Long-Term Learning Strategy: Hexagonal Thinking

This is the third in a series of posts highlighting classroom strategies that support long-term, profound learning, rather than short-term, superficial learning.  The first post focused on the strategy of Retrieval Practice.  The second post articulated the strategy of Brain Dumps.  This post makes connections with Hexagonal Thinking.

As we focus on Article V: Organizational Transformation we again consider profound learning and the necessity to foster sense-making and value time for learners to make connections. We hold that: V.j Profound learning (owning the knowledge) as opposed to superficial learning (short-term memory) comes more from engagement and commitment than from various forms of compliance, coercion, sanctions, or rewards.  

The following challenge was shared in the first two posts of this series and it is worth mentioning again: I challenge you to consider the classroom as a micro-version of the larger system and within that learning organization, the educator can create the conditions and capacities most conducive for [students as] leaders, [students as] teachers, and students [themselves] to perform at high levels and meet the expectations of new learning standards.  When establishing these conditions, we can incorporate opportunities for students to make connections among content (with a focus on the relevancy in the connections) as well as empower our students with the strategy of hexagonal thinking as a learning tool.  These connections may be grown throughout a unit of study as well as at the close of the unit of study.  Of possible equal importance, connections may be made later in learning as reflection allows for clarity.

If you have asked yourself any of these questions below, I encourage you to try Hexagonal Thinking with your students:

How do I support students to make connections among content related to a big idea?

How do I support students to organize thinking around a central idea?

How do I support students to justify, defend, and explain thinking while utilizing content area vocabulary?

Hexagonal Thinking provides opportunities for students to organize thinking and make connections in logical, sometimes creative ways.

First, provide students with blank hexagons and an overarching idea (such as free enterprise, the water cycle, or linear functions).  Challenge the students to work with their peers to add one idea to each hexagon, related to the overarching idea.  Students may write terms or phrases or possibly draw images on the hexagons.  In addition, hexagons may include pre-printed concepts (this is helpful for scaffolding).

Then, the students use the hexagons to create a map of sorts, connecting the hexagons on one or more sides.  The only rule: if two hexagons connect, the connection must be shared.  For example, on the first image below, “savings” is connected to an image of a piggy bank.  In this case, students must describe the relationship between these two ideas.

Additional ideas may be added to extra hexagons as the map is built and new ideas created.

Two examples (during the process) of Hexagonal Thinking are below.  The first is an image shared via Twitter of students making connections about concepts related to personal finance.  The second is an image from a professional learning related geometry concepts.

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Hexagonal Thinking Prior to Learning

Before launching into a unit of study, Hexagonal Thinking may be used to bring to the forefront any understandings or connections that may relate to the upcoming content.

Hexagonal Thinking During Learning

Throughout the learning experience, ideas may be added to Hexagonal Thinking maps as a way to document learning.  Students may also exchange or share contributions with peers as a means to support reflection in a safe learning environment.

Hexagonal Thinking Following Learning

As a contribution to a student’s portfolio, Hexagonal Thinking may be used to articulate the learning amassed at the close of a unit of study and the multitude of connections among the ideas.  This final product may be an accumulation of information or may be a unique piece of evidence created for the sole purpose of unit closure.


Similar to Retrieval Practice and Brain Dumps, Hexagonal Thinking is for the students.  These three strategies are for learning and not solely for an assessment for the teacher.  Though information from these strategies may be used to inform instruction in a formative way, that is a by-product of the intent – to teach students a learning strategy they can carry with them for future learning.

Using digital tools, such as Thing Link or the comment feature of Keynote, students can create Hexagonal Thinking maps and archive the products with written or spoken connections.  Notice the yellow flag image in the Keynote slide below.  This flag represents a comment that has been added between the output hexagon and the dependent hexagon.  In this case, the students have articulated a connection between these two ideas.



Though it is recommended to restrict the amount of time given to complete a Hexagonal Thinking map, it should be noted that speed in recitation of information is not the intended purpose.  As long as students are able to continue adding information to their map while articulating the relevant connections, the teacher may be flexible with the time allowed.  As with any learning experience/activity, the benefits of the use of class time should be considered and weighed against the cost.

Even though Hexagonal Thinking maps are not assessment for the teacher, feedback is appropriate.  This feedback, in the form of correct/incorrect or a brief explanation related to the content, supports the students to take responsibility for learning through self-correction.

I encourage you to consider utilizing the strategies for long-term learning shared thus far in this series with your students, including Retrieval Practice, Brain Dumps, and Hexagonal Thinking.  Let me know what impact these strategies have on your students’ long-term learning!






2 responses to “Long-Term Learning Strategy: Hexagonal Thinking”

  1. Madeline Anderson Avatar
    Madeline Anderson

    This would be a great strategy for cross-curricular thinking…provde vocabulary from world history and English 2 in high school or concepts from chemistry and algebra as a unit preview…


  2. anthony hardy Avatar
    anthony hardy

    Thinking maps as a way to document learning. Students may also exchange or share contributions with peers as a means to support reflection in a safe learning environment.


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