Keeping a journal to keep track of one's own thought processes is nothing new. From Michaelangelo in Renaissance Florence to Einstein in the modern era, great thinkers have used journals to develop their ideas.

Thought-books are a great way to get students to demonstrate critical thinking skills in a safe, private manner before sharing with a larger group.  It is also a way to give formative feedback to students. Thought-books are on paper - the goal is that it is not only writing but also sketching, diagramming and mind-mapping.

Thought-books are not formally assessed.  In fact, the Critical Thinking Consortium based in Toronto argues that teachers should never write in the thought-book, but instead we should put post-it notes in the student's book or write comments as an email or other digital response to them.

Thought-books for critical thinking

Ideally, thought-books are used before you begin teaching a unit or key concept. For example, if you are going to begin discussing the role of culture on behaviour, students may be asked a question like "how important is your culture in determining your behaviour?"  In their thought-books, they may write choose to do any of the following:

  • A short paragraph in which they explain the role of culture in their behaviour.
  • A pie chart that shows the extent that culture plays a role compared to other factors.
  • A hierarchical ranking that shows where culture falls.
  • A personal story - written as a text or cartoon - that shows the role of culture in their lives.

Then, during the unit, students would return to this initial entry in their thought-book, deciding whether they have changed their minds and what it was that got them to change their thinking.

Critical thinking can also be problem-based.  For example, you might ask students to propose a plan for decreasing the level of stress in the IB program or designing a way to test the effectiveness of a new exercise program at your school.  This type of problem-based focused then calls for action.  As they are exposed to more research on the topic, they should go back and update their thought-book.  As they take action, they should discuss how their own thoughts have changed after trying to make a change and being met with either success or failure.

Thought-books for reflection

Another way that thought-books can be used is to help students make personal connections with what they are reading or studying. Asking students to transfer the findings of a study to some aspect of their personal lives helps to make their learning more relevant.  This is also a way for you to see if students are understanding what they are studying and if they are able to make connections rather than simply learning the studies by heart.

Throughout the lesson plans that are posted in the resources for each unit, you will see examples of how the thought books are used. 

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