Should we teach children how to think?

 In this new burst of remote learning and online learning, what space is given to children to think and reflect?

Metacognition. Maybe you have heard the word before. Maybe you haven’t, but I am sure you thought ‘how is this relevant for my child’s education?’ Essentially, it is thinking about one’s thinking. The technical definition is ‘beyond thinking’. Hopefully your brain isn’t in knots by now! To help parents, we are offering a range of free 11+ resources to download each week. 

In the education world, metacognition aims to get young people to see ‘beyond’ cognition’; learning how to think reflectively, critically and creatively. It is about becoming an independent thinker and using your experiences and current knowledge to address new situations. Being able to plan your attack, know how you learn best, use strategies and monitor your progress when faced with a problem is key. Mainly, by understanding your whole self and using all that information to improve and become a meta-learner you will see success. Exciting stuff!

Our central focus at Meta Prep, it’s even in our name, is about giving each pupil a repertoire of cognitive (thinking) tools and strategies. According to Harvard University’s Ron Ritchhart:

The key to deep learning, is the development of metacognitive strategies and intelligent learning behaviours needed by students as they face the complexities of our challenging world.”

Reference: Ritchhart, R. (2015) Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools. USA.

So yes, we need to teach children how to think. Metacognition must be explicitly taught. Teaching pupils the key thinking process and strategies involved in metacognition sets them up for a life of successful learning. Our teaching approach prepares meta-learners: those capable of understanding themselves, being able to reflect on their learning, who know how to make progress, whatever challenge they are set.

Underpinning our weekly lessons are a few key actions:

Visualising the big goal

Big goals

The first step towards better metacognition and thinking is to set a big goal. The big goal could be ‘To pass my 11+ exam.’ However, we need to break this down into little goals that are manageable and achievable: ‘I am going to learn to add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions’ or ‘I am going to categorise different nouns’. The small goals could be set for you, for example a question in an 11+ exam paper, or you can create your own. Click to watch our video about the merits of: Deliberate Practice.

Thinking Frames 

A categorising Thinking Frame – Visual Tool

So how do I go about solving a problem? At Meta Prep, one of our strategies is the use of visual tools to guide thinking. There are 8 core thinking processes: Describing; Defining; Comparing and Contrasting; Categorising; Part/Whole, Sequencing; Cause and Effect; and Making Connections. Using the Thinking Matters Thinking Frames help pupils store knowledge, organise their ideas clearly and help improve understanding. 

When a problem or task is set in a lesson, the pupil considers which thinking process to use primarly and can employ a thinking frame. When faced with dividing fractions, I might use the sequencing frame or a categorising frame when sorting nouns by type. These frames are just one strategy in a huge bank to help develop and improve levels of thinking. 


Once you have completed a task or started one thinking process to respond to a question, it is important to reflect on your learning. What were the processes you took? What do you know now? What do you understand? What went wrong or was difficult? A key component of metacognition is reflection: to probe deeper, ask further questions, consider what we don’t know.  

For the 11+ assessments, knowledge is just the starting point, it is about going deeper and applying what we know to new situations.


Finally, as you have probably heard before, it is all about practice. Keep going back and using the visual tools and adapt to the new problem. Set new goals and try new strategies. With consistent and deliberate practice, metacognition will become second nature to you and will carry on beyond Y6. 

Preparation at Meta Prep is geared towards the 11+ exam, but goes beyond test-taking skills to create reflective, critical and creative learners who are prepared and ready to thrive beyond the school gates.