Thinking Moves

Get them thinking about thinking

 Stephen Walshe argues that children, even children as young as 5 years of age, can be introduced to a vocabulary that helps them access their thinking.

 Metacognition has been identified as a powerful lever for learning.

When we take the time to think about how we think, we think better. The big word for this is Metacognition, which simply means ‘thinking about the way we think’.  Doing this helps us, not just children, examine our thinking and become clearer about how we think, which in turn improves thinking.  In order to encourage our children to begin doing this, we need to introduce them to a vocabulary and language to help them articulate their thinking, describe their thinking and begin to think about their thinking.



Thinking Moves

The one-day ‘Thinking Moves’ training provides children with a child-friendly vocabulary to do just this. And in order to help children visualize their thinking, each move comes with an icon.

For example, the following three Icons are for ‘Thinking Ahead’, ‘Thinking Back’ and ‘Connect’:

Thinking ahead
  Thinking back







At Fortune Kindergarten, in Shanghai, we have been introducing Thinking Moves to our K2 classes since the beginning of this school year. As the year has progressed in K2 classes, we have been integrating the language for these Thinking Moves into our P4C (Philosophy for Children) enquiries and regular classroom lessons. Along with asking children: “What did we just learn?” or “What did we just do?”, we can now ask children, to think about the way they are learning and help them focus on the kinds of thinking they are employing, by asking: “What kind of thinking did we do?” and “How did this help us learn?”

We can then reflect on the Thinking Moves or a particular Move we have used, like, thinking ahead and ask ourselves, when it is important to use such a move and how we can get better at this kind of thinking.

Thinking Moves and sign language

There is also a Thinking Moves Sign Language. Children love movement that is meaningful and connects to what they are learning. The most intriguing thing about introducing Sign Language to assist children use, notice, and identify their thinking moves and the moves others make, is how readily and naturally the children take to signing. The idea that this is another language, a language that people who have hearing problems use for communication, really captures the children’s imagination and attention.

Connecting the Moves

Moreover, after a while, even very young students begin to understand that the Moves are connected, and we can then look at Thinking Grooves.

A simple activity where students have to choose between a number of objects can be followed by having them reflect on the kinds of thinking they were doing during the activity. The activity just mentioned might involve the following Moves: ‘looking and listening’, ‘weighing up choices’, ‘justifying your first choice’, ‘arguing for and against your first choice’, ‘weighing choices again’, and maybe, in the light of the last move, ‘changing you mind about your initial choice’.

We are all making these Moves subconsciously. What we need to do to help students of all ages to think better is to surface these subconscious moves and talk about how we can become better at them. Doing this helps students not only gain more control over their own thinking, but also helps them identify the moves others may be making to try to influence or control their thinking.

Transferable skills

Following a recent Thinking Moves training, the International Baccalaureate coordinator at Wuxi United International School (WUIS), in China, returned to her school and began introducing the Thinking Moves in English and Chinese classes in middle and upper School.

She then sent me the following message:

“Thanks for the amazing workshop. On fire here today in school. My brain is consciously thinking of the moves I am making. The way the moves are designed, they are a catalyst for other skills acquisition.” Rajashree Basu

She also said that in Chinese IB classes they were using Thinking Moves in their Theory of Knowledge (TOK) classes.

Thinking Moves training provides an accessible language with icons linked to Sign Language to explicitly teach metacognition to students of all ages.



Powerful levers

According to the Educational Endowment Fund, With a large body of international evidence telling us that, when properly embedded, these (metacognitive) approaches are powerful levers for boosting learning, it’s clear that we need to spend time looking at how to do this well. The same study also states that “Explicit instruction in cognitive and metacognition strategies can improve pupils’ learning” EEF Guidance Report, 2018 (

Thinking Moves does just that.

For more information on Thinking Moves in the U.K. and overseas see:

And in China see:


Stephen Walshe is the Co-Principal of the Fortune Kindergarten in Shanghai, and an accredited Thinking Moves trainer.

See also P4C China 




Feature Image: by Arek Socha from Pixabay