Have you ever told your students to “put on their thinking caps”? This metaphor for kicking thought into high gear hints at an important truth—that critical thinking often requires us to “try on” other ways of thinking, just as we might try on different hats.

In his book Six Thinking Hats, Edward de Bono extends this idea, describing six different colored “hats” or modalities of thought: white for information and fact-gathering, red for emotion and gut feelings, and so on. In the classroom, this framework can be translated into a strategy for modeling critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration—in other words, a strategy that should be in every teacher’s back pocket.

With your whole classroom, or in small groups, you can introduce the six hats as an approach to solving a problem or tackling a group project. (And of course, you can make it fun by building a collection of different colored hats in the classroom for students to use as props!)

Read on for specific ideas on implementing this strategy in your classroom from Dr. Sandra Love, Director of Education Insight and Research here at Mentoring Minds, or you can download and print this article as a PDF to share with your colleagues.

Download this article as a PDF.

Strategies to Help Students “Think Thoughtfully”

Critical thinking. Creativity. Collaboration. Communication. How can educators integrate these 21st century skills in classrooms? An authority in the field of thinking, Edward de Bono, shares a concept in his book Six Thinking Hats that can serve as a unique strategy for teachers to engage students in whole- and small-group discussions about the real world.

Six Types of Thinking

Six hat colors signal different types of thinking required by the students. A poster representing the six colors may be displayed in the classroom with descriptions that explain the thinking required when a particular hat is called upon to ‘speak.’

  • White Hat – information, facts
  • Red Hat – emotions, feelings
  • Yellow Hat – benefits, advantages, pluses
  • Black Hat – critical viewpoints, disadvantages, minuses
  • Green Hat – new ideas, creativity, innovation
  • Blue Hat – overview, summarization, process organizer

During a discussion, the six hats may be repeatedly used in any sequence. White Hat thinkers present objective facts or the information they know about the topic; Red Hat thinkers share their emotions about the topic; Yellow Hat thinkers are optimistic and share positive points; Black Hat thinkers tell why an idea might not work or what obstacles might arise; Green Hat thinkers generate solutions or creative ideas; Blue Hat thinkers are active listeners and move the discussion forward. The teacher may ask certain thinking hats to contribute again, before the Blue Hat thinkers summarize what has been shared by each of the groups and form a conclusion.

Ideas for Implementation Today

The hat strategy maintains productivity during a discussion while also serving as a classroom management tool to keep students on topic. Discussion topics might relate to content areas or connect to today’s world inside and outside the classroom. An example might be: Should students be allowed to bring cell phones to school?

  • Option 1: Students participate in a whole- or small-group discussion about the topic, communicating only the thoughts associated with the thinking hat designated by the teacher (e.g., Let’s begin our discussion with White Hat thinking. I want to hear your Red Hat thoughts, but this is not the appropriate time. Next, I would like to hear Yellow Hat thinking.). Once students understand the thinking process, a Blue Hat thinker may facilitate discussions.
  • Option 2: Students are divided into six groups, with each group assigned a different color of the six thinking hats. After the teacher selects a topic, each group collaborates using the assigned hat to focus their thoughts. Then, each group member shares an individual perspective or the group’s designee may present the collective ideas that emerge from the discussion. The Blue Hat thinkers offer an overview, orchestrate the thinking process, and conclude the discussion.

Model Critical Thinking in Your Classroom

Download this article to share with your colleagues and use in your classroom. Once you’ve tried it with your students, come back and let us know how it went in the comments below!

Download this article as a PDF.