*Thinking Skills and Questioning*

By Stryder

If you’ve been working as a home school teacher for your children or helping your children with their work for public schools, then you are aware that there are many levels of thinking children use. The levels of abstract thinking go from Knowledge at the bottom, to Evaluation as the top level of thinking skills. It is NOT always advisable to operate at the top of the thinking levels but the more time a person, especially a child, spends functioning at a high level, the stronger their mental abilities will grow. Like any other part of the body, the mind strengthens by being used and exercised.

The Knowledge level is remembering previously learned material and involves remembering a wide range of facts and theories. Knowledge represents the lowest level of thinking practice and only requires bringing to mind the required fact or material.

As your child proceeds up the ‘thinking ladder’ they will arrive at the highest level, which is Evaluation. Evaluation is the ability to judge the value of material for a given purpose. The judgements are based on some definite criteria that the child can define and state. The criteria might be an organization or pattern of the facts or a determination based on relevance to purpose. This level contains elements of all previous levels and conscious value judgements. This is a truly thinking child – not a sheep that will be lead by others.

The levels of abstraction from least powerful to most powerful are Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation and the skills demonstrated and words that parents and teachers can use to evoke each level are listed in the table below.


Level of Abstraction

Skills Demonstrated


These verbs ask children to ‘simply’ recall information

This skill tells you that a child can recall information, concepts, and ideas in the same way they were learned.

Question clues: fill in the blank, underline, define, identify, label, list, locate, match, memorize, name, recall, spell, state, tell


These verbs ask a child to show comprehension and understanding

This thinking skill tells you that a child can interpret prior learning.

Question clues: convert, describe, interpret, explain, paraphrase, restate, put in order, rewrite, summarize, trace, translate, retell in your own words, contrast, predict, associate, distinguish, estimate, differentiate, discuss, extend


These verbs ask a child to use what they’ve learned in a new situation

This thinking skill tells you that a child can transfer information they have learned to a life problem or a new task with a minimum of direction.

Question clues: apply, compute, construct, demonstrate, determine, draw, find out, give an example, make, operate, show, solve, state a rule of, use


These verbs ask a child to show that they can see and understand parts and relationships

This skill tells you that a child can examine, take apart, predict and draw conclusions.

Question clues: analyze, categorize, classify, compare, contrast, debate, deduct, diagram, dissect, examine, specify, discover, diagnose


These verbs ask a child to take parts of what they have learned to create a new whole

This thinking skill tells you that a child can originate, combine, and integrate parts of prior knowledge into a product, plan, or proposal that is new.

Question clues: change, combine, construct, create, invent, plan, predict, pretend, produce, rearrange, revise, suggest, suppose, visualize, write, what if?


These verbs ask children to make judgements and choices

This thinking skill you that a child can appraise, assess or criticize based on what they have learned.

Question clues: choose, compare, conclude, decide, defend, evaluate, give your opinion, judge, justify, prioritize, rank, rate, select, support, valve, assess


So…. How would a home school teacher use this list to raise a child’s thinking level? Look at some examples from a lesson on Architecture.

Knowledge: Define the job or role of an architect.

Comprehension: Explain why architecture is more than just a collection of buildings.

Application: Collect pictures of buildings form magazines, newspapers, postcards, etc. Then:

    1. Classify all the buildings according to function. Consider things like residential, spiritual, civic, etc.
    2. Classify all of the building within a category by visual characteristics.
    3. Determine the list of common characteristics that make up the category.

Analysis: Adopt a building in your town or area and discover its function, style and architectural elements. Examine the materials, entrances, window shapes and types, orientation and construction, stairs, porches, roof shapes and design, chimneys and all exterior details.

Synthesis: Invent your own architectural style and then make a model or drawing of your building with your style. Draw more than one building of this new type and show how they would be combined to form a neighborhood.

Evaluation: Assume you have been asked to prepare a "buildings tour" of your neighborhood for some visitors to the area. Determine what buildings you would have them visit and justify your choices.

This example should show how you could use this knowledge of thinking levels to help with the design of your home school lessons to ensure higher levels of thinking. You can also use it to ensure that your children are getting the most out lessons form school and not just turning into unthinking parrots of someone else’s thinking and ideas. Remember – the higher the level of abstraction, the better the quality of the thinking.

Get out and train!


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