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How to use LOTS and HOTS thinking skills in the classroom

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Today is the World Thinking Day let’s take a minute to think !

Quite a lot of the teenage students I teach outside of the summer have a high level of English. Many complete C1 or C2 level external examinations before they finish at the high school, and as a designated conversation teacher, this can make providing young learner English courses that are engaging and interesting, quite challenging.

One thing that I try to do when preparing lessons is to look beyond the language and focus on the task. Something that has helped me do this to look at CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) approaches – where rather than teach language on a ‘just in case’ basis (e.g., I’ll teach you conditional forms just in case they come up in the exam), you teach them on a ‘just in time’ basis – this means you set the students a task and then (when you see they are struggling to use the language you expect) you teach/review it with them there and then so that they can use it on task.

This brings us to the question of what sort of task to set the students, well, as I mentioned, quite a few of my lessons are conversation classes, and as the main emphasis of Embassy Summer lessons is focused on speaking and interaction, we need to talk about LOTS and HOTS.  LOTS (Lower Order Thinking Skills) take a simple approach to classroom activities, students listen and do tasks that require nothing more than recycling and practising the language (e.g., read the text and answer the comprehension questions, reform the sentences so they are in the present perfect etc.) whereas HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) require the students to be more creative. Compare for example these two questions – ‘What kind of goods can you buy at a bakery?’  ‘Where would you open a bakery in this town? – the first is checking lexis (LOTS) whereas the second requires some form of critical thinking (HOTS).

When we think about HOTS, we can talk about the six thinking skills and how they work hierarchically – students move from Remembering to Understanding to Applying then to Analysing through to Evaluating and finally to Creating – through this process you can see the move from LOTS to HOTS.

We can clearly see lots of different ways HOTS are a clear part of modern language teaching, from 21st Century skills such as the 4 Cs – (i.e., students should concentrate on Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking in class) to Cognitive theory (where student tasks need to allow them to show Perception, Recognition, Judgement, Reasoning, Conceiving and Imagination).

Some of the simple activities I use in class to get the students thinking is to use K-W-L tables before listening and reading tasks to help scaffold the students (e.g., asking the students what they KNOW about the topic beforehand, what they WANT TO KNOW about the topic and then as a post-listening/reading task – what they have LEARNT about it.)  I also encourage the students to use CUBING when it comes to writing or debating tasks, this is where you get the students to look at a topic from six different sides (e.g., Describe it, Compare it, Associate it, Analyse it, Apply it and Argue for or against it) to help brainstorm ideas.

There are a huge variety of things you can do to help students think critically in class, not all of which have an ELT background – things like Edward De Bono’s six thinking hats, where you encourage students to wear different hats when considering a topic (from an Organizer’s viewpoint to a Critical one, to a more Optimistic one, to a Creative one to an Emotional one or a Neutral one). Whatever you do, it’s always more stimulating to get your students to think critically and have a view more HOTS than LOTS in class.

Phil first started working at Embassy when there was just one school in Hastings, back in 1990 – during his time there he has worked in many roles, from teacher to head of vacation education to teacher trainer and then finally over to Embassy Summer, where he has Academic Coordinator for UK schools since 2007. 

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