HOTS for Social Studies!

Higher Order Thinking Skills: HOTS Daily Practice Activities

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socialstudies coach head1 Higher Order Thinking Skills: HOTS Daily Practice ActivitiesAnalyzing primary sources and documents, making inferences, determining cause and effect, interpreting maps, charts, graphs, etc., making comparisons, drawing conclusions, critical thinking, decision-making, forming generalizations, supporting with details and fact, determining facts vs. opinion, summarization, research, organize knowledge…

Higher Order Thinking Skills are the core of what Social Studies teachers teach. We do so much more than teach historical, geographic, political, or economic facts, don’t we? We teach our students how to think about their world. Our discipline is devoted to Blooms taxonomy. This also makes Social Studies and English/Language Arts natural allies in the battle for literacy. We share many curricular goals. Not to mention that the common core standards and most state standards focus on these skills- and state assessments increasingly test them.

It is essential that we emphasize these Higher Order Thinking Skills in our classrooms. In this blog I would like to share one of my favorite strategies for teaching them. I called it the HOTS Journal, but these daily warm-up activities, or bell-ringers could be done in a variety of formats and for different social studies subjects and grade levels.  The basic goal is to begin each class (or at least several times a week) with an activity relevant to the day’s learning goal, which practices one or more of the above skills. This activity can then be the starting point for the lesson of the day.

The activities generally featured a stimulus such as a portion of a primary source, document, map, cartoon, photograph, graphic organizer, etc. relevant to the lesson. I frequently used a stimulus from a released state test (such as Regents or TAKS). There are many sources for images on the internet (see my resource page) or even choose something from your textbook. I liked to create them on PowerPoint so that I could project them. This also allowed me to create some fancier things, such as conversation bubbles for photos, or allow students to resort pictures into correct column, or make an answer page showing answers placed one at a time on a graphic organizer.

manifest destiny painting Higher Order Thinking Skills: HOTS Daily Practice Activities

The students would respond to a series of questions about the graphic that would range from lower to higher levels of Bloom’s. Sometimes that might create a graphic organizer or some other product based on the stimulus. Sometimes they were brainstorm activities. Sometimes they filled-in-the-conversation-bubbles on a photo. Sometimes they answered personalized what-would-you-do questions. On some occasions they would work with a partner.


One key to success is to create questions that start as simple, fact-based, then move up the ladder to more analytical and evaluative questions that ask students to think about and make decisions about the facts. Another key is to use variety-in terms of the student product, the type of stimulus and the skill that is practiced.

colony product map Higher Order Thinking Skills: HOTS Daily Practice Activities


In my class, we went over the HOTS activity each day to assure that the students learned and understood the concepts and skills. Frequently I had students model their thinking as they answered. My students kept their responses together in a section of their notebook that I called their HOTS Journal. I collected them periodically for a completion grade. This was an easy way to hold the students accountable, but the most important thing was the daily practice of skills.

I saw my student’s scores skyrocket on standardized tests. This strategy was also very successful when, as District Social Studies Coordinator, I initiated it among the teachers of my district. It works well with grades 4 -12. For younger grades, I would encourage a modified version. Even the younger students need to be introduced to interpreting and analyzing graphics and primary sources, as well as the Higher Order Thinking Skills.

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