Ideas, Activities

Using Non-Linear Thinking in the Classroom

Many education experts and gurus are touting the benefits of teaching students more non-linear thinking strategies. Methods include project-based learning, student-initiated learning, inquiry-based lessons, Hour of Code, and Genius Hour.

One lesson is to have students practice their inductive reasoning skills. I always confuse inductive with deductive.

Inductive vs Deductive Logic - The Science of Deduction: When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. | ... Fundamentals of Writing Blog: Inductive and Deductive Reasoning:

  • Inductive is when students are given a set of premises and must draw a conclusion.
  • Deductive is when a conclusion or claim is given and students think of different scenarios or premises that fit that claim.

One such activity is to have students work through a set of players’ actions for a game (card game, board game, etc.). Students can work individually, in pairs, or in groups, and they must come up with a list of rules for the game based on the players’ actions.

I tried this with my English 3 Honors students, and they were very resistant at first. I divided them into two groups (I have small classes) and told them to come up with the list of rules for the game. Each group was given a different game, so they couldn’t “cheat” by overhearing the other group. On a separate sheet, they had to write down the rules of the game. I gave them no other limitations. They could have as many or as few rules as they wanted. The hardest part for me with this activity is NOT answering all of their questions. I had to give them time to figure it out on their own. If they had a question that was not relevant or was not necessary to their completion of the task, I just redirected them to what the task was and said no more. They were initially frustrated, but they learned to depend on their own minds rather than on the teacher for answers.

An example sheet is provided here. The sheet has both scenarios on it for easy printing and it has the SC standards used for this particular lesson. The teacher’s sheet is available here; it includes the rules I came up with to guide myself when making up the players’ actions.

mystery board game

This lesson is easily adaptable to outdoor games, different age-level games, recipe instructions, etc. The best part is that students start thinking differently, stretching brain muscles they don’t use often, and are creatively and productively challenged.

Although they grumbled a bit about how “hard” the activity was, they realized they enjoyed the freedom and the liberty to think outside of the box, to think in ways that were natural to them without the fear of being “wrong.”

That was the hurdle my students appeared most hesitant to jump over. They were so afraid of getting their rules wrong, it stifled their ability to think. Lessons like these encourage them to trust their judgment, build confidence, and allows them to see that there are more than ways to think than the one often prescribed in schools.

To extend this activity, we did a short reflection on what we learned about our thinking and the different ways to approach a problem. Their reflections aligned to what my goals were– that they realize more about their own methods and strategies, that they accept being outside their comfort zone and find productive ways to work through a problem.


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