Thinking Tools and the Writing Process


(This is a guest blog written by Gerard Alford, ITC PUBLICATIONS)


Thinking tools are well-known for providing students the means to organise their research and thoughts in a targeted and specified way. But did you know you can use them to help student’s chunk and break up their learning – essentially reducing their cognitive load? In other words, thinking tools can be a useful way of separating the thinking and the writing phases.

Before writing even begins, students need to determine:

  • What are the crucial ideas, issues and arguments?
  • What opinions or perspectives are there?
  • What is the evidence and is it reliable?

With all of this and more to think about, students cannot just jump into the writing phase – they must organise their thoughts with such thinking tools as the Double Bubble Map or Y-Chart, to name a few. Only after doing so, can the writing process be taught and tackled.

Let’s examine one of these thinking tools in action.

Task: Analyse the impacts of the Industrial Revolution (1750 – 1914). Identify the main winners and the people who were disadvantaged.

Students will firstly need to understand the causes and effects of the Industrial Revolution. An ideal way to do so is with the Cause-Effect Map thinking tool.


At this stage, the emphasis is not on the writing but rather the thinking. Have students listed the major causes and effects of the Industrial Revolution? Is there a deeper understanding of the event, including its impact on different social groups and people? Another thinking tool that could be employed is the Icon Prompt as it clearly shows who gained in, who lost in, the financial issues and the unanswered questions of the revolution.


With the research and thinking phase now largely realised, now the writing phase can begin. One of the most practical ways to assist students with this stage is to provide them with aligned sentence starters and connective to the associated task verbs, in this case, analyse and identify.


These sentence starters should be adapted to suit the task’s subject and the writing ability of the students.


To refine and develop the skills of deep analytical thinking and quality in-depth writing is crucial to student success. One of the most supportive things we can do for our students is to break their extended writing tasks into two main phases – the thinking and writing phase - and to ensure we explicitly teach and model each stage. In this way, students are less likely to feel overwhelmed, less likely to procrastinate and more likely to meet submission deadlines, as you’ve created clear milestones and checkpoints.

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(Author Description: Gerard is an author and the Director of ITC Publications, established in 2002. He has over 20 years’ experience as a full-time Secondary teacher in a range of Independent Schools in three Australian states and the UK. He has held a number of senior positions including Head of Faculty, Director of Studies and Dean of Staff.)