How to Help your Readers Become Deep Thinkers

How to get all readers to become deep thinkers is a challenge every teachers work through. Imagine a teacher life with fully engaged students, hands raised whenever a question is asked, and everyone happy and smiling. A teacher's dream, right? In this post, I share ideas you can use to help your students become deep thinkers.

How to get all readers to become deep thinkers is a challenge every teachers work through. Imagine a teacher life with fully engaged students, hands raised whenever a question is asked, and everyone happy and smiling. A teacher’s dream, right? The reality is that many of our students require us to scaffold instruction for them and do not master concepts with our first lesson.

For many tasks we do in the classroom, creating deep thinkers is the goal and this takes hard work for some of our kiddos. Because we’re hearing the request for rigor in the classroom, we aim for the higher level of Blooms. Teachers know all kids can do it. We can’t and shouldn’t “dumb down” the curriculum to make it easier. Yet, we hate to see our kids hit frustration and/or fail. In this post, I’ll share ideas you can use to help your students become deep thinkers.

What do deep thinkers look like?

First of all, in order to create deep thinkers, we need to know what the criteria is. We have to have exemplars we want to model for our students. Here is the criteria I have in mind.

  • thinking beyond the basics
  • analyzing and explaining
  • demonstrating creativity
  • decisions supported with evidence
  • compares and connects ideas to other learning

In my school, we are closing in on end-of-the-year testing now. As we all know, assessments require kids to be deep thinkers. We can’t hold our students’ hands during the assessments, so we have to use a gradual release plan. They have to do it themselves. I have been teaching my heart out with two intervention groups I’ve been asked to help. In the past few months, I am definitely hearing deeper thinking, and I’m seeing kids process the texts better. I know that some won’t make it, but yet, the bar is set high. Even if they don’t make it, students achieve more when more is expected from them.

Strategies Deep Thinkers Use:

Deep Thinkers Make Connections

One of the first steps we need to make as teachers is to hook the kids in. You can try an engaging story, show a random object that you can connect to the lesson (see Comprehension Connections by Tanny McGregor), or add an element of suspense. As you hook them in, use think aloud to model your thinking. This provides the scaffold for kiddos who need to see the connection more concretely. 

Deep Thinkers Participate in Discussions

Group discussion offers the opportunity for all students to share their thinking AND hear other points of view. We can embed discovery into our discussions by using open ended questioning. Having kids brainstorm ideas and problem solve together encourages deep thinking to find different solutions. Collaboration in the workplace leads to better ideas, while collaboration in the classroom can pull the best from all.

Deep Thinkers Use Tech Tools to Dig Deeper

Man, when I first began teaching, we had one computer available for gamesand it was black and white I think. Fast forward 30 years , and I am glad to say that our schools now have one-to-one laptops. We use Google Apps for Education, and kids have so much more at their fingertips than I ever thought possible 30 years ago. With all the devices, it has become necessary to balance the amount of screen time and ensure that we use technology in effective ways. This leads to increased thinking, discovery and collaboration. Making use of technology to research, create, and expand ideas is what we need for deeper thinking. 

To Save Them or Not…That is the Question

You’ve got your kids into groups, and they’re in deep discussion. Suddenly, the hands shoot up. Do you answer the questions or run?  Well, running probably isn’t an option, so how do you avoid saving them? The answer is to reflect their questions back to them. When the student asks you for help, ask him/her what he/she thinks the answer is. If you get “I don’t know,” reply back with, “Let’s figure it out together.” You can continue with questioning that puts the workload into the hands of the student.

deep thinkers give Expanded Responses

Oh, the groans… We all hear them, but do not give in to groans. The reading-writing connection is huge.By expecting our kids to elaborate in their responses, we’re growing writers (and readers who are deeper thinkers), and if at first they don’t succeed, have them try, try again. They may not be happy to redo work, but they will thank you later. If we accept mediocre, then our kids get the message that it’s okay to accept mediocre of themselves. 

Praise, Praise, Praise the Effort of deep thinkers

We know a growth mindset is necessary for our kids, and that effective effort leads to growth. Growth takes time. We need our kids to put forth hard work over longer stretches of time to build stamina. We don’t get deep thinking just because we ask for it. It takes lots and lots of practice. With written responses, I am always thrilled to see how vocabulary grows, sentences expand, and how kids explain their connections.

How to Get High Engagement

During the past few months, I’ve been working with a few intervention groups on test taking strategies. Well, I think of these strategies more as thinking strategies than test prep. As part of our sessions, we’ve tackled the following: Close Reading with PROOF, Question-Answer Relationship, Text Structures, Reading for a Purpose, and specific reading skills such as main idea, drawing conclusions, etc. Throughout this process, I’ve been working on using the same five step plan to provide my kids with a basic checklist.

deep thinkers and The PROOF Strategy

When we complete a big project for our administrators or in our coursework, we like having a checklist or rubric to follow, right? Well, I have noticed that transferring what kids have learned to the testing situation doesn’t happen easily. By having a checklist, I am hopeful they’ll be more successful, and so far, this PROOF anchor chart seems to be helping. 


How the proof strategy Works:

  • First of all, we PREVIEW the chosen text for clues. The kids record their observations prior to digging into the reading.
  • Then, the kids READ to get the gist. (surface reading). I suggest they number the paragraphs and record one sentence summaries in the margins.
  • Next, the kids OUTLINE AND UNDERLINE the important details. They may draw arrows for connections, box or circle key words, star main ideas, etc. [close reading practices]
  • After they’ve read for the second time and feel ready to tackle the questions, they ORGANIZE THEIR THOUGHTS by matching information needed to the questions.
  • Finally, they FLAG the evidence with their highlighter. We do not use highlighters until the last step. Last year, I found my kids overdo the highlighting, so this has eliminated that issue. You can download your copy of the PROOF chart if you’d like to give it a try.

As we gear up for our state testing, my kids are growing their thinking portfolio. The notebooks are a record of all of our lessons. I love what I am seeing and how our discussions are shifting. I may not get 100% over the mark, but I know they are connecting these lessons to their approach with reading and thinking.

If you are interested in checking out this growing bundle in my store, you can click on the image below. I’ve tackled the most challenging part for the kids first with comprehension and vocabulary, but there will be additional sections added for word analysis and poetry. If you have questions or specific areas of need, please feel free to message me to let me know.

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So remember, deep thinking doesn’t happen overnight or easily, but with strategic methods, we can help ALL children become deep thinkers who use the strategies we share.

Have a great week, and until next time, happy reading!

Carla with Comprehension Connection


Carla is a licensed reading specialist with 27 years of experience in the regular classroom (grades 1, 4, and 5), in Title 1 reading, as a tech specialists, and a literacy coach. She has a passion for literacy instruction and meeting the needs of the individual learner.