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7 steps in thinking critically and creatively about the Constitution

Posted on by Thinking Maps

 By Brenda Baker

Photo Credit:  Mr.TinDC

Photo Credit: Mr.TinDC


As a neophyte Consultant for Thinking Maps in 2004, I had the privilege of shadowing Chris Yeager, our Director of Consulting, for a four-day Thinking Maps TOT.  At the end of the second day, Chris was approached by an 8th grade social studies teacher who needed inspiration for his opening the unit on the Constitution.  He explained that he wanted to focus on the first ten Amendments by engaging students in both critical and creative thinking. Chris not only agreed to help, but she actually taught the lesson to his students!  The students were at the edge of their seats actively thinking for the entire 60 minute presentation. I want to share this lesson with you.

First Chris began with a (1) Circle Map to determine what prior knowledge the students had about the Constitution: “Tell me all the things you know about the Constitution, and in your Frame of Reference tell me where you learned that from, whether it was from your personal experience, from your mom, or dad, or school.”

Next, students used the (2) Brace Map to identify the parts of the Constitution.

She then had students transfer the information from the Brace to the (3) Bridge Map. Students pulled information from their resources to identify the function of each part of the Constitution while also including the page numbers within their Frame. Citing your sources is a key habit to build in all students, especially in this digital age where we can easily borrow ideas from each other.

Using a (4) Tree Map, a copy of the Constitution, a US History textbook, and reliable websites, the students were placed in heterogeneous cooperative learning groups and assigned an Amendment. They were instructed to define their Amendment using their resources and include an illustration. As each group completed their assignment, they presented their Amendment to the entire class and posted their work on the large Tree Map.

This first part of the lesson is all critical thinking: Defining a concept with a Circle Map, dissecting the parts of a whole with a Brace, using resources to bridge the relationship between the parts, and classifying the Amendments with a Tree Map employs multiple levels of understanding and analytical skills, especially as you move from one thinking exercise to another. The second part of the lesson transitions students from thinking critically about related concepts to thinking creatively by connecting those concepts to their own value systems.

Chris asked students to work individually to reorganize the Amendments in order of importance from their point of view by using a (5) Flow Map.

Then she asked students to make predictions with a one-sided (6) Multi-Flow Map.

I always like to have students take their thinking “off the Map” so I conclude the lesson with this last step in both critical and creative thinking: I ask students to present an argument in an essay format for why the Amendments are an important part of the Constitution. Students used the (7) So What/ So Why Frame of Reference questions for their opening and closing and the information from the Maps to provide the supporting details for their argument.

These rights, as defined by the various Map activities, are guaranteed to all citizens of the United States.I will leave you with this one sentence, which for me captures the essence of the amendments also known as The Bill of Rights:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peacefully to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”


By default, it’s neither good nor evil

Posted on by Thinking Maps


Do you love or hate technology? Most of the time the answer to this question is complicated. Other times, it’s easy to say “I love it” or “I hate it.” On one end, technology can enable students to access a depth and breadth of knowledge at the touch of a button. On the other end, it can also distract them while driving and eat away at their grammar. At the end of the day the most important thing to remember is that technology is a tool. It’s an extension of the human body that you can manipulate and hold. How you choose to use it is what makes it good or evil.
As you read the following collection, consider whether the critique is of the practice or of the technology itself.



7 Lessons For Teaching Students How To Think

Posted on by Thinking Maps


Give students a thought and they’ll learn for a day. Teach students to think and they’ll learn for a lifetime.

Teaching is one of the most important professions of all time. As it changes to reflect what students need in the 21st century, we stick to our foundations: equipping learning communities with the tools for critical and creative thinking. With that frame of reference in mind, here are seven lessons by Chris Yeager on the practice of teaching critical thinking.


21st Century Learning

(click to enlarge)


1. Teach students how to think

2. The importance of prior knowledge 

3. The power of asking questions

4. Asking the right kinds of questions

5. Gathering quality information

6. Sharing knowledge learned

7. Measuring the outcomes


Chris Yeager is the Director of Consulting for Thinking Maps, Inc, and co-author of Thinking Maps®: A Language for Learning and Thinking Maps®: A Language for Leadership, 2nd Ed. She joined the company in 1995, following 20 years of work as a high school English teacher, Instructional Curriculum Facilitator, and assistant principal with Cumberland County Schools in North Carolina. She blends her training in critical thinking, mastery learning, cooperative learning, elements of instruction, and cognitive coaching with her work in Thinking Maps. Chris sees Thinking Maps as a realistic way to apply the principles of brain research in the everyday process of teaching and learning.

Silver Lining Focus to Start a New School Year

Posted on by Kevin Dougherty


The activity I am sharing with you is  one I conducted with my staff when I first served a principal.  I hope you find it to be useful.

As you prepare to begin a new school year, there are certain to be memories of previously-faced challenges that are threatening to cloud your sunny view of the coming year.  I encourage you to begin by acknowledging them by creating a Circle Map to brainstorm and record these challenges.

 Silver Lining Map 1


When you have noted the challenges you previously faced, select the one about which you would most like to consider the resulting lessons learned.  Now, create a one-sided MultiFlow Map to identify as many positive outcomes of this challenge as possible.

Silver Lining Map 2

Once you have identified them, take some time to reflect on these lessons learned and select the one that has been most valuable for you.

Silver Lining Map 3

Following this selection, please tear a strip of aluminum foil and write this valuable lesson learned on the aluminum foil strip using a permanent black marker.  Place this strip in a prominent place in your classroom or office as a shiny, tangible reminder of the silver linings that result from even our most difficult challenges.  This silver lining should serve to foster a growth mindset and inspire hope throughout the coming school year.

Silver Lining Map 4





Advice for Brand New Educators

Posted on by James Dean

The first day of a new school year always left me sleepless the night before.  Regardless of how much time I had spent in preparing my classroom, writing great lesson plans and triple thinking processes that I would implement still sleep would elude me.

As educators begin to return to their classrooms in the coming weeks, I am thinking about all of them and especially our brand new teachers.  This week I have the honor to speak to several new teacher orientation groups here in Florida and am challenged to think of the best advice to offer for a successful start and completion to their first year.

Here are four key actions, in my opinion, that I am going to share.

Successful start to year

1. Befriend your school’s support staff (custodial, cafeteria and secretarial).  It is a given that we should develop strong relationship with our students and collaborate well with our fellow educators but the support staff plays a very viable, often overlooked, roll in the smooth operation of a school.  Once a quarter our grade level would provide and have lunch with our custodial staff to thank them for all of their hard work.  This paid huge dividends on so many different occasions.  The cafeteria staff kept me well fed in that first year and even taught me how to properly carve a whole turkey (helpful skills when trying to impress the family).  Of course, the school’s secretary became my immediate hero when helping me navigate the wonderful world of Human Resources.  Perhaps this piece of advice may appear self-serving but in the long run I truly made some great friendships.

2. Steer clear of spending time in the Teacher’s Lounge was the advice given to me by my college mentor, Dr. Dona Thornton.  Unfortunately, this room can be a breeding-ground for negativity.  I would, instead, eat lunch with my students more often than not and if a break was needed, I would just take a walk or eat in my classroom.

3. You will more than likely be assigned a mentor teacher at your school site but make it your priority to build your own Professional/Personal Learning Network (#PLN).  There are many ways to do this and with the power of social media the options are limited.  Twitter is one of my favorite new places to connect with other education professionals and I am now looking forward to the collaboration that will happen in our new Thinking Maps Learning Community.  Your PLN will be a great resource for you as you navigate new standards, new strategies, new teacher evaluation systems and reflecting on your practice.

4. Take at least one personal day each year for your own personal development.  Each year I would take a personal day usually around January and visit another educator’s classroom in a different school that had been recommended to me.  It served two purposes:  1. To allow me to see how others approached the craft of teaching and therefore hone my own and 2. To expose me to different grade levels and their developmental needs.  I would always let my administrators know what I was doing, reasons for doing this and come back and reflect with them on the day.  This day was a great way for me to recharge for the year as well.

I am certain that with all of the collective experiences out there we can build an extensive library of great advice.  Join me in the conversation and share your best advice for a brand new educator or perhaps just great advice to start/complete the school year.


Chunking, The Thinking Behind Breaking It Down

Posted on by Kevin Dougherty

 Chunking Information

One of the benefits of using Thinking Maps results from the chunking of information prior to placing it into the eight visual patterns.  This process of synthesizing the information requires learners to engage in a heightened level of critical thinking.  The result is increased comprehension, retention, and application of information learned.

While David Hyerle was creating this transformational common visual language for learning his doctoral studies at UC Berkley in northern California, the famed basketball coach, John Wooden was busy leading his UCLA teams to a record setting number of NCAA national championships.

In his book, WOODEN: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court, Coach Wooden records his observation that, “People learn more effectively if information is given to us in bite – sized amounts,  rather than everything all at once.” (154)  His experience as a coach taught him that it was not only important to break the information down for his players into smaller chunks, but he had to thoughtfully consider what pieces of information to provide to whom and at what time.  It seems Coach Wooden recognized the significance of appropriately differentiating the learning based on the unique contexts and readiness levels of his players.

The chunked information he provided addressed every aspect of the game from individual/team goals, various basketball skills/strategies, attitude, conduct, and responsibilities.  According to Wooden, “Breaking it down into small, easily consumed parts insured it would be read, learned, and used most efficiently and effectively.” (155)

Wooden concluded his section entitled, A Key to Learning, by offering his supposition that this coaching strategy would be equally beneficial for leaders and teachers.  I would have to agree.  Still, as successful as his teams were, I can’t help but think the effectiveness of his strategy may have been enhanced had he and his players been introduced to Thinking Maps.


Write From the Beginning…and Beyond

Posted on by Thinking Maps

Narrative, Expository/Informative, Argumentative…Oh My!!!

By Brenda Baker

The 1939 MGM adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s book turns 75 this year.  The Wizard of Oz tells the story of Dorothy, an innocent farm girl whisked out of the safety of her comfortable existence by a twister and into a land one could only imagine. Dorothy’s journey in Oz will take her down a yellow brick road with her little dog and some unusual but earnest friends. Multiple generations of baby boomers (including me) know not only the story, but can repeat selected dialogue as well.  “ToTo, I have a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore.” As I thought about Dorothy’s statement of bewilderment, I began to realize that many educators may be feeling these same emotions.  College and Career Readiness Standards, 21st – Century Skills, as well as initiatives such as Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have not been present in our educational landscape for a number of years.  As a result, writing is now treated as an equal partner with reading and has become the channel that will improve not only composition skills but critical reading skills as well. What can Thinking Maps offer administrators and teachers as they are confronted with these new rigorous curriculum standards?

We believe, with respect to writing, the answer lies in Write from the Beginning and Beyond (WFBB). WFBB is a K-8 comprehensive, systemically structured, writing curriculum designed to assist educators and students develop the knowledge and skills necessary for age-appropriate and domain-specific writing achievement.  Each of the domains of writing utilizes a combination of modeling, analytic rubrics, and mini-lessons that focus on the essential elements of effective writing. With our curriculum model, students have consistently demonstrated the ability to produce writing that is  more authentic, more engaging, and better organized, while never being flat or monotonous. For me, WFBB is the “Yellow Brick Road” that leads educators on the path to successful writing achievement for our students throughout and beyond the school years.


Most teachers are comfortable assisting their students write a simple personal Narrative that is organized in a chronological sequence of events. They can then take this basic structure into the more erudite narrative organized categorically, often referred to as memoir or thematic writing.  WFBB extends this basic model to include the autobiographical incident.  Included in this domain will be strategies to elevate students’ ability to think and write more rigorously.  Because the narrative domain of writing is what teachers and students are most familiar with, it is a good place to start.

Expository / Informative

It might be helpful to take a moment to reflect on the types of writing that most of us encounter in our daily lives. When we read a newspaper or magazine, study a map or brochure, or even peruse a menu, the authors use expository writing to inform the reader about the topic. In the work place, expository writing is utilized when prospective employees define their skills and abilities as they complete applications. Technical writers employ how to methods to demonstrate the steps involved to accomplish specific tasks, as well as explain why a specific occurrence or change is taking place. While research confirms expository writing is the most natural for students, it often receives minimal attention in the lower grades. When we empower our students to embrace expository writing, we also are developing competent readers of expository text, a skill that will encourage a lifetime of learning.


Argumentative writing is a connected chain of declarations or reasons that support one side of a particular issue about which rational people disagree. When students have mastered Expository to Explain Why, they are ready to begin Argumentative. Under the Argumentative umbrella, each WFBB mode is delivered in order of complexity, sophistication, and critical thinking. Teachers and students then progress to persuasive, problem/solution writing, the evaluative argument, and the formal logical argument. With WFBB, instruction is layered to insure that the students have the opportunity to internalize and build on the information as it is being presented.  Each teacher, then, delivers instruction according to the students’ level of writing proficiency within the Argumentative continuum.

The “Magic”

We at Thinking Maps firmly believe that all students have the ability to write effectively.  The Tin man, the Scarecrow and the Lion needed a bit of “magic” provided by the Wizard of Oz to help them discover their hidden talents. WFBB, in the hands of a skilled educator, can provide the “magic” that will unlock the writing abilities of students and set them on the “Yellow Brick Road” to successful writing.  We invite you to come home with WFBB which can be your standalone writing curriculum or can also be used to supplement the strategies you are currently using in your classroom.

So tap those Ruby Red Slippers, and let’s get started, because as Dorothy says, “There’s no place like home!”


When Am I Ever Going To Use This Stuff?!

Posted on by Thinking Maps


Summer is our busiest time of the year — and our favorite! We dedicate our time to strengthening your understanding of Thinking Maps through our Training of Trainers (TOTs) and conferences. Every summer, we are infused with the energy and enthusiasm that connected educators bring to the table, especially when we talk about improving schools and student achievement.

Last week’s TOT was just like the rest. It was amazing! What made it special was receiving heartwarming feedback from our Thinking Maps community. Kristen Valenzuela at De Anza Elementary School reached out to Chris Yeager and shared with us her Thinking Maps AH-HA moment. Below you will find the letter that Kristen sent to Chris.

First of all, thank you Kristen for letting us share your AH-HA moment with our Thinking Maps community. It means so much to all of us to see our Thinking Maps community grow! Secondly, if you have experienced the same AH-HA moment, please share it with us! You can reach us at or leave a comment at the end of the post.

We look forward to hearing from you.


Double Bubble

Dear Chris,

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the 3-day training I finished today.  It was simply MIND-BLOWING!  I am seeing everything around me in MAPS!  (I haven’t figured out if this is a good or bad thing yet. I think it’s going to make my family crazy) What I wanted to share with you was an AH-HA moment I just had.  I am currently taking online course towards my Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction in Elementary Reading through Grand Canyon University. Tonight’s NEW discussion question was this :

Compare and contrast two assessment tools and explain when each would be most effective in evaluating a particular learning objective in a curriculum. Explain how you would adjust your teaching based on the results.

I instantly grabbed a piece of paper out of my printer and drew a DOUBLE BUBBLE map (and I can hear you saying it with your melodic southern drawl). Talk about answering the question, “How and when am I ever going to use this stuff?”!  I used it IMMEDIATELY.

To add to that, the other question I had to answer had to do with assessment tools.  Guess where my mind went to?  I instantly thought of Thinking Maps, formative assessment and authentic evidence.  My entire response was based on today’s topic of how do I use THINKING MAPS in the classroom.  Without giving away any “Trade Secrets” from Thinking Maps, Inc, I described the idea of 8 essential questions (8 cognitive patterns) and how they apply to CCSS.

So, not only did you teach me how to be a more effective teacher, you also taught me how to be an effective student. As soon as I finish emailing you I am taking my Double Bubble Map and writing a structured response to the question.

Kristen Valenzuela
De Anza Elementary School

Lessons in Baseball, in School…in Life

Posted on by Kevin Dougherty


As I sit here at my son’s collegiate league baseball game on a breezy June morning, I am reflecting back on the decade and a half I have spent sitting in the stands watching him play.  For twice that period of time I have either been an educator or have served educators.  Spending time at his games has always provided me time for relaxation and reflection.  During my relaxed reflection this morning, I begin to wonder what it is these two of my life’s past times have in common.  Several things immediately come to mind.  In both instances I have observed examples of perseverance, teamwork, competition, and enjoyment.

Lessons in Baseball 1 of 5


First of all, I must frame what I am about to share with you by mentioning the fact that for the past several years my son has been a pitcher-only.  It is for this reason that when he is not pitching, which he is not doing today, I have the luxury of time to wonder about such things.

Lessons in Baseball 2 of 5

On the ball field, as in school, fresh starts present themselves continuously. New pitches, new at bats, new games. New classes, new teachers, new school years.  Acknowledging the existence of these fresh starts helps to fuel one’s optimism and to maintain a focus on opportunities. Success depends upon framing current actions with plans for the future and lessons learned from the past.  In both education and baseball our future plans provide purpose and direction while lessons learned from past shape current perspectives and actions.  These understandings prompt a persevering spirit in both instances and promote a focus on perpetual growth and improvement as well.

Lessons in Baseball 3 of 5


In baseball, as in education, this growth and improvement occur within the supportive context of a team.  The educational team comes in the form of a staff, department, grade level or administrative team. These team members, like players on a baseball team, each possess unique talents and skills that best equip them for the position they play.  Working collaboratively as a team to achieve shared goals synergistically enhances the impact of each team member’s individual contribution.  When everyone does their part, the load is lighter for each individual member of the team.  This happens most effectively when each individual on the team clearly understands his role and how the position he plays contributes to the success of the team as a whole.

Lessons in Baseball 4 of 5

Whatever level of teamwork is present, competition is inevitable in both schools and baseball.  While there are always lessons to be learned from losses, games are played to be won.  Wins and losses are recorded and reported, so too are pitching ERAs and batting averages.  Such reporting for professional baseball teams may be found real-time online as well as in our daily newspapers.  Such comparisons are similarly reported for our schools and districts.  These results largely reflect student performance on standardized assessments.  In baseball this reporting may serve to offer encouragement to players whose names appear at the top of the list and potentially discourage those whose names appear near the bottom.  Equally, reported results of educators and students in states/districts/schools/classrooms may serve to exalt the efforts of some while seemingly dismissing the efforts of others.  Despite the temptation (especially when on the low end of the standings) to cite such reporting as a reason for reduced attention to continuous improvement, the educator/student and coach/player must strongly resist such temptation. Instead, regardless of one’s standings, it is imperative to continuously set and strive to achieve high expectations for one’s self.  Working to be the best that one can be may be the most important competition of all. It also ensures one’s value to the team remains as significant as possible.

Lessons in Baseball 5 of 5

While one strives to be the best on the diamond or in educational environments, it is essential to experience some level of enjoyment daily.  Experiencing this enjoyment may serve as a relished reward for the effort necessary to effectively engage in activities of the day.  Such enjoyment offers fulfillment and purposefulness for work on the field and in the classroom.  Neither school, nor baseball should simply be about preparation for various benchmark events, as there are no guarantees such events will occur. This reminds me of John Dewey’s writing regarding the purpose of school.  Dewey insisted school is not merely preparation for life, rather – school is life.  I imagine the same could then be said about baseball as well! 

I encourage you to thoughtfully consider and share commonalities that may exist between your favorite past time outside of school and the work you do in school.

How Do You Teach Someone To Think Creatively?

Posted on by Chris Yeager
Photo Credit: Purple Sherbet Photography

Photo Credit: Purple Sherbet Photography

So how do you teach someone to think creatively? That always makes me think about an observation I did during my coaching career. The young teacher was trying to be supportive of a struggling student, trying to provide feedback that would help the student learn to go beyond a simple yes or no answer or even the dreaded “I don’t know” response. She looked at the young girl and said “I know you can answer this question. Just think harder.” I watched the child knit her brow trying so hard to do what the teacher asked her to do, but, like me, she wasn’t really sure what “thinking harder” involved.

So like all good 21st century learners, I Googled “What does thinking creatively mean?” The Partnership for 21st Century Skills provided me with three simple (?), specific bullet points:

  • Use a wide range of idea creation techniques (such as brainstorming)

  • Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)

  • Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts.

Ok, that should be easy enough. Let’s think creatively about the first bullet point. I truly believe that using Thinking Maps helps students become better critical and creative thinkers, so let’s see if I could apply the maps to accomplishing the first point.

I could use a variety of Thinking Maps to “think about” thinking creatively. Maybe I could study creative people to see what they do.

1. Use a Circle Map to brainstorm all of the creative people I know.  Then choose two or three people from very different fields or walks of life.

Then I could access a variety of sources and …

2. Use a Tree Map and/or a Flow Map to trace each person’s life – key events in his/her lifetime, key details about his/her life, education, influences, etc.

3. Create an ongoing Bubble Map to capture the characteristics and qualities each creative person possessed.

4. Choose one or two of those major events and create a Multi-Flow identifying the causes and effects of these defining times.

5. Using all of the information from the maps listed above, I could create a Double Bubble Map comparing any two people.

6. Finally, I would use the center of the Double Bubble to identify the common attributes of creativity.

Once I had the list, I could start identifying how to awaken each attribute in my own life so that I could be more creative. Does that sound like thinking creatively? If I used these Thinking Maps to accomplish the first bullet point, “Use a wide range of idea creation techniques,” wouldn’t I also be doing the other two?