Using Higher-Order Thinking Skills Across the Curriculum

Using Higher-Order Thinking Skills Across the Curriculum

With many of today’s standards calling for the use of HOTS, or higher-order thinking skills, meeting this standard can feel overwhelming at times. Although this strategy may seem a bit oversimplified at first, I have found it extremely valuable in giving students a concrete way to break down their thinking. In fact, even the most able students have responded to this strategy with, “Well, I already knew the answer, but this helped me see how I got there.” Cool, right?!

This is the basic formula:


Here are the steps to follow: 

Step 1Identify the purpose for the students. 

For example, in social studies/history, the purpose may be to make a prediction about an outcome of a historical event. In language arts/English, it may be to determine symbolism in a piece of literature. In science, it may be to draw a conclusion after an experiment/lab.   

Step 2: Have students highlight crucial “clues” from the text that they feel may influence the inference. 

Have them record the “clues” on a blue index card or sticky note. 

Step 3: Have students identify their own ideas related to the “clues” from the text. 

Have them record their ideas on a yellow index card or sticky note.   

Step 4: Have students come up with a new idea/conclusion or make an inference based on the ideas recorded on their blue and yellow note cards. 

Have students record the new idea on a green index card or sticky note and be sure to remind them of the purpose. 


During one particularly memorable science class, we used this formula for the students to predict how non-Newtonian fluid would behave during the upcoming lab experiment. It was easy to see which “clues” students used from the lab directions to formulate their predictions as well as what background knowledge they had from previous experiences. We discussed our predictions and put more emphasis on the thinking involved than on having the correct prediction. Most students were surprised to discover that a non-Newtonian substance could perform like both a solid and a liquid depending on the pressure applied. 

I’ve utilized this formula again and again, in various subjects, to dig into students’ thinking and it has never failed me yet. For my struggling students, it gives them a structured approach to their thinking. For my higher-level studentsit provides them with ways to prove and support their ideas. Plus, you can’t beat the cross-curricular nature of using a math formula and color blending to represent HOTS in any subject area!


Author bio

Lisa Callahan

Lisa Callahan, Educational Consultant

Lisa Callahan, Educational Consultant for Teacher Created Materials, provides professional development training for teachers across the country. Lisa has twenty years of experience in the educational field. She completed her years in public education as the director of K-12 literacy for Community Unit School District 200 in Wheaton, Illinois. Prior to being an administrator, Lisa was a third grade teacher, Title I teacher, reading specialist, and curriculum leader and served on many school improvement committees.