Thinking Keys

Tony Ryan, describes 20 thinking keys that can be used with students to expand their thinking repertoire. You can listen to Tony describe these here:

Like other thinking routines, these keys should be explicitly taught, as should their appropriate uses.  This is best achieved by teaching them in a specific context. Tony divides his 20 keys into 10 Purple keys for Critical Thinking and 10 Orange keys for Creative Thinking. Using Key Posters cut in Key Shapes, is a great way to prompt students’ thinking during discussion or problem solving.  This is a full list of keys 

1. The Reverse- Challenges Children to think of the never, cannot

2. The What If- A what if question, elicits solutions

3. The Disadvantages- List disadvantages and Improvements

4. The Combination- List attributes of both, then combine

5. The Alphabet- Come up with something for each letter of the Alphabet

6. The B A R- Bigger, Add, Replace acronym. Come up with a solution for each.

7. The Variations- How many ways can you…

8. The Picture- Draw a picture/diagram

9. The Prediction- Make a prediction

10. The Different Uses- Find 10 different uses for…

11. The Ridiculous- Try to justify a ridiculous statement

12. The Commonality- Find common points between…

13. The Question- Come up with 5 questions for…

14. The Brainstorming- Brainstorm solutions for…

15. The Inventions- Design a …

16. The Brick Wall- Consider alternatives to…

17. The Construction- Construct a… Materials…

18. The Forced Relationships- Come up with a solution to a problem involving two dissimilar objects

19. The Alternative- Work out 3 ways to…

20. The Interpretations- Give 3 possible explanations for…

A useful learning experience is to ask students to sequence a series of keys logically in order to explore specific issues. For example, what Thinkers Keys might be helpful in combating climate change?

Further reading can be found at:

Free Key Cards can be found here:

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