3 Ways of Bringing Your Students Thinking and Understanding to Life

Students know and understand so much in our course, right? If we focus on content and rush through the standards then are we leaving our students behind? How can we tell our students are understanding the material while also promoting deeper critical thinking?

We will discuss 3 ways you can use to make your students thinking and understanding visible so you can see your students’ thoughts processes and meaning-making.

1. Hexagonal Thinking

Hexagonal thinking is great for reviewing or for pre-unit introductions.

  • Great for making connections from prior knowledge to deeper thinking and new concepts
  • Connecting new ideas with old
  • Focuses on what students do know instead of what they don’t know
  • Utilizes hexagon shapes to connect topics

How to utilize in your class

  1. Students work in small groups each group gets a pile of hexagons (either blank or Pre-filled)
    • If the hexagons are blank, students pull important material from the content to connect
    • If the hexagons are pre-made, students move straight into the next step
  2. Students discuss connections between hexagon topics
    • The more connections a topic has the more hexagons it will be touching.
    • If 2 hexagons are touching then they will have a connection.
  3. Class discussion on what hexagons the groups had connecting
    • Students explain their reasoning for the connections
    • As a class create a hexagonal map with the connections

A free template for the hexagonal shapes is linked below


2. Peeling The Fruit

Peel the fruit focuses on building comprehension deeper than standards. The main goal of this method is to get students thinking about the ideas we teach in a critical mind while also taking other points of view into consideration as well as making deep connections to the material.

This Concept has students work through 6 steps, each getting deeper as they move through the fruit. The most shallow level is based purely on observations and the deepest level looks for an overall core idea that the concept comes from. Why do we teach this? Why is it relevant in my life?

Peel The Fruit
  1. Outside Layer
    • What do you see or notice right away?
  2. Under the Skin
    • What questions do you have?
  3. Substance
    • How does this fit or connect?
  4. Substance
    • What is really going on?
  5. Substance
    • What are some other points of view?
  6. Core
    • What is at the core of all this?

How to utilize it in your classroom

  1. Can be used as a full class discussion or as a small group discussion.
  2. Show the students a text to respond to
    • Can be a video, a small blurb of text, a picture, etc…
  3. Students will respond to the prompts per each part connecting each step.
  4. As a class connect the ideas to each of the parts and discuss the importance of a deeper understanding

In a science classroom, this could be used to discuss topics that are visual or that will envoke a class discussion such as

  • Genetics
    • Structure of DNA
  • Erosion/Weathering
  • Controversial/ethically questioned practices
    • Animal Testing
    • Global Warming

3. Compass Points

Compass points focus on the comprehension of an idea or proposition. Students are able to examine the ideas with a critical lens as well as give feedback on what we need to go deeper into or suggestions on how we can evaluate the idea or propositions deeper. This gives you, as a teacher, feedback on what the students are comprehending and what they feel they need clarification on.

Compass Points
  • E (East)
    • What Excites you about this idea or proposition? What’s the upside?
  • W (West)
    • What do you find Worrisome about this idea or proposition? What’s the downside?
  • N (North)
    • What else do you Need to know or find out about this need or proposition?
  • S (South)
    • What is your Current Stance or opinion on the idea/proposition?
    • What should your next Step be in your evaluation of this idea/ proposition?
    • What Suggestions do you have at this point?

How to utilize it in your classroom

  1. This works best when done individually
  2. Have students answer the prompts as a concept map or diagram (like the video below)
  3. You can walk your students through each step or allow the students to do them at their own pace
  4. After the students finish their responses,
    • Engage in a Class Discussion
    • Use this as an Exit Ticket


  1. Hexagonal Thinking
    • Great for connecting ideas from previous units to new units
    • Similar to concept maps but unique with hexagon shapes
    • Can be easily modified to be a pre- or post-unit review
  2. Peel The Fruit
    • Great for digging deeper into the ideas and phenomena beyond standards
    • Can be Easily adapted to any content area, phenomenon, or idea
  3. Compass Points
    • Great for getting feedback after a unit, exit tickets, or clarifications
    • Allows students to have critical self-review on what they need clarification on as well as suggestions for moving forward with their evaluation of the idea, proposition, or phenomenon

Thank you for making it to the end! I hope these methods of making your students understanding and thinking visible inspire you in your classroom!

Follow me on Twitter and Pinterest for more creative and innovative teacher tips.

Trinity Smith

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  1. Hi Trinity, this is an informative and engaging post! You explained each strategy well and I especially liked the sections titled “How to utilize in your classroom”. I will definitely use some of these strategies as you suggested! Out of all of the strategies you mentioned, which one do you think is best suited for a science classroom? Which one are you most excited about to use in your own classroom?

    • Hey Cahillar,
      I think all of the methods I discussed could be used in a science class! I am most excited to use the hexagonal thinking method I love how its similar to other methods but its also a unique, new way of thinking about connections and meaning making.

  2. Hi Trinity! Your post is very visually appealing, I love the fun heading colors! I found the videos you included very informative when it comes to further explaining ways our students can make their thinking visible while also providing examples of students doing just that! This was a fun read, awesome job!

    • Hey Henryhs,
      Glad you enjoyed it! I hope it inspired you to use some of the methods above for MTV in your class!

  3. Hey Trinity, I really loved your post this week and especially the visuals and videos you use to make your post engaging. Your examples of lesson plans using these strategies all sound great, I really like peel the fruit and it seems like you could use it for any science concept! Nice job Trinity.

    • Thanks Gabricle,
      So glad you enjoyed the blog! I hope it inspired you to use some of the methods above in your class!

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