Six Thinking Hats

"Okay everyone, I want you to put on your thinking caps and try to come up with ways to solve this problem!"

Surely you have heard - or even said - something like that before. A "thinking cap" is an imaginary hat that supposedly helps you focus your thinking. What really focuses you is you, but using the thinking cap as a mindset can be very helpful.

Edward de Bono came up with different kinds of thinking caps that one might use. His Six Thinking Hats book outlines both different modes of thinking and strategies to use these thinking hats in the business world. I want to take this concept and apply it to the classroom.

Be sure to check out our original business article on Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats!

The Six Thinking Hats can be used with parallel thinking (or lateral thinking) as a way for people to focus on a specific type of thinking all at the same time. Everyone wears the same thinking hat and pools ideas, and then all change to a new thinking hat together. Parallel thinking is an excellent strategy to use when trying to streamline a discussion, but also is a way to help students acquire and develop different thinking skills.

Here are a couple of ways to show the different thinking strategies of each of the thinking hats. Use as introduction, reinforcement, reminders, or review.

Six Thinking Hats in a Class Discussion

Use Six Thinking Hats with parallel thinking or as a means to divide up roles. Do whatever works best for your group of students and for the topic you are discussing.

  1. Ask for specific thinking hat responses or ideas from the entire class. Redirect as necessary to keep the ideas focused by hat. This is a great way to introduce the concept of the six thinking hats.

  2. Split your class into groups with the same focus. Each group will work together to brainstorm different ideas and responses based on the thinking hat. As the teacher, you will be the blue hat for the whole-class discussion after the student groups have had a chance to confer with one another.

  3. Split up your class into groups of six as best as you can. Assign a hat to each person in the group, either randomly or based on specific factors, and allow students to have mini-discussions. After giving students a chance to try out their thinking hat in a small group, bring all groups together.

  4. After students start to get more familiar with the six thinking hats, they can start identifying the hat they are using when providing ideas. This will allow you to tweak responses to match the purpose of a hat, or correct any misconceptions and misunderstandings.

Take a look at this small group example. Here, a teacher and five students begin to address the issue of homework not getting done. The teacher is the designated blue hat to keep order in the discussion and sometimes prompts students to answer. The students are each assigned a thinking hat to get them to to consider the issue from a certain perspective.

Thinking hats can be used at many different levels and for many different situations. Making good decisions as a group requires discussion where different perspectives and options are considered.

  • Group Project Brainstorming
  • Big Group Decisions
  • Preparation for Debates
  • Controversial Issues
  • Challenging Perspectives of Current Events
  • Developing Critical Thinking
  • Developing Innovative Thinking
  • Preparation for Discussions
  • Structuring and Facilitating Discussions
  • Problem Solving Situations

The comic below shows a student group discussing an assignment that has to be done by the end of the class period. The assignment itself is not important in this example; watch for the appearances of different thinking hats.

Apply the Six Thinking Hats Approach With or Without Hats!

You can take the term "thinking hats" as literally as you like. The purpose of thinking hats is to focus your way of thinking, so putting an actual hat on your head may help you or your students, or it could just be a new form of distraction. Visual charts, signs, and symbolic objects can work as reminders or mindsets in the same way.

Find this and other great teacher resources in our Education Blog!
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