Thinking Keys

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We use the first version of Tony Ryan’s Thinking Keys to stimulate different types of Thinking. As suggested by Ryan (1990), the Keys help ‘unlock’ critical and creative thinking. Some of the Keys are quite linear and some are creative, which enables them to be carefully selected and work well with different ages groups and across all curriculum areas. The specific Key used in any learning episode is selected based on the needs intended to be met – this can be subject related or skill based. For example, the BAR Key might be used to evaluate a team performance in a Physical Education lesson or to assess a worked example in Maths. On the other hand, an Inventions Key might be used to start an English lesson and not be content related because it is used to set the tone for the creative thinking that will be needed in the lesson. Although some Keys are similar in terms of description and require similar thinking, the end results can look very different.

Key Name Brief Explanation
The Alphabet Great for building up subject specific vocabulary. Students identify words that begin with each letter
The Reverse Students are asked to consider or design questions which ask what ‘cannot’ or ‘would never’ be
The What if Students asked to consider or design questions that prompt what if thinking
The Disadvantages Students consider the potential limitations
The Combination Seeking to combine the features of two ideas or concepts to design a better idea
The BAR Students asked what they might make Bigger, Add or Replace in an idea or design
The Variations Students seek alternative methods to meet an end point- how many ways might you…?
The Picture Students provided with a picture and asked to link it to a topic
The Prediction Think of possible outcomes to a set of given circumstances
The Different uses Imaginative and creative uses for an object – perceptual rather than conceptual thinking
The Ridiculous Seeking to justify a statement that could be classed as difficult to implement
The Commonality Two unrelated objects, pictures or concepts and students are asked to find a commonality
The Question Identifying answers and asking students to identify possible questions that lead to the answers provided
The Brainstorming Contemplating solutions to problems
The Inventions Devise an invention from the use of unrelated materials
The Brick wall Identify different ways to deal with ideas or concepts that are valued as ‘truths’
The Construction Using everyday materials physically construct useful objects related to the topic or ‘construct’ key meaning from pieces of knowledge
The Forced relationship Identifying the benefits from a forced relationship between two objects or ideas
The Alternatives Looking for alternative ways to solve a problem
The Interpretations Identify different interpretations of your own of an event i.e. look for different perspectives

For many teachers the Keys provide methods to encourage students to build understanding, retrieve prior learning and the opportunity to apply and be creative with their understanding. Some staff will use a Key as a starter or a mini plenary during a lesson whilst others will encourage students to be independent with their use and self- select which Key could be used to meet the needs of a task.