Monday, June 4, 2012

Language-Learning Task design : Using Higher-order thinking skills- by Penny Ur

Five-Minute Activities, A Course in Language Teaching, Grammar Practice Activities, some books you ,certainly, have come across as you checked the shelves of any CREFOC library, or you have read and resorted to . Penny Ur the writer and expert in the field presented an extremely important session ,during the TESOL convention in Philadelphia, on Higher order thinking skills and their value for language teaching and learning. She also dealt successfully with the practical side by giving examples of their use for a variety of language purposes. Eventually, she concluded the session with some interesting comments and the bibliography.Below is the totality of her session as presented.
Higher-order thinking skills 
Higher-order thinking skills:
  • mental effort
  • a wide variety of processes:
  • … comparing, prioritizing, categorizing, defining.
  • … problem-solving, creating, criticizing,
                           Lower-order thinking skills:
  • little mental effort
  • …mainly recalling or identifying facts or forms
Various classifications
  • Bloom’s taxonomy
  • Convergent versus divergent
  • Critical thinking
  • Creative thinking
Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive objectives

  • Knowledge
  • Understanding
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Evaluation

Revised taxonomy
 Knowledge becomes a separate ‘noun’ category;     
the six cognitive processes defined as ‘verb’ categories:
  • remember
  • understand
  • apply
  • analyze
  • evaluate
  • create
Krathwohl, 2002
Factual knowledge
Conceptual knowledge
Procedural knowledge
Meta-cognitive knowledge

Two suggested divisions of higher order thinking skills:
1. Convergent
2. Divergent
McGregor, 2007
Runco, 1999

The division preferred in this presentation:
  • Critical thinking
  • Creative thinking

Critical thinking
 Critical thinking is the process of thinking that questions assumptions. It is a way of deciding whether a claim is true, false; sometimes true, or partly true. ….Critical thinking is … a part of the education process and is increasingly significant as students progress through university to graduate education, although there is debate among educators about its precise meaning and scope.
 Critical thinking includes…

  • Analysis: being able to distinguish between categories, generalize, exemplify etc.
  • Precision: being aware of imprecision (vague, contradictory or tautologous statements) in input, and taking care to be precise themselves.
  • Logic: being aware of illogical reasoning in their reading and listening, and able to think logically themselves
  • Criticism: being able to to apply criteria in order to evaluate
Creative thinking
  • The ability to think up original solutions to problems
  • The ability to create new constructs, interpretations or works of art

    Creative thinking includes
    • Divergent thinking: brainstorming a large number of responses to any cue or task
    • Original or ‘lateral’ thinking: devising original, unconventional responses to problems or tasks
    De Bono, 1967
    Link to other classifications

    • Critical thinking:
      • In the revised Bloom taxonomy: mainly understanding, applying, analysing and evaluating
      • Mainly convergent thinking.
    • Creative thinking
      • Revised Bloom taxonomy: mainly creating.
      • de Bono: ‘lateral’ thinking
      • Mainly divergent thinking

    Reasons for using higher-order thinking in language teaching

    • Language learning
    • Intellectual development
    • Educational values
    • Interest

      Language learning
       New language items are better imprinted on our memory if we use deep processing.
      This means relating the item meaningfully to its meanings and to other items previously learnt.
      Deeper processing involves higher-order thinking skills e.g. connecting, contrasting, creating etc.

    Intellectual development

    The learning of facts and concepts.
    The ability to relate these to each other, criticize, draw conclusions, create new ideas etc.

    Educational values
     The ability and willingness to think for oneself as distinct from the unthinking acceptance of facts, values, directives etc. laid down by an authority.

     Activities based on simple recall or knowledge of isolated forms and meanings tend to be boring.
    Activities based on higher-order thinking skills are likely to be more interesting.
    1. Critical thinking
Conventional vocabulary exercises 

  • Match picture to word or definition

  • Gapfill
    Analysis (1)

    a clock, a dog, a dress, a mother, black, a pen, bread, pants, a bag, a frog, red, boots, a cat, rice, a man,  a baby, pink, a teenager, a hat, a t-shirt,
    a banana, a book, a sheep, meat, kids, a table, green, an elephant, sugar, white

    What classes do the following belong to?
  • a hammer – tools
  • sadness –
  • a table -
  • a mother -
  • December -
  • winter -
  • biology -
  • tennis –
Conventional grammar exercises
  • Gapfill
  • Sentence-completion items

    Analysis (2)
    Logical analysis and exemplification
     Define the following items:
    Example: A hammer is a tool which…
    • a cow
    • Canada
    • a chicken
    • a carpenter
    • cigarettes
    • coffee
    • a cinema
    • Christmas
Analysis (3)
Here is a list of sentences.
  1. We have been working here for a long time.
  2. They have been in the country since 1995.
  3. The program has been going on for ten minutes.
  4. I have loved this singer since the beginning of her career.
  5. We have been studying English for four years.
  6. She has lived in London since she got married.
When do you use since and when do you use for?
Precision (1)Inherent contradiction
 Do these make sense?
  • an objective opinion
  • a definite maybe
  • an exact estimate
  • the larger half
  • genuine imitation leather
(vocabulary, critical reading)
Precision (2)Tautology
 What’s wrong with these?
  1. A free gift
  2. A new innovation.
  3. We made too many wrong mistakes
  4. He exaggerated the situation too much.
  5. It’s pure undiluted orange juice.
  6. Let’s meet together at six.
  7. It’s a biography of Kipling’s life.
  8. That is a basic and fundamental fact of life.
  9. They commute back and forth every day.
(vocabulary, critical reading)
Logic (1)
Underlying assumptions

What assumptions or emotive implications underlie these statements?
  1. This food is composed entirely of natural ingredients, so it is good for you as well as being delicious.
  2. This method is scientifically proven to be effective
  3. Thousands of people have already signed up: join now!
  4. Don’t use this method: it is based on outdated, old-fashioned ideas.
  5. Everyone knows that the earlier you start learning a language the more successfully you will master it.
(critical reading, writing)
Logic (2)
Reasoning: Premise and conclusion

What’s wrong with these?
  1. These people drink a lot of red wine and have few heart problems: so drinking red wine is good for your heart.
  2. The boy told me he’d left his book at home, but it was in fact in his bag: so he was lying.  That shows he is a liar.
  3. The word ‘education’ comes from a Latin word meaning ‘to draw out’, so education is about drawing out people’s potential.
  4. She spends a lot of time reading, so she reads very well.
(critical reading, writing)

Logic (3) Ambiguity
 What’s wrong with these sentences?
  1. We need more comprehensive schools.
  2. Visiting relatives can be boring.
  3. Ambulance man helps dog bite victim
  4. Enraged cow injures farmer with ax
  5. Juvenile court to try shooting defendant
  6. Stolen painting found by tree
  7. Two sisters reunited after 18 years in checkout counter
  8. Kids make nutritious snacks
(linguistic awareness, contrastive analysis)
Logic (4)
Evidence-based conclusions
What would be your conclusion from this evidence?
She’s wearing a white coat.  
She’s wearing a stethoscope round her neck.
I saw her examining a patient.
In her office there’s a certificate that says she graduated from medical school.
She was interviewed on television about a disease.
There’s a notice outside her door that says ‘Dr Smith’.

“She must be a doctor.”
(grammar: must/ can’t of logical necessity)

Logic (4)
Evidence-based conclusions
 He never smiles.
We sometimes see him cry.
The funniest jokes can’t make him laugh.
He stays at home all the time.

“He can’t be very happy.”
“He must be unhappy”
(grammar: must/ can’t of logical necessity)

Logic (5)

Insert an appropriate conjunction: because / since, although/in spite of the fact that, so/therefore, but/however/nevertheless, and, moreover/in addition, if / provided that
  1. She is a good teacher … she hasn’t had much training.
  2. I know they are here… I saw them a moment ago.
  3. She has ten children … she still has time to write books.
  4. He is a good boss … he has a sense of humour.
  5. We will come … we get an invitation.
  6. We will certainly come … we have plenty of time.
  7. He’s lived in the US all his life… he must know English.
  8. He is a good speaker … I don’t like him very much.
  9. There isn’t much water in the desert … not many plants can grow there.
  10. It seems there’s plenty of time … we need to get started immediately.
2.Creative thinking
1. Divergent thinking

  • How many things can you think of to say about this picture?
    (oral fluency)
  • How many ways can you think of to solve this dilemma?
    (oral fluency)
  • How many ways can you think of to compare a train with a car?  
  • How many endings can you think of for the sentence: If I had a million dollars…?  
    2. Originality, ‘lateral’ thinking

    1. Think of seven ways to compare a computer with a piece of spaghetti.                                                     (comparative of adjectives)
    2. Find six questions to which the answer is …twelve…(tomorrow …of course! …my mother …)
    3. Suggest at least three advantages of being an only child? (Of not having a cellphone? Of having no car?)                                                                                   (oral fluency)
    4. Name ten things you have never done.
    5. Name six things that you can’t touch, and why.
    6. Say four NICE things about your friend, using negative sentences.
      (negative sentences)  

Some concluding comments 1
 There is no strict dividing line between lower- and higher-order thinking skills.
It’s a continuum. 

Some concluding comments 2
 The use of higher order thinking skills in language teaching materials contribute to good learning, and are important..
Knowledge of facts and lower-order thinking skills are basic and essential.

Some concluding comments 3
 It is easier to implement higher-order thinking skills in more advanced materials in the upper grades.
It is just as important, and perfectly feasible, to implement them in beginner and intermediate materials, or in courses for elementary and middle school.


 Bloom B. S. (ed). (1956). A Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longman.
De Bono, E. (1967). The use of lateral thinking. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Mcgregor, D.. (2007). Developing thinking, developing learning: A guide to thinking skills in education. Maidenhead, Uk: Open University Press: McGraw-Hill International.
Krathwohl, D. R. (2002).  A revision of Bloom's taxonomy: An overview. Theory into Practice, 41(4), 212-218.
Runco, M. A.. (1999). Divergent thinking. In Runco, M. A., & Pritzker, S. R. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of creativity, Volume 1 (pp.577-582). San Diego: Academic Press.
Waters, A. (2006). Thinking and language learning . ELT Journal, 60(4), 319-327.