128: Take your Hexagonal Thinking Activities Deeper

I often get asked how to teach students to make interesting connections during hexagonal thinking. Because let’s face it, it’s easy to stay on the surface. And then it’s easy for the conversation to be as dull as a plain donut (sorry if you like plain donuts, but have you tried chocolate with sprinkles? Or jelly? Or maybe warm glaze? But I digress…). 

Helping students deepen their connections isn’t a perfect science, but it is a worthwhile pursuit. So let’s get into it! 

Before we begin, I want to invite you to sign up for the free (and fun) summer PD I’m working on for you right now. We’ll be diving into hexagonal thinking, and you’ll walk away confident in your ability to use this great strategy to ignite discussion in your class come fall. I’ll teach you how to introduce the concept, build great hexagonal thinking decks for different types of texts, teach your students how to make deeper connections with their cards, give you options for how to have your students write about and/or present their work, and provide help with assessment. It’s going to be a great week! And don’t worry, the “camp” is completely asynchronous. Each day you’ll get an email inviting you to check out the ideas and free resource for the day, and you can catch up when your busy summer relaxation schedule allows! 

Sign up Here

OK, now it’s time to learn how to help students go deeper with their hexagonal thinking discussions. You can listen in below, or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Sticher, or whatever podcast player you love.

Let’s start with an idea that feels pretty important to me. Like literature circles, Harkness discussions, silent discussions, and so many other wonderful strategies available to use to help foster great conversations, hexagonal thinking is not going to go perfectly from day one. I don’t see it as a one-off activity, but more as an effective strategy for your toolkit that you can return to at least once each unit throughout the year. The first trial may come with plenty of mishaps, but that’s pretty much how learning things goes, right? Growth mindset and all that. We’re not professional hexagonal thinkers YET. 

But still, it is possible to introduce the activity in a way that helps bring better results right away. 

Start by showing your students some examples of hexagonal thinking in action. Talk to them about the origins of the strategy in the business world, and how it helps people connect concepts and come up with interesting new ideas as they debate possible connections between the hexagons. Set them up to see it as a tool that inspires innovation and originality, not rote answers. 

In fact, you probably want to tell them that there is no correct way to connect the moving parts of a hexagonal thinking web. As they move their hexagons around, there are hundreds of iterations of a possible final product, since each hexagon can potentially connect to up to six others, but might only connect to one. What matters is the quality of their conversation around the connections, and the way they explain the eventual choices they make. 

Next, I’d suggest you do some modeling out loud. Either create a little example (digitally, or on your white board, or even on paper) with fun terms that students will relate to or use the deck you’re actually about to pass out. Start shifting things and talk through what you’re doing and why. Then shift them all again and talk about why you might do it this way. Maybe ask a few students to volunteer a way to shift a hexagon and explain why they’d do it that way, or have everyone quickly sketch a few connected hexagons in their notes with terms on them the way they’d do it, and write about why, then share with a partner. Pretty quickly, you’ll be able to demonstrate to the students just how many possibilities there are. 

Similarly, take the time to briefly model some lame connections. (Do people still use the word “lame”?) It’s kind of fun. Tell them you’re going to show them what you’d like them not to do. Then show them a connection point and tell them the absolute most obvious thing you can think of to connect what you’ve chosen. Like maybe “these connect because they’re all characters in the same book,” or “these connect because one is an author and the other is the book she wrote.” Then ask for volunteers to one-up you. Or again, have kids write a better connection and then ask them to coach you on improving your set-up and explanation. 

By following these doable steps – explaining the origins of hexagonal thinking as a means to innovation, showing examples of the strategy in action, and then modeling effective and ineffective connecting, you should be able to start your first hexagonal thinking activity with both depth and critical thinking behind the hum in your classroom. Then build from there. Snap photos of great work from round one and share it as a slideshow before you start round two. Or tape up some of the most interesting connections from round one on your wall as the beginning of a “Hexagonal Thinking Connection Hall of Fame,” and keep adding as you go. 

Feeling inspired? I hope so! And I hope you’ll join me in that fun and free asynchronous summer PD, “Camp Creative: Master Hexagonal Thinking in 5 Minutes a Day.” It’s right around the corner, so sign up now if you haven’t yet! 

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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!

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