5 Ways to Improve Deep Thinking in the Classroom

Deep thinking doesn't come easy, With purposeful strategy work, we can help young learners. This post offers tips and resources.

Who thinks deep thinking happens naturally?  You don’t? Why not?   I think it is the tough to teach students deep thinking. Some students just automatically dig deeper, but the vast majority of students just scratch the surface and think more concretely. Developmental stage does impact this, but there are strategies we can put in place to help students get there. Let’s talk about deep thinking strategies.

How to Model Deep Thinking

The number one way teachers can help their students think deeply is to model it. Think Aloud is the method that is recommended for modeling how and what we want our students to think about as they read. We can use carefully selected mentor texts to demonstrate our thinking or online resources that allow us to project and record our thoughts. It’s important to make our thoughts visible to students with anchor charts, selective highlighting, and annotating (in the margins or with sticky notes). A wonderful online resource to use for this is Reading A-Z’s projectable books. [This post] includes tips on how to use the projectable feature of Reading A-Z, but you may be able to use the same tips with your own articles in Smart Notebook as well.

Use Questioning Strategies for deep thinking

Question-Answer Relationship or QAR

When I think about questioning, several strategies come to mind.  The first is QAR or Question Answer Relationship. Having students analyze question types is a high level thinking skill.  Students will begin to recognize question stems and better yet, be able to look for the evidence they need to support their thinking.

All year, I work with my students on explaining why they think X??  How do you know X?? If we push our kids to explain, they will learn to think that way on their own.

Reciprocal Teaching

Another technique that works well is Reciprocal Teaching which includes predicting, questions, clarifying, and summarizing. Reciprocal Teaching is student led process where students discuss A LOT. Keep in mind that the more we get our kids talking about their reading and thinking, the deeper they will comprehend.  The freebie to the left may be helpful as you teach your students their role in Reciprocal Teaching. Students take on the teacher role as they are put in charge of these four steps.  

Close Reading and Determining Importance for Deep Thinking

In addition to modeling and questioning (teacher’s role mainly), I think it’s important to teach kids to use strategies such as Close Reading and Determining Importance. These processes help our students categorize the information drawn from the text in order of importance. With my students, we read by paragraph and talk about which information is important and which information is interesting.

Once students can see the difference, they are better able to use Close Reading steps.  I made the “anchor chart” to the right for my students’ interactive notebooks, and we use the organizer to the left with a few articles to practice.

There are many Close Reading freebies on TPT to help you get started in helping your students as well as indepth blog posts. I am sharing my Close Reading pinterest board to help readers find them. The key is to walk your students through the process (Think Aloud) and gradually release the responsibility to them.  

When we do a Close Read in my classroom, we read three times for different purposes ending with writing in response to reading which is deep. I honestly think that this strategy helped my students more than any other this year.  

Close Reading Pins for Deep Thinking

Links to other posts you’d like:

How do you get deep thinking in your classroom?  Please share.  As I mentioned at the start, this is *the* toughest skill for struggling readers and yet, our curriculum demands it.

Deep thinking doesn't come easy, With purposeful strategy work, we can help young learners. This post offers tips and resources.

Download this free resource to use with your literature circles:


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.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Great post. You include so many different aid was and avenues to approach critical thinking. I agree…it is one of the hardest things to actually teach.

  2. Hi Carla – I LOVE your close reading Pinterest board! I can't wait to check out everything you pinned. I'm always looking for different ways to approach close reading with my kiddos! – Lisa

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