Edublog: Uncovering Wisdom through Pedagogy

Home » Article Review » Annotated Bibliography: How to Use Thinking Skills to Differentiate Curricula for Gifted and Highly Creative Students

Annotated Bibliography: How to Use Thinking Skills to Differentiate Curricula for Gifted and Highly Creative Students

Johnson, A. (2001). How To Use Thinking Skills To Differentiate Curricula for Gifted and Highly Creative Students.  Gifted Child Today, 24(4), 58-63.

This article describes how practitioners can meet the needs of their highly able students by integrating thinking skills into the classroom. It also touches on how the teaching of thinking skills can be used as a differentiation technique.

There are 3 types of thinking skills that could be integrated into the classroom, namely High-Level Thinking, Complex Thinking and Critical & Creative Thinking. These thinking skills can be seen as cognitive operations which can be mastered in the classroom if they are broken into parts. Therefore, explicit instruction by teachers should accompany such tasks that require thinking skills before engaging students in them.

One way to do this is to conceptualize thinking frames, which is a concrete representation of a particular cognitive process broken down into specific steps and used to support the thought process (Johnson, 2000b; Perkins, 1986). An example of a thinking frame is as shown in Table 1.

The thinking frame is followed by the approach used in teaching thinking skills. There are 3 common approaches to teaching higher order thinking skills in the classroom, namely, the Stand-alone Approach, the Immersion Approach and the Embedded Approach.

Table 1: Thinking Frames

Critical Thinking Skills

Creative Thinking Skills

  1. Infer: The student will go beyond the available information to identify what may reasonably be true.

Thinking Frame

  1. Identify what is known
  2. Identify similar situations
  3. Make a reasonable guess based on A and B
  4. Generate Relationships: The students will find related items or events.
Thinking Frame

  1. Look at the item or event
  2. Generate attributes
  3. Find items or events with similar or related attributes
  4. Describe the relationship
  5. Compare and Contrast: Given two or more items, the student will find their similarities and differences.
Thinking Frame

  1. Look at all items
  2. Find the similarities
  3. Find the differences
  4. Conclude and describe
  5. Web and Brainstorm: The student will create a web to generate ideas relative to a given topic.
Thinking Frame

  1. Look at the original idea
  2. Find 2-5 sub ideas
  3. Brainstorm on each sub-heading
  4. Describe
  5. Create Groups: Student will impose order on a field by identifying and grouping common themes or patterns.
Thinking Frame

  1. Look at the whole
  2. Identify re-occurring items, themes, or patterns
  3. Arrange into groups
  4. Describe the whole in terms of groups
  5. Integrate: The student will connect or combine two or more things to form a new whole.
Thinking Frame

  1. Look at both wholes
  2. Select interesting or important parts
  3. Combine to describe a new whole




















The Stand-alone approach consists of teaching thinking skills separately from subject matter content, where students are instructed how to transfer the skills to various subjects and situations. The Immersion Approach allows good thinking to develop naturally as a result of students being fully engaged or immersed in content-related activities, such as being provided with repeated practice in complex cognitive activities with the assumption that they will eventually develop the necessary cognitive skills.

However, both are not effective teaching and learning techniques as thinking skills learnt in isolation do not transfer well in real-life or academic settings, and undirected learning in this instance may not necessarily develop the appropriate thinking skills.

The most effective approach would be the Embedded Approach, where thinking skills are taught within a subject matter context and students are allowed to use the skills in a meaningful context and develop the subject matter more deeply.

To illustrate, in a Social Studies lesson using Embedded Approach, a fifth grade teacher in a cluster classroom used newspapers and current events to create open-ended and high-level activities. Some of the activities include:

  1. Creating Groups: Students record newspaper headlines over a period of time and put them into groups. The types of groups and frequency of items in each groups are reported, these data can be graphed and comparison can be made with other newspapers, types of publications, or time periods.
  2. Analysis: Students examine the newspaper to determine what goes into a newspaper, what makes up a sports section, which makes these decisions, why do some newspapers include some sections and others do not, and so on.
  3. Creative Problem Solving: Students identify a problem found in the newspaper, and in small groups, generate solutions, pick the best solution, refine and embellish it and present it to the class. Examples of problems: How can we reduce crime in the neighborhood? How can we prevent teenage smoking? How can we make the lunch line go faster? How can we come to a consensus on an issue?

In the last section, the author describes how thinking skills can be used as a classroom differentiation strategy as described by Tomlinson (1999). He proposed using thinking skills in tiered assignments, which are assignments or activities where the students manipulate or practice the same concept of skill, but at differing levels of complexity and sophistication. He then details how a tiered assignment using thinking skills can be created for the classroom and indicates that options should be provided for students to select which assignment tier they prefer, as students enjoy choice and the empowerment it brings, and also, they tend to gravitate to the level that is best suited to them.

In summary, the main idea that the author wished to surface is that the embedded approach is the best way to teach thinking skills, and at the same time, it can be effectively used as a differentiation strategy in the classroom.

Reference: Johnson, A. (2001). How To Use Thinking Skills To Differentiate Curricula for Gifted and Highly Creative Students. Gifted Child Today, 24(4), 58-63.

Retrieved from

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 12 other followers

Follow Edublog: Uncovering Wisdom through Pedagogy on
%d bloggers like this: