Instructional Strategies that Push Students to Own the Thinking

Use these instructional strategies to transfer the thinking load from yourself to your students.

Even in classrooms where we saw grade-appropriate assignments, we often observed students missing out on opportunities to do the rigorous thinking those assignments required. This included classrooms where teachers did most of the talking, where students were asked only simple questions that didn’t require critical thinking, or where they were given the answer before they had enough time to do the work themselves.

Giving students more frequent opportunities to be responsible for “doing the thinking” not only helps them build the knowledge and skills they need to deeply understand the content, but can also build students’ motivation in school and lead to deeper engagement in their learning.

So how do we do this? On top of starting with grade-appropriate content (a prerequisite for supporting students’ academic growth), the following strategies can be implemented in any classroom to give all students the chance to grapple with challenging cognitive work during their daily lessons.

  • Proactively build academic mindsets with your students.
  • Set clear behavioral and academic expectations for student participation and work.
  • Ask questions and assign tasks that require critical thinking.
  • Give all students a chance to do the work.
  • Check for understanding frequently and strategically.
  • Hold high expectations for student responses and ask targeted follow-up questions.
  • Facilitate academic discussion and feedback among students.

Visit the Mindset Scholars Network: Research Brief for ways to create a safe and motivating classroom culture.

Download the Strategies
Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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