Strategic Thinking – Teaching Activities Enhanced with Technology

Mind map showing 6 strategic thinking activities: debates, analyse this, T charts and venn diagrams, optimist and pessimist, classify me and ethical considerations

1. Mood boards

Image of a brain with different coloured speech and thought bubbles around it

Mood boards utilise the theory that some information is better when communicated more visually. It is essentially a collage that contains, images, photos, samples and some small amounts of text to demonstrate an idea or concept.

Mood boards further represent an opportunity to apply information in a new way as the gathered images and photos can be symbolical, to reflect emotions, textures or sensations, thus displaying competence in utilising one object to represent another (Gentes et al., 2015). Organisation, coherence, and relevance are all essential skills being assessed in this activity.

Enhance with technology

3 logos:canva, adobe, padlet.

General design tools such as Canva (free) or Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator (cost involved), can be used to create images for the mood board.

To download a helpsheet for your students on how to use Canva, click the link below

Alternatively, an application such as Padlet, is a free online virtual wall tool, allowing for a mood board to be constructed and continuously updated from anywhere.

Padlet can be used collaboratively to thought-shower ideas for the mood board, enabling others to leave feedback to further help with the development of a concept. Or, Padlet can be used to create the mood board, allowing for the addition of links, videos and GIFs, unlike a traditional mood board. However, due to the virtual nature of this software, any desire to convey meaning through texture and touch could be lost with this tool.

2. Optimist/pessimist

silouette of a head with 2 cogs for the brain

A starting point for this activity is to focus on the language of optimism and pessimism by discussing the definition of each word, related phrases, and idioms. Students are tasked with taking opposite sides of a situation or case study; they can do this verbally in pairs, where one student takes the pessimist view, and one adopts the optimistic view.

Alternatively, it can be done individually as a written exercise whereby each student has to consider both the pessimistic and optimistic viewpoint. For either delivery method, students will be required to apply what they know about the situation and modify their response according to the position taken. Discussion and further examination of the different language used could be an opportunity for additional development and analysis.

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2 logos: Popin and the letter G for Grammarly

Following the discussion on general definitions, get students to share their ideas about language use and appropriate phrases. To ensure whole class participation and a collaboration of ideas use a real-time class feedback tool such as Mentimeter.

Alternatively, if this activity is set as a writing task, get students to check their finished work using Grammarly. This tool supports the development of grammar, spelling and punctuation skills. Grammarly identifies mistakes and explains why the writing is grammatically incorrect before providing a suggested improvement. It will also provide an overall performance report on readability and vocabulary use. See below for a handout on how to use Grammarly and some of the key features.

3. Case studies

Icon showing 3 people working together

Davis and Wilcock (ND) consider case studies to be ‘student-centred activities, which are based on topics that demonstrate theoretical concepts in an applied setting’. Case studies can come in a variety of formats and complexity, making this type of activity straightforward to differentiate.

To develop problem-solving skills, students could be asked what they would do in the situation, or they can assess the suitability of the action taken in the case study. To analyse, students can consider the overall issue, context, key facts, alternatives and subsequent justifiable recommendations (Boston University, ND).

The duration of the case study activity can vary from writing a short response, to something more extensive, such as writing a research proposal. Also, the case studies do not have to be stand-alone activities; a case study can be supplemented with video clips to address more complex elements or paired with a reading to add more background information. Case studies are often completed as a written task, but there are many opportunities to adapt, such as getting students to role-play the people involved (Boston University, ND), to enable more interactive analysis of the concepts involved.

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Paperity logo: a pile of papers with the words paperity, open science aggregated.

Paperity is a useful tool for sourcing case studies. Just type the desired subject content followed by ‘case study to find a range of open access journals and papers. Full pdf articles are available from a range of disciplines

4. Field trips

Image of a yellow bus with the writing 'field trip' on the side. A happy person is leaning out of 1 of the windows with their arms in the air indicating that they are having a good time

Field trips provide an experiential learning opportunity for students to learn through doing in a practical hands-on learning environment. A field trip has multiple uses; it can offer an excellent opportunity to remember a topic, lay the foundations for a new topic, or to pull all the elements of a topic together. According to Nadelson & Jordan (2012), field trips provide a unique experience allowing the transfer of previous knowledge and the acquisition of new knowledge, but to be successful, they should incorporate the following elements,

1. Field trips should link to the curriculum and students should be involved in taking an active role in data gathering on the trip. At the same time, a delicate balance is required, whereby enrichment is not clouded by excessive and tedious worksheet completion, as this will destroy an opportunity to engage and spark interest in the excursion.

2. Students should be actively involved in how they plan to meet the trip objectives; get students to draw a mind map of all the elements of the topic to be covered and then they can draw up a list of questions to address these elements. Students decide whether preliminary research is needed to answer the questions and complete if necessary or develop new questions that can only be answered from the excursion.

Active involvement in the planning process at this stage helps to maintain focus and participation during the trip.

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3 logos: google docs, mindmup, mindmeister

Google Docs will let students create, edit and share documents and drawings. This tool will be useful during the planning stages to encourage the collaboration of relevant ideas and for designing the questions to be used for the excursion. See below for a helpsheet on Google Docs for students .

Alternatively, MindMup or Mindmeister lets students create free and visually engaging mind maps, also with the possibility for increased collaboration. A helpsheet on how to get started with Mindmeister is available below.

2 logos: google maps and google street view

Alternatively, create a virtual fieldwork environment using Google Maps, to enable students to explore the areas online before the excursion. Google Street View provides 360° images of a place, so students can literally ‘walk through’ many regions across the world.

GmapGIS is an additional free web-based tool for Google maps enabling users to draw lines, polygons, place markers or add labels onto a map. These can then be saved for later viewing, or sent as a link to others (GmapGIS, ND).

The Geographical Association provides an excellent case study that demonstrates how students have utilised the opportunities created by virtual reality. Suggestions are also provided in relation to data gathering, collaboration, and analysis of data. The Geographical Association’s case study is based on a geography field trip, but the concepts could be applied to several different disciplines.

5. Inference and deduction

silouette of a head with 2 cogs for the brain

The inference element of this task refers to the technique of building on prior knowledge using information gained from clues (BBC council, ND). The deduction element is the conclusion reached because of other things known to be true. Inference and deduction can be used for a variety of tasks; more often text-based, but inferences can also be made from images and photos.

The first stage of this activity should involve the lecturer modelling how to make inferences or use anchor charts to train students how to identify the different aspects to consider. Research by Kispal (2008) has been summarised below to provide a range of suggestions on how to make inferences from a piece of text.

-Identify information critical to the interpretation of the text.

-Relate the new material to what they already know to construct an interpretation.

-Relate important points (grammar elements, cause and effect) in the text to one another to understand the text as a whole.

-Consider the mental representations.

-Consider why the author mentions or shows X.

-Consider why an action was formed, or why an event occurred.

-Track the emotional responses of any characters throughout the text.

-Elaborate and speculate about ideas regarding the author’s purposes.

(Kispal, 2008, p.44 cited Israel & Massey, 2005; Kispal, 2008, p.15 cited Graesser et al.,2005, pp.371-396). Additionally, it is recommended that any inference made should be followed by the question ‘how do you know?’ (Richards and Anderson, 2003).

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Silouette of a head with a question mark in the centre

The New York Times runs a ‘what’s going on in this picture?’ daily challenge. They publish an image stripped of its caption, and then anyone can post what they think is being depicted in the picture; the daily challenge could be a fun way to start any activity on inferences.

To extend students could also find photos or images, remove any captions, and then get their peers to make inferences.

6. Transcribe and relate

2 logos: twitter is a blue bird, wordnik is written in black with an orange heart in the place of the letter o

Credit for this activity goes to Martin (2017) and his ‘keep it simple’ activities. The lecturer reads a list of 16 keywords linked to the topic e.g. clavicle, femur, metacarpal, patella etc., but students must wait 10 seconds before writing down as many of the words they can remember. The advantage of this 10-second delay is that it forces the words to be mentally repeated over and over again in the short-term memory. Smith (2019) argues that this leaves ‘a trace which can eventually find its way into long-term memory, especially if the language is reused later on over several occasions (spaced retrieval)’. Students then pick 2-3 of these words and go onto Twitter to find phrases using the words.

Alternatively, they can go onto Wordnik, which additionally provides a definition, phrases using the word, a Twitter feed of Tweets using the word, antonyms, and words with similar meanings. Students select an appropriate Tweet or phrase and then makes a card/s with the phrase on, but misses out the remembered word, leaving a …. gap to fill. Students write the answers on the back of the cards, and these are then read out to the class to guess the missing word.

The benefit of this activity is that it encourages students to think about how they can use language in different ways. To extend or adapt: Students could also identify related words and pose these to the class to guess the original word, or they could find an image which they feel represents the missing word (but not too obvious that it gives it away instantly).

7. Ethical considerations

closeup picture of a dictionary showing a partial definition of ethics

Ethical considerations provide a platform for students to analyse the moral dilemmas of a situation by looking at various perspectives relating to how one could act in any given scenario.

To adress ethical dilemmas a case study could be provided as a basis for class or group discussion. Or role play could be used whereby groups of students are each given a situation to act out to the class to then spark debate. Guest speakers, news reports, or the use of flashcards with different scenarios on them can all help to generate ideas.

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Microsoft forms logo

Microsoft forms is more commonly used to create general quizzes, but the branching question function allows users to also create a web-based action maze, which is basically like an interactive case study (Half-Baked Software Inc.,2009). It involves creating a set of scenarios with different decision points for each question, so each response will take the student to a different situation or outcome. Action mazes can help prompt students to consider additional elements like the legal implications or cultural beliefs as they work through.

Action mazes have the potential to completely transform a learning activity and work very effectively as a blended learning activity. They can also bring learning to life through the use of images, video, web links, etc. to create a really interactive experience for the student.

8. Debates

Icon showing 3 people working together

Debates help students to develop critical thinking skills through their use of information to build a plausible argument to convince others of their opinion. Debate templates are available on Google Images to help with structure, and various planning guides are also available from a quick Google search.

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debategraph logo

DebateGraph is a free tool that allows users to ‘visualise, question, and evaluate all of the considerations that any member thinks may be relevant to the topic being debated’ (Debategraph, ND).

DebateGraph enables students to facilitate group dialogue, clarify key arguments, discover clusters of interrelated topics, make decisions, tell non-linear stories, embed maps and, make or share posters (Debategraph, ND).

9. T-charts or Venn diagrams

silouette of a head with 2 cogs for the brain

A T-Chart requires a student to list and examine two components of a topic, such as the pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, facts versus opinions, or strengths and weaknesses. Another way to analyse relationships between 2 or more factors is to use a Venn diagram which provides a visual way to organise information using overlapping circles; the area of overlap signifies the common elements between the factors. Using this method of analysis often enables abstract ideas to become more visible to the student. More complex Venn diagrams can be created, which involve using a cluster of overlapping circles. Venn diagrams could be used for analysing anything, for example distinguishing between the features of different organisms, comparing and contrasting various facilities in different areas, or calculating probabilities.

Enhance with technology

3 logos: creately, google,canva

While two-circle Venn diagrams are relatively straightforward to set up, more complex ones, involving clusters of circles, can soon become confused when new links between the elements are made, leading to a messy paper-based version with lots of crossing out.

Creately is an online diagram maker which allows the student to create over 40 different types of diagrams, including Venn diagrams. There is a free option available, providing you are willing for the Venn diagrams to be shared on their website.

Alternatively, Google Drawings enables students to create Venn diagrams for free and also has the option to share with class members, enabling collaboration with others.

Another alternative is Canva, which is a free tool enabling students to create Venn diagrams from ready-made colourful templates that can be easily customised by changing the font, colours or even adding images rather than text. See below for a handout on how to use Canva.

Canva helpsheet Download

10. Analyse this:

To begin this activity the lecturer will write two interpretations of an event on the board, for example,

A yellow magnifying glass
  • The National Health Service and Community Care Act (1990) led to structural and financial improvements for the NHS.
  • The National Health Service and Community Care Act (1990) did not result in structural and financial improvements for the NHS.

Then provide the students with two or three primary, or if unavailable use secondary, sources on the topic and instruct students to use these sources to determine which interpretation they believe to be true. The National Archives (2018) has a range of useful worksheets at different levels to help students structure their analysis, giving prompts of things to consider. They have worksheets on analysing written documents, photographs, cartoons, posters, maps, artefacts, videos, sound recordings and artwork. Following the analysis, students can write 2-3 short paragraphs on the topic, using evidence from the sources to support their arguments.

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3 logos: scholar, google docs and peergrade

To add more challenge, ask students to find one or two additional pieces of evidence for themselves.

Google Scholar provides research articles, or Google Docs could be useful for those who struggle more to find relevant research due to its ‘explore’ function. Once a blank document has been opened on Google Docs, start typing a sentence containing keywords linked to the topic, then press the ‘explore’ button at the bottom of the page. Google Docs will then display e-books and related research articles. See below for a helpsheet to support students use of Google Docs. Google Docs helpsheetDownload

To ensure work is assessed, the free tool Peergrade could provide the opportunity for students to share their work with others to peer mark. With Peergrade the lecturer can upload a rubric for students to use for peer assessment and any feedback students give can be anonymous, with the lecturer having a complete overview of the feedback. Students can then engage with the feedback and determine if they wish to make any changes.

11. Classify me

A yellow magnifying glass

Classifying (or grouping) organisms based on similarities will teach students essential concepts about organisation and comparison skills.

Start by discussing the definition of a dichotomous key. Dichotomous keys are typically used for identifying plant and animal species based on their characteristics, similarities to other species, and their role in an ecosystem (BD Editors, 2019). However, dichotomous keys could be used to classify any range of objects which have a set of observable characteristics.

Whether using an already established dichotomous key or getting students to create one for themselves, the identification process should consist of a specific series of questions. When one question is answered, the key should then direct the student to consider what question to ask next, with each answer cutting down on the list of possible candidates remaining (BD Editors, 2019).

To ensure understanding of the task, the lecturer could start with a demo of ‘how to classify’ by using a set of random objects such as kitchen utensils. The students should then be encouraged to consider the characteristics, similarity to other tools, function etc. This will provide an opportunity to practice classifications before being introduced to main classification task.

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3 logos:ispot, inaturalist, bioblitz

iSpot is a website developed by The Open University which involves users uploading images of wildlife to identify species, to then learn more about the wildlife they have observed and to contribute to a database for scientific analysis (OpenLearn, 2018). Students could use this to help with their classification or to add new images to the iSpot website. Similar collaborative classification sites include iNaturalist or BioBlitz. Alternatively, build in a different element to the activity and get students to appraise the effectiveness of collaboration tools like SnapshotSerengeti, which is a similar species identification tool, created to monitor conservation management strategies.


BBC Council. (ND). Inference. Available at: (last accessed 21/04/2019)

BD Editors. (2019). Dichotomous key. Available at: (last accessed 25/04/2019)

Boston University. (ND). Using case studies to teach. Available at: (last accessed 24/04/2019)

Davis, C., Wilcock, E. (ND). Teaching materials using case studies. Available at: (last accessed 24/04/2019)

Debategraph. (ND). Ways to use DebateGraph. Available at: (last accessed 25/04/2019)

Gentes, A., Valentin, F., Brulé, E. (2015). ‘Mood boards as a tool for the “in-discipline” of design’. IASDR, Nov 2015, Brisbane, Australia. Available at: (last accessed 24/04/2019)

Kispal, A. (2008). Effective teaching of inference skills for reading. Available at: (last accessed 27/04/2019)

Martin, D. (2017). Keep it simple activities: Dictation 2. Available at: (last accessed 27/04/2019)

Nadelson, L. S., & Jordan, J. R. (2012). ‘Student attitudes toward and recall of outside day: An environmental science field trip’. The Journal of Educational Research, 105, 220-231. doi:10.10 80/00220671.2011.576715 (last accessed 28/04/2019)

OpenLearn. (2018). Using iSpot. Available at: (last accessed 25/04/2019)

Richards, J.C. & Anderson, N.A. (2003). How do you know: a strategy to help emergent readers make inferences, The Reading Teacher. 57, 3, p.290-293

Smith, S. (2019). Delayed Dictation. Available at: (last accessed 27/04/2019)