An Easy Way to Encourage Higher Level Thinking

One of my favorite (and quick) ways to get students to do some higher level thinking without realizing it is a game I call, “What Doesn’t Belong and Why?”  I typically use this as a thematic or unit review so that students have the academic knowledge to flesh out a justification of their answer. I give the class 4 connected terms, but THEY figure out what ties the list together.  I encourage my kids to find as many connections as possible so we can discuss different approaches to the list.

They then discuss, and in good academic sportsmanship possibly debate, which term doesn’t belong in the list.  The most important part of the discussion is WHY that term was chosen.  This only takes a few minutes but it really gets kids thinking about which similarity or difference is the most meaningful/obvious/distinctive, etc. It also reinforces that some questions have more than one “right” answer.

a 5 minute review game, what doesn't belong and why

Regardless if you have students complete this individually, in pairs, or in small groups, each term will almost always be identified at least once as the one that doesn’t belong.  The reasoning as to why is where variety will be found.  What you really want is for students to look at the list, make connections, figure out the differences, and determine which difference is the one that matters the most for their elimination thought process.

Here are 5 examples.  The first is how I introduce this because it’s low pressure.  After giving kids the list (either saying each term or having it on the board), I ask what the items have in common. I encourage them to find as many connections between the items/people/events/documents on the list as possible. Then, I ask which doesn’t belong and why. I periodically remind them (especially if it’s a competitive group) that as long as they have a fleshed out thought process, there really isn’t a wrong answer.  

Example 1
breakfast tacos
What do they have in common—each is a breakfast food
What doesn’t belong and why?
Breakfast tacos because it’s the only one you eat with your hands.
Cereal because it’s the only cold item in the list.

Example 2
Sam Adams
George Washington
Patrick Henry
Nathan Hale
They were all Revolutionary War figures from the colonies
Which doesn’t belong and why?
Washington because he is the only one who became president.
Hale because he didn’t survive the war.

Example 3
They were all Presidents in office during a war.
Which doesn’t belong and why?
Polk because he only served 1 term.
Jefferson because it was an undeclared/unofficial war.
FDR because he’s the only 20th century president.

Example 4
They are all represented on US currency.
Which doesn’t belong and why?
Franklin because he wasn’t a president.
FDR because he’s on a coin rather than a bill.
Washingtonbecause he is the only one on a coin and a bill.

Example 5
Alice Paul
Susan B. Anthony
Victoria Woodhull
Carrie Chapman Catt
They all fought for women’s suffrage.
Which doesn’t belong and why?
Susan B. Anthony because she died before the passage of the 19th Amendment.
Victoria Woodhull because she is the only one who ran for president.

If you try this I hope your students respond as well to it as mine do!  You can let me know how it goes in the comment section below 🙂 Otherwise, if you’re interested in similar ideas you can check out my posts on True, False, Fix, Using Whiteboards, and this review game that my students love!!! ***I recently updated my Back to School Bundle to include an entire year’s worth of “What Doesn’t Belong and Why” for US History.***

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