Thursday Thinkers – Getting students to develop great questions

In order for students to practise their oral language skills and engage in higher order thinking, I have gotten them to participate in something called Thursday Thinkers (based on Rebecca Davies’ creation that goes by the same name, see here). Rebecca’s post got me thinking about how I could support my early years students (Year 2) to develop more complex questions and answers to events and things in our every day lives.

Thursday Thinkers in my classroom is a half hour session with the whole class where students have to come up with their own questions and answers to a particular topic.

Initially when my students were first asked to think about questions they have about a book or video, they would simply use the stock standard ‘who, what, where’ question stems. However, I soon saw a dramatic change after I used the Harvard Visible Thinking Question Starts  in conjunction with watching a video on Behind the News. I specifically chose videos that had some relevance for my students, for example some of them recently bought a labrador and as a class, we watched the video on Guide Dogs.

After watching the 3-4 minute video, I showed my students the Question Starts:

How would it be different if…?
What are the reasons…?
Suppose that…?
What if…?
What if we knew…?
What is the purpose of…?
What would change if…?

I modelled how to come up with a question using the question starts. Students then came up with their own and each session we picked one to answer as a class or in groups. Some of the questions we came up with after watching the guide dogs video were:

  • What if everyone in the world were blind?
  • What if there were no guide dogs?

After implementing these thinking sessions over numerous weeks, the students became more independent when asking questions and the increasing complexity of their questions really surprised me. It is also wonderful to see how they are starting to apply this way of questioning to other parts of the curriculum. I am now keen to try some other visible thinking routines to use with my students such as Tug of War in preparation for their persuasive writing.

Photo credit: Woof via

Have you used any other visible thinking tools? How have you developed your students’ thinking? 

Explain Everything v Thinglink

ThinglinkExplain Everything

For many projects and assignments, I have often used the iPad app Explain Everything for Year 1 and 2 students to share their thinking. I have used Explain Everything for students to explain the features of 3D shapes and how they have worked out particular maths strategies. Thinglink has been used for students to review books they like or to make a quick comment about an image. After students make these projects, we share their work on the interactive whiteboard. It’s a real thrill for students to see their work displayed for the whole class to see.

Pros of Explain Everything:

  • Pictures, photos, text, symbols (arrows, etc) and videos can be inserted.
  • Students can draw pictures using the tools.
  • Students can record their voice.
  • The final Explain Everything project can be copied to the photo roll of the iPad, and then played on an ordinary computer.

Cons of Explain Everything:

  • It is not that intuitive and not simple to use (for year 1 and 2 students at least). Students need to be explicitly taught what each symbol (i.e. the + one for new slide) means, how to insert a picture or take a picture and so on. Inserting arrows and different coloured text needs some playing around with.
  • I am still not sure how students do this, but sometimes when students draw a picture and then record their voice explaining the image, the picture somehow disappears until the very end of the video.

I recently discovered a great app called Thinglink. This is also an app where students can share their thinking.

Pros of Thinglink:

  • Pictures, photos, text and videos can be inserted.
  • Students can make a video.
  • The final Thinglink can be embedded into a blog.
  • It is intuitive and very easy to students to learn how to use.

Cons of Thinglink:

  • The final Thinglink cannot be saved onto the camera roll.
  • Students can’t draw pictures.
  • Internet connection is required for work to be displayed.

Overall, I feel that if I want students to make a book response or project that doesn’t require it to be saved onto the camera roll, Thinglink will be my preference.

How do you feel about using Explain Everything and Thinglink? Which one do you prefer students to use and why?