Learn more about higher order thinking

Map skills and higher-order thinking
This series of articles looks at map skills as a kind of visual literacy, considering what maps are, how they're made, and the higher-order thinking skills students need to move from simply decoding maps to fully comprehending them.
Format: series (multiple pages)
Educator's guide: The arrival of Swiss immigrants
Teaching suggestions to help your students synthesize the information in the article "The Arrival of Swiss Immigrants."
Format: lesson plan (grade 8 Social Studies)
By Pauline S. Johnson.
Topics in Social Studies Education
In Preservice teacher education resources, page 2.2
Resources Specific to Social Studies Social Studies Teaching Methods The Paideia Seminar Paideia embodies an educational approach...
Format: article/teacher's guide
Bloom's Taxonomy
Bloom's Taxonomy is a classification system developed in 1956 by education psychologist Benjamin Bloom to categorize intellectual skills and behavior important to learning. Bloom identified six cognitive levels: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis,...
Format: article
By Heather Coffey.
Primary source letters lesson plan
In Tobacco bag stringing: Secondary activity two, page 1
This is one of a series of activities that will help educators use the Tobacco Bag Stringing project materials in their classrooms. Throughout the series students will learn about tobacco stringing, study primary source...
Format: lesson plan
By Pauline S. Johnson.

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Complex thinking that goes beyond basic recall of facts, such as evaluation and invention, enabling students to retain information and to apply problem-solving solutions to real-world problems.

Additional information

Higher order thinking skills are valued because they are believed to better prepare students for the challenges of adult work and daily life and advanced academic work. Higher order thinking may also help raise standardized test scores. A curriculum emphasizing higher order thinking skills has been found to substantially increase math and reading comprehension scores of economically disadvantaged students (Pogrow, 2005).

The idea that thinking can be divided into higher and lower levels was elaborated by Benjamin Bloom’s 1956 Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, usually called Bloom’s taxonomy. Bloom identified six levels of cognition, with knowledge being lowest and analysis, synthesis, and evaluation being highest:

  1. Knowledge (memory of facts)
  2. Comprehension (understanding of facts, demonstrated by organizing or interpreting them)
  3. Application (using understanding to solve problems)
  4. Analysis (recognizing patterns suggested by facts)
  5. Synthesis (producing something new)
  6. Evaluation (judging quality of a solution or theory)

For example, naming all the presidents of the United States is a feat of knowledge. Explaining how the Electoral College works is a comprehension task. Determining the winner of an election based on the raw votes is an application task. Considering the effects of redistricting is an act of analysis. Devising an alternative to the Electoral College is a work of synthesis. Assessing the efficacy of the Electoral College in conveying the will of the people is a work of evaluation.

The type of thinking a task requires depends on the student’s prior knowledge. For instance, determining which animals are mammals may indicate understanding of the features mammals share (application) or simply knowledge that cats, rats, and bats are all mammals. Similarly, the third side of a right triangle whose first two sides are three inches and four inches can be calculated using the Pythagorean theorem (application) or memorized (knowledge).

Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) also refers to a program designed to teach higher order thinking skills through the use of computers and the Socratic Method. HOTS is specifically designed for at-risk students in grades four to seven based on the premise that at-risk students need help regulating their thinking.


Pogrow, Stanley. “HOTS revisited: A thinking development approach to reducing the learning gap after grade 3.” Phi Delta Kappan, 87, 2005. 64–75.

Examples and resources

Examples of Activities that Promote Higher Order Thinking can be found at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Faculty Center for Teaching and e-Learning.