Thinking Skills

1 Thinking ATL Clusters

Through approaches to learning (ATL) in IB programs, students develop skills that have relevance across the curriculum that help them “learn how to learn”.

What are ATL skills?

ATL skills empower students to succeed in meeting the challenging objectives of MYP subjects.

In the Thinking Skills Category, you can see thinking skills such as critical thinking, creative thinking and transfer.

These and many other similar skills enhance your inquiry skills; they allow you look at information objectively, and they will also enable you to analyze it thoroughly as you get ready to state a judgment.

When we look at ideas with ‘critical eyes’, we need to observe beyond logic, and need to employ broad  criteria such as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, and depth. By doing this, we will be able to see the real significance of information, and we will be encouraged to evaluate it.

How do these skills help in my learning?

 Thinking Skills are an asset in your journey to become a lifelong learner and to personalize your learning experience. Moreover, by learning to use a wide range of thinking skills, you will be able to conceive different ways of looking at things; you will think of ways of solving problems that you hadn’t imaged before; you will develop creative ways to make and propose solutions; and above all, you will be integrating the understandings and knowledge you obtained in all the subjects you study.

To be a critical and creative thinker, you need to take charge of your learning process and try to find solutions or to fulfill your projects by utilizing all the intellectual resources you possess.  This will help choose and strategize without the influence of others.

How can I become aware of the kind of thinking I am showcasing?

We demonstrate our thinking skills in the way we ask questions and in the way we express our ideas once we have processed information.

When we ask a strong and effective question, that demands our listener to respond or perform in a particular way (analyzing, comparing, concluding, elaborating), we are demonstrating that we have observed information meticulously and that it is as a result of this process that we ask a question. Similarly, when we read instructions and we see one of this command terms (summarize, justify, evaluate, assess) we are being informed of the kind of thinking the task requires.

The chart below will show you the different levels of thinking on the left column. On the column, you will find specific verbs that represent the actions we do when operating at that level. Below those command terms, you will see examples of questions that we might be asked or that we can ask.

Clearly, the complexity of the questions increases as levels do.

It is important to keep this thinking skills in mind in order to fulfill the demands of the different criteria in all subjects, as achieving the highest levels (7-8) requires us to demonstrate outstanding critical thinking, creative thinking and transfer skills.

Making your thinking Visible

You may have noticed how your teachers have employed Visible Thinking Routines such as THINK-PAIR-SHARE; SEE-THINK-WONDER; THINK-PUZZLE-EXPLORE, among others. Teaches utilize these strategies in order for them to see how deeply you are understanding content, and how you are handling concepts.

However, there will be ocassions in which you will have to look for different ways to visually represent your ideas and thinking processes, so that teachers witness how you are constructing meaning. These are some tools you can use to create a visual representation of your ideas:

  • A time line [1] [2]
  • A mind map– You can create mind maps in a variety of ways. You can find examples “here” and “here” as well. Download some creative formats “here”. [Video on using mind maps “here”] [Some popular Apps are: iMindMap, Freemind, Semantic, MindMeister, Mindomo, among others.]
  • A venn diagram [Venn Diagram with lines]
  • Thinking Wall with Post-its- Write your ideas on Post-its and organize them logically on a wall, considering a variety of categories. Look at an example “here”, and “here”. You can then take a picture of your wall and attach it to your projects as part of the appendix.

Below you will find some more ideas printable paper formats (taken from that you can use to sketch, catalog, plot, dream, and develop ideas.

Cylinder Bead Brick Pattern
Graphing on Log-Log
Paper for Quilting with 1 Line
Paper for Quilting with 3 Lines
Perspective [L-R] Grid
Perspective [Left] Grid
Perspective [Right] Grid
Polar Graph Paper with 15 degree angles and 1:2-inch radials
Polar Graph Paper with 15 degree angles and 1:4-inch radials
Venn Diagram with lines

Here are some ideas:
Grid Paper can be used to plot numerical data or sketch architectural plans.
Isometric Paper can be used to draw projections of 3D objects and spaces, or to make triangular tessellations.
Log-Log Plot is useful to graph data on logarithmic scales.

You can customise specific types of graph papers for Mathematics or science if you need to craft projects in this website:

For Physics-specific graph paper models click in the link “here”.

Demonstrating your thinking through questions

Asking effective questions is a great way to demonstrate that you are thinking critically, but this also means that you are listening attentively to the speakers, paying attention to details, and processing information methodically. The kind of questions you ask will inform both the audience and speakers whether you are analyzing, comparing, contrasting, evaluating, refuting, summarizing, or questioning the ideas expressed. Therefore, you have to choose verbs that indicate how you are processing information, or that show the impact information is making on you and how it causes you to react.

Here are some examples of questions you may have heard your teachers ask when they want you to analyze, evaluate and synthesize. Pay attention to the words in blue.

(When they want you to examine and break information into parts by identifying motives or causes; making inferences and finding evidence to support generalizations)

  • What inference can you make from. . . ?
  • How would you classify . . . ?
  • How would you categorize . .. ?
  • Can you identify the difference parts… ?

(When they want you to present and defend opinions by making judgments about information, validity of ideas or quality of work based on a set of criteria)

  • How would you compare ……?
  • Evaluate contribution of ….. to …………….
  • What would you have recommended if you had been ……?

(When they want you to compile information together in a different way by combining elements in a new pattern or proposing alternative solutions)

  • What might have happened if… ?
  • Can you propose an alternative interpretation to that of ……. . ?

Here are a few patterns you can use to ask effective questions. Remember that these are only a few examples and there are MANY more ways of asking effective questions.

  1. Does [An idea mentioned in the conversation] + [include that you would like to question or inquire more deeply into]?
    E.g. does living in a foreign country truly guarantee that someone will become internationally minded?
  2. What are the implications of [an idea mentioned in the conversation]?
  3. What is the consequence of [include an idea that is being debated]?
    E.g. what is the consequence of underestimating school rules?
  4. Assuming that [an idea mentioned in the conversation] + [your question].

E.g. assuming that the person you’re talking about did not live in a “foreign visitor bubble”, how could one say he or she truly understands the culture of the country where he or she lived?

These ARE NOT examples of effective questions:

  1. a) What equations should I use to solve the problem?
  2. b) What specifically is the product?

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