I’m always looking for ways to get kids engaged in critical thinking and higher order discussions. I’ve tried a lot of things over the years, and hexagonal thinking has emerged as a favourite for me and my students. Read on to find out how to use hexagonal thinking activities in ELA classes.
Those of us who love to dive deeply into discussion and analysis understand how it’s done. But students don’t always know how to go about it. So I build in tons of opportunities for them to map out the thinking process needed to do literary analysis. One highly effective way to do this is through hexagonal thinking.
Hexagonal thinking leads to rich discussions
Whenever I want my students to connect ideas in a text or to work to figure out a theme, I group them and give each group a series of hexagons filled with all of the significant elements from the text – characters, symbols, ideas, events, etc.
Next, the students have a discussion to decide which ideas are connected; then they choose their favourite connection and create a poster that illustrates and supports an assertion that they make about the text.
During the discussion stage, I encourage them to try to find as many creative connections as they can, and to try not to always go with the most obvious ones. The discussions they have as a result are rich and complex, as they debate the most important elements of a text.
They also really enjoy the physical process of moving those little shapes around on their desks!
Hexagonal thinking activities in ELA can be varied
There are many ways to use hexagonal thinking with your students:
⬣ The quickest is to just dump a pile of the shapes in the middle of a group and have them work together to form as many connections as they can
⬣ Or you can ask each group member to randomly grab a handful and try to find ways to connect them. Then, each one shares their ideas with the other members of the group. After each person has shared, I ask them to see if they can connect any of the groupings together.
⬣ You can give each group all of the hexagons, or divide them up among the groups, so they come up with different ideas.
⬣ Set up learning stations and put pre-made piles at each one. Ask students to write as many assertions about the text as they can, based on the hexagons at each station. Give each group ten minutes at each station, then move them clockwise to the next.
⬣ If you want to add in a little more fun, you can make it a competition and see which group can come up with the most connections – or have a contest and vote for the top three. The noise level rises considerably in my room when we do this – and learning noise is always a good thing!
Hexagonal thinking in ELA is perfect for pre-writing
Break out the hexagons whenever you want students to come up with topics for literary essays. Students can play around with them until they can find a focus that will help them write a strong thesis.
The hexagons also push students to explore ideas they may not have considered as they help them see all of the possibilities and to find ways that ideas connect. This will help them when find multiple ways to support an argument.
Giving students an organizer like the one pictured here isn’t necessary, but it can help them visualize how the ideas will fit together and gives them space to write other ideas and/or quotations in the white space.
Hexagonal thinking and text-to-text connections
The hexagons are also the perfect tool for helping students make text-to-text connections. To do this, copy the hexagons for each text in different colours (for example, yellow for text one; blue for text two). That way, your students can easily identify which is which.
First, give students the hexagons for the first text and follow one of the activities I explained above. After they’ve had time to do that, give them a pile of hexagons from the second text and ask them to see if they can join any of them to the groupings they’ve already made.
Or if you think they will need more guidance, you can make groupings ahead of time, ones that you know will fit together. With more advanced groups, just give them random piles and let them go at it! You can also mix and match your strategies across the groups to differentiate. One group may get pre-organized groupings while another gets random piles.
Organizational tips for using hexagons in ELA
Obviously there is some work to getting this hexagonal activity set up, but believe me, it’s worth it! And, if you laminate them, you can use them for years to come.
Print the hexagons off and then stack a bunch together before you cut them out, so you can do multiple copies at a time. I do this when I’m watching tv or get my students to help me out. And, as you can tell from the photos, I don’t stress about them being perfect!
Then, once they are all cut, I grab some ziplock bags and a handful of paper clips and organize the hexagons into any groups I want to make. I have a basket in my classroom closet where I keep them all, and just pull them out anytime I want to get my kids discussing ideas and connections in their texts.
I hope you’ve gotten some inspiration for using hexagonal thinking activities in ELA. Let me know if you have any questions.
And, if you’d like some ready made hexagons to use in your ELA classroom, check these out:
⬣ Animal Farm
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