society (not that the two things are mutually exclusive).
Source: The Story of King Arthur and His Knights. (Public Domain)
So, to write fun prompts challenging higher-order thinking skills, just do the following:
(Assign each student an appropriate angle in advance of this activity. Some should be practical and others impractical)
Imagine you are an architect designing a floor plan for an eccentric client. The client has asked you to build a house in which all of the walls meet at angles equal to your assigned angle. Evaluate the practicality of this plan and explain your conclusion to your client. Once you are finished making your post, imagine that you are a classmate’s client and respond to his or her post by defending your request (if appropriate) or agreeing with your partner’s post.
"What do you mean impractical!?"
Source: The Cool Hunter
(This prompt is part of a Beowulf unit, but could probably work for any heroic epic.)
Imagine that you are a VSPN (Viking Sports Network) blogger covering the fight between Beowulf and Grendel. Before you read about their battle, predict who will win based on the text’s description of the combatants’ capabilities. Support your stance using three examples from the text with citations. Then, read your peers’ posts. Respond to a peer by imagining that you are a fan who disagrees with his or her prediction. Support your stance with three examples from the text with citations.
"I didn't know they had Wingdings in Medieval England..."
Source: Beowulf Manuscript (Public Domain)