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Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTs): Are these HOTs really hot?

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

4Cs of the 21st-century skills – Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity – have become a trend in education, especially in English Language Teaching, in the last 20 years, at least. Now people have created 5Cs, 6Cs, and even 7Cs. But, back to the basics, while Communication and Collaboration are quite easy to develop for the students, the other two are not that simple to many teachers and educators. They belong to what we call HOTs (Higher order thinking skills) according to Bloom’s taxonomy.

What are HOTs?

HOTs is a very popular concept first in American education and then spread to other countries. The skills are higher-level thinking skills when compared with lower ones in the well-known Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid.

The Taxonomy was originally created by Benjamin Bloom in 1956 and later revised 20 years ago in 2001 by a group of cognitive psychologists and scientists. This article focuses on the revised version, in which the 6 levels of learning were changed from nouns (in Bloom’s original version) to verbs. The revised pyramid is illustrated below.

(Source: Information Technology University of Florida)

As we can see in the pyramid, the top 3 levels involve HOTs, which are analyzing, evaluating, and creating. These levels are also where the two more complicated Cs in the 4Cs – Critical Thinking and Creativity – require. Therefore, once teachers can develop HOTs for their students, they can automatically improve students’ critical thinking and creativity.

Why are HOTs important to students?

According to Paul and Elder (2007), “Much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our life and that of which we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought.” As a result, developing the quality of students’ thinking is a must for not only their learning but their lives as well.


  • Enhance the most common but critical task of every person’s life: problem-solving. With the ability to analyze information, evaluate data collected, and synthesize or create new ideas, one can solve their problem more effectively and efficiently.

  • Help students see things from different perspectives, building up their knowledge and experience.

  • Develop students’ emotional intelligence, especially when dealing or working with people in the future. They know why they feel or behave that way and they can learn to control their feelings or actions when necessary. In addition, when they put themselves in others’ shoes, they will also understand others’ feelings and know how to deal with them.

  • Enable students to appreciate art, literature, and nature to a great amount, helping them enjoy their surroundings and lives.

  • Get more and more required by employers, especially in the uncertainty of the COVID-19 and future. People with HOTs are proven to face the uncertain world more flexibly and effectively and suffer less from the hard situations than others.

How can teachers apply HOTs in their teaching practice?

The first thing is how you can corporate HOTs in your teaching? It starts from when you decide your lesson objectives. Besides the LOTs (Lower order thinking skills), which are involved in the lowest 3 levels of the pyramid, you need to make sure your lesson objectives incorporate activities and practices where your students can improve their HOTs.

The simplified table of verbs below can guide you to do this task. To improve the top 3 levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, try to create objectives with the following verbs.

(Source: Information Technology University of Florida)

Below are some typical activities the students can do to improve their HOTs.


This classic technique to elicit ideas from students is good to involve HOTs for their students to practice. But remember that it depends a lot on the questions the teachers ask. Don’t use closed questions like Yes/No or Or-questions. Instead, using open-ended questions which can trigger their critical thinking or creativity with step-by-step guidance from teachers. By doing this, teachers can help their students improve HOTs when they have to plan, create, judge, predict, or modify their answers.

Exploiting pictures

Look at the following photo.

Instead of only asking explicit questions like

  • What do you see in the picture?

  • What is the boy doing?

  • What’s the weather like?

  • What do you see in the background?

Try the following questions

  • Why is he riding his bike in the rain?

  • What do you think he’s thinking about?

  • Do you think he has a happy life?

  • If you were him, what would you do?

  • What would you like to ask him?

These questions will help students “do the actions” in the above table of verbs to develop their HOTs. For example, when finding answers for Why is he riding his bike in the rain?, they have to analyze and evaluate the situation, compare the situation in the photo with a normal situation, and finally develop a reason. Similarly, when they answer What would you like to ask him?, they will have to create the questions and plan their interview based on the analysis and evaluation of the boy’s situation in the photo.

Creating new endings for a story

Learning through stories is fun, especially when learning a language. When the students are asked to create a new ending of a story, they develop their creativity, the top level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. In order to do it, they will have to analyze the details, summarize what happens in the story, choose what kind of ending they what to create, and propose their ending.

In addition, the teacher can have students give comments on others’ endings to help them judge, modify, grade them and even debate with the authors to protect their ideas.

For kids, one of the fun ways is not only to create but draw the ending. Doing this, the students double their creativity when they have to create a new ending and think of how they can illustrate it on non-verbally.


This activity is where a pool of HOTs is required for students to accomplish. Before the debate, they have to analyze information, organize, prioritize and plan how to present their ideas. Then during the debate, they have to argue, debate, evaluate and predict their opponent’s ideas, and summarize what their opponent said. Then after the debate, they have to judge what they did well, what not, modify their ideas and develop a new plan for the next time.


Similar to the debate, any project requires a lot of HOTs to complete. The students have to organize their roles in the project, discuss, compare, contrast, analyze ideas. Then they will argue, debate, then choose which ideas will be used for the project. In the final phase before the presentation, the students will adapt what they used for the project, design, develop, and propose the final product.

Besides these activities, there are a lot more teachers can do in class to help them improve their HOTs. Below are some suggestions.

  • Practice thinking out loud: This is completely helpful for young learners. When teachers do this, their students will learn the way their teachers process information and be provided with a roadmap to develop their HOTs.

  • Peer-check/ Peer-correction

  • Review a book or an article

  • Create a quiz for the newly-learned knowledge

  • Write a riddle, a poem, or a song

  • Freewriting

  • Role-play such as play the roles of the characters in a story

  • Speak/ Write about feelings of the character in a song, poem, story, picture

  • Interview a character in the story or a photo

  • Make a puzzle

  • Create a food/ rules for a new country/ a monster/ a transport means

  • Describe a future device

Higher order thinking skills (HOTs) is actually a hot topic in every ELT classroom. Though they are not easy to practice or develop for students, they are well worth trying. One of the first things for teachers to do is to make HOTs a habit in class. Teachers should always incorporate HOTs in their lesson planning and activities, practice HOTs themselves, and encourage their students to sharpen their HOTs every day. This will take time and need consistent reinforcement and encouragement.



The Information Technology University of Florida. (n.d.). Bloom’s Taxonomy. [online]. [Retrieved 11 July 2021]. Available from:

Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2007). A guide for educators to critical thinking competency standards. Dillon Beach, CA; Foundation for Critical Thinking.


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