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Active Thinking: Turning the Brain on for Better Grades


Young girl sitting in class with her hand up

All students are active thinkers by nature, but not all students know how to be active thinker when it comes to classroom learning. And especially not when it comes to homework.

That’s because, like many other school skills—studying, organization, focus—active thinking is a skill that students need to be taught how to use. Then, like any other skill, it needs to be practiced and honed before it becomes second nature.

Try these tips to turn on active thinking skills in and out of the classroom:

  1. Before heading into class, pause for a moment and try to remember what was learned in the previous class. This primes the brain to get it ready to review information and learn something new.
  2. Participate in class discussions. You don’t always have to have the right answers to think actively in class and listen to other student’s questions.
  3. When taking notes in class—or at home— think towards the test and make note of any potential test questions in the margins of the notebook. (And take note of questions other students have asked in class.)
  4. When reading or learning something new,  ask  if the new material calls to mind other material that is already known. Attempt to be draw similarities, no matter how random.
  5. When studying or doing homework, ask what is already known about a subject by performing a “mental review.” Then focus on concepts that were forgotten or overlooked. (If it’s forgotten on a mental review, it might be forgotten on a test too!)
  6. Set academic goals and work towards them. An active way to approach the learning process is by looking ahead and answering the “what’s next?” question. There’s always a test, a project, an assignment on the horizon. An active part of the learning process is knowing what’s coming up next, and being prepared.

Tip for Parents

Parents can encourage active thinking by prompting conversations about learning and by asking the right questions. Don’t just ask, “how was school?” Ask  more specific questions such as “how was math class?” and “what concepts did you learn today?”

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