Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Definition And Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Learnings may use different types of thought processes within the classroom, such as memorising facts or thinking critically. Higher-order thinking skills help them derive interesting, meaningful conclusions and form connections. If you are an educator looking to enhance the classroom experience and help your students apply their knowledge productively, you might benefit by incorporating higher-order thinking skills into your lesson plans. In this article, we talk about what these skills are, discuss their importance, list different types and show you how to use them in your lesson plans.

What Are Higher-Order Thinking Skills?

Higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) involve going beyond simply memorising facts or information and reproducing them. The term comes from Bloom's taxonomy of learning, which classifies learning objectives. HOTS can be more challenging than other types of thinking, but it can also be more rewarding.

These skills help thinkers adequately comprehend, analyse and critically evaluate knowledge or information. These skills are especially important within education roles because they help encourage and develop the students' ability to exercise their minds and come up with their own conclusions, opinions and unique solutions to complex problems.

Importance Of HOTS

Higher-order thinking skills are useful for many people, and they are something teachers can help develop in their students from an early stage. The more that students exercise these skills, the sooner they can think and examine everything more critically. Some educators think that higher-order thinking may be hard to include at elementary levels, but easier to introduce at later stages. Others believe even young children are quite capable of applying these skills to their existing knowledge.

Teachers can start the process by giving students higher-order thinking questions that encourage them to do more research. Also, when they have performed extensive research, analysis and evaluation of information on their own, they are likely to understand, retain and explain the concepts far more effectively.

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Types Of Higher-Order Thinking

According to Bloom's Taxonomy, there are three categories of learning objectives. These are knowledge-based, emotion-based and action-based. HOTS come from knowledge-based learning objectives, which begin with the acquisition of information. This is a lower-order thinking skill, and it then progresses to higher-order thinking skills. Here are some HOTS based on this model:

1. Comprehension

After acquiring knowledge, the first step towards higher-order thinking is understanding that information. As an educator, you can assess a student's comprehension by getting them to organise, summarise, translate, generalise and explain what they learnt. Giving appropriate examples is also a great way to gauge their understanding of the subject. This is one of the first steps towards encouraging lateral thinking. For example, a student of health and nutrition learning the nutritional facts about various food categories can also create a suitable diet plan that provides the desired daily nutrition.

2. Application

Application occurs when a student utilises the information they have gained in other similar areas or situations effectively. For example, a cookery student who has just learnt how to make pasta in arrabbiata sauce with penne may also be able to make the same with spaghetti. They can also change a few ingredients while doing this, such as chicken for shrimp, according to their preference.

3. Analysis

When students examine and divide information into smaller parts, they can then look for relationships between them, identify causes, derive inferences and find proofs to support generalisations. This is analysis. It involves using judgement and separating facts from opinions. While doing this, students may further develop their understanding and consolidate their opinions.

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4. Synthesis

While analysis involves dividing information into smaller parts, synthesis is the accumulation of different pieces of information and combining them together to form a meaningful whole. Students can achieve this by identifying relationships between them and comparing them with something they have observed or experienced. Synthesising information in this manner can be a great way to solve problems or make better sense of disjointed information.

5. Evaluation

Evaluation is one of the skills that usually follows the ones mentioned above. It means assigning a value to an idea, a piece of information or an item by using personal judgement criteria. This is one of the highest of the higher-order thinking skills. It involves assimilating all the ideas and information learnt and making informed evaluations.

6. Critical thinking

Critical thinking is the resulting effect of acquiring and applying all the above-mentioned skills in varying combinations. It involves critically and intellectually observing, analysing and evaluating information. The ability to reflect and reason aids this process. The goal of developing HOTS is to ultimately teach students to think critically about everything rather than accept things at face value. For example, if they read an article in a journal, they can look at the credentials of the person who wrote it, examine their previous work and study and analyse the information presented to gauge its validity.

Related: Critical Thinking Skills: Definitions And Examples

7. Metacognition

Metacognition means being aware of your own learning and thinking styles, strengths and weaknesses. Self-reflection on these aspects creates heightened awareness that leads to effective thinking abilities. It is also the foundational element of intelligent leadership, as it defines the way you approach and solve a problem. For example, a student may be able to retain large volumes of information but may find it hard to apply it in different situations. Once they know this, they can make a plan to improve their learning in the future.

8. Inference

Drawing an inference means using existing knowledge to anticipate the information that is not available. For example, a salesperson may use this skill to predict whether a client is likely to sign up for their offer based on the information they have shared. Making inferences about future possibilities can also help learners re-evaluate and modify their steps for more desirable outcomes.

How To Apply Higher-Order Thinking In Lesson Plans

As an educator, you can employ HOTS to achieve your teaching goals in the classroom by following these steps:

1. Consider who your students are

Use your pre-existing knowledge about your students to inform your planning process. Consider the knowledge they already possess on the subject and what they haven't learnt yet. Note their age, experience and cognitive abilities. If these students are new to you, then designing an icebreaker or warm-up activity to gauge their skill and knowledge can be quite helpful.

2. Identify the goals

When you have a clearly defined learning goal for your students, incorporating these skills into your lesson is often much easier. Think about what you want them to understand and use associative techniques to help them make correlations between what they already know or have experienced and the new information. Keep it simple by choosing a specific type of higher-order thinking that you would like them to use.

3. Choose the content and activities wisely

When selecting the content and activities to use in class, consider the interests, abilities and existing knowledge of your students. Making connections between the content and what they already know can deliver a much better outcome. If you are teaching business English to a sales employee, you could do a role-play where you pretend to be the client of a potential customer and present different situations to them. For instance, you may act as a customer who is considering making their first purchase and needs more convincing.

4. Keep time for assessment and reflection

While planning your class, make sure you reserve some time at the end for reflection and assessment. This can multiply the benefits of these activities. During this time, you can ask the students to synthesise and express the ideas and information discussed in class or reflect on their thought processes and learning abilities. Having this assessment time can also help you do a gap analysis and help you plan your next lesson.

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