Journal Article and Keynote – Put on Your Thinking Caps!

Develop Critical and Creative Thinking Skills: Put on Six Thinking Hats®

McAleer, F. F. Pennsylvania Educational Leadership ( a publication of the Pennsylvania Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, PASCD). Fall, 2006.

Franny F. McAleer
Indiana University of Pennsylvania

“PUT ON YOUR THINKING HAT!” conveys the idea that thinking improves when a THINKING HAT is worn. While Dr. Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy has been the mainstay in higher level thinking, Dr. Edward deBono reinvented the traditional cap in Six Thinking Hats®. He combines the hat metaphor with six colors to create a powerful thinking strategy. Psychology Today commented on Six Hats® claiming, “We owe DeBono a debt for constantly reminding us that thinking is a skill and can be improved.” When we put on our thinking hats, we have not one, but six.

Thinking is the foundation for listening, speaking, reading and writing. Teachers have developed classrooms that are alive with critical and creative thinking depicted by the image of Six Hats®.


Six Thinking Hats® is an internationally recognized tool to teach thinking in all content areas. SIX HATS® enables us to SEE OUR THINKING, focus, change, and improve it. Each colored hat represents a different mode of thinking. When teachers and administrators analyze questioning strategies in the classroom, many recognize that few require wait time. Six Hats® questions demand wait time and present opportunities for wonder and thought. A community of dynamic, sophisticated thinkers emerges as the HATS integrate content, transforming classrooms as they did in this school.

“The teachers and students were captivated and involved with the Six Hats®. The students were eager and focused, something the students and teachers will remember and use throughout their educational years.” Teresa Davis, Coordinator of Gifted Services, Peoria Unified School District, Phoenix, AZ

The impact of Six Hats® and stories from teachers and educational leaders who use them will be the focus of this journal article.


The Six Hats® are described in this section and provide a basis for learning and applying them to your curriculum. As you read the descriptors, think of questions and student tasks connecting your content with the HATS processes. To add depth the HATS are applied on four dimensions, the (1) text (2) student’s life, (3) community and (4) world.

whitehatThe WHITE HAT®


What are the facts about …? What do you need or want to know about …?

redhatThe Red HAT®


What are your feelings about …? What prejudices exist? What is your gut feeling about…? What does your intuition tell you?

blackhatThe BLACK HAT ®


What should you be cautious of …? What are the consequences of…? What words of wisdom might come from this? What were the difficulties of…? What did you dislike about…? What are the risks of …?

yellowhatThe YELLOW HAT®


What are the benefits of … What is good about … What is the value of… What did you like about…

greenhatThe GREEN HAT®


What if …? Can you create other ways? How would you solve the problem? What other possibilities are there for … ?

bluehatThe BLUE HAT®


Explain how you got your answer. Tell the order of events in your reading. Paraphrase. Conclusions. Summarize. What is the big idea, main idea? You will be learning …?



  1. The colors and hats provide a visual image that is easy to learn, remember and use.
  2. Thinking is visible, focused, in depth, and at higher levels of critical and creative thinking.
  3. The strategy is can be used on a simple, concrete level or abstract, sophisticated level.
  4. Listening, speaking, reading and writing improve with a strategy for focus.
  5. Interdisciplinary connections integrate the curriculum.
  6. Problem solving, decision making, leadership and independence are developed.
  7. Students ask quality questions.
  8. Student led discussions and projects are focused and in depth.
  9. Self-evaluation is systematic.
  10. Students develop confidence.
  11. Cooperative groups and teamwork are effective and organized.


  1. The Six Hats® is one approach to teaching thinking, and teachers should be cautious of excluding others.


A reader’s awareness of the thought processes used in reading is metacognition.  The blue hat ensures that the reader is making sense of the text.  In his keynote to the Western Pennsylvania Association for Curriculum and Supervision in April, 2000, Dr. Roger C. Farr, Senior Author of Harcourt Language emphasized the importance of metacognition in improving reading comprehension.  He challenged teachers to ask students to read a paragraph or two, cover the text, and paraphrase.  This blue hat task is simple and produces results.


The process of becoming literate reflects both family and school values.  It is rooted in schema theory.  Children use what they already know to give meaning to new experiences by activating prior knowledge and making connections to construct meaning.  Once a schema for questioning or thinking is learned, readers are able to elaborate on the material read.  This process engages the reader in a cognitive activity involving critical and creative thinking, judgment, evaluation, prediction, metacognition, ….

Six Hats® provides a literacy tool that helps everyone become independent, life long learners.  In all stages of literacy development children use Six Hats® when comprehending and composing.  The Commission on Adolescent Literacy, 1999, emphasized the differences between the needs of beginning and adolescent readers.  It presented the importance of thinking in adolescent literacy.  Adolescents require advanced literacy levels and need to learn to use higher level thinking.  They need to learn strategies to help them question themselves about what they read.  Explicit instruction moves the reader from literal understandings to higher order thinking that promotes reading comprehension.


The Six Hats® improves reading comprehension and provides readers with a tool to interact with the author, to have promote a conversation between the reader and the author.   Cognitive and metacognitive strategies promote the conversation, so the reader can question the author.

Nolte and Singer’s “phase-in, phase-out” strategy shifts the responsibility for asking questions from the teacher to the students.  Teachers show students how to generate questions for a story (Vacca, 290).  Six Hats® supports this shift of questioning responsibility.  High school teachers report —

“My Applied Communications class LOVED them.  We have had nothing but success with the HATS.   With the HATS the Journalism class is attacking the school magazine.  The Applied class designed an independent novel unit.  My Honors Speech and Debate class implemented a new peer comment format.  My Honors III class is exploring The Red Badge of Courage.   After one day, my Applied students were refocusing a discussion with a green hat.” Renee Sorensen, Teacher at Tunkhannock High School.

Increased comprehension and responsiveness is reported by two teachers.

“I found Six Hats® easy to simplify and adapt to the proficiency levels of my ESL students, and they responded with enthusiasm to the visual and tactile presentation of the hats.   Six Hats® provides a multisensory learning environment, giving students a greater chance for success.  Karen Lau, ESL Teacher, Luzerne Intermediate Unit, PA 

A teacher of autistic students reported,  “My students ask to use the Hats everyday.” Nicole Gamrat, Woodland Hills School District, PA


Pennsylvania Academic Standard 1.1, “Learning to Read Independently”states that students need to “read text using self-monitoring comprehension strategies.”   Teachers attest to the effectiveness of Six Hats® as an independent reading tool.  The blue hat of metacognition particularly connects with this standard.  In reading metacognition refers to “self-monitoring – the ability of student to monitor reading by keeping track of how well they are comprehending” (Vacca, 18).   The reader actively interacts with the text to make sense of it, setting up a purpose for reading,  planning for reading and evaluating the understandings.  A teacher who used the Six Hats® as a self-monitoring comprehension strategy states,

“I am using the SIX HATS® daily.  I refer to them to get the children thinking in a certain direction. It gives the students a direction to think towards by the questions on the hats. In the primary grades especially, the students need to develop specific thinking areas. This is the first program I have used that starts students in the direction of thinking critically.  They loved the activities especially the green hat.  I use this with PSSA (state assessment) preparation.” Debbie Miller, Wilkes Barre School District, PA


The Pennsylvania Academic writing standards and Six Hats®  were the motivation for a research project conducted by Jacque Goodburn, a seventh grade English teacher in Burgettstown Area School District in Pennsylvania.   She enjoyed using the Six Hats® but wanted to determine the effect on the writing achievement of her students.  Her research project included three heterogeneous classes, 60 students, 10 of whom are learning support.   The control group was comprised of three heterogeneous classes, 63 students, 10 of whom are learning support.  The prompts were PSSA writing assessment released prompts, informational, narrative, and persuasive.  Microsoft Word Tools was used to determine the writing quality using an objective tool – Flesch-Kincaid Readability.  Although readability formulas cannot capture all aspects of quality writing, they can be used to evaluate the length of sentences and the number of syllables in the words used.  This data in combination with teacher observation has given us an objective baseline for the research.

image013 (1)

For the informational and the narrative prompts, the students using the Six Hats® were writing an average of a half-year ahead of the control group students.  For the persuasive prompt the students using the Six Hats® were writing almost a year ahead of the control group.  Jacque concluded that the benefits are:
Benefits for the teacher

  1. Writing process discussions and workshops are consistent.
  2. Grading is objective.
  3. Students organize their ideas and see what they are thinking before writing.
  4. Students see what is missing and correct their omissions independently.
  5.  The teacher is an effective facilitator.

Benefits to students

  1. Students understand what is a well-developed piece.
  2. Students revise drafts with less teacher intervention.
  3. Students prewrite and see where detail is needed.
  4. Students value this life long learning and communication tool.

Benefits to both 

  1. The writing process is focused.
  2. It is specific and less confrontational.
  3. Constructive criticism focuses on the Hats rather than addressing the writer.


            Educational leaders find the Six Hats® valuable in two ways:  (1) a meeting facilitation tool and (2) a teacher observation strategy.  As a meeting facilitation tool, the mental wearing and switching hats teams can separate thinking into six modes for analyzing matters objectively and comprehensively.  When teams separate emotion from fact, the benefits from the possible problems, the critical from creative thinking, the results include shorter meetings, thorough assessment of alternatives before making decisions, better communication and easier problem resolution.  Hidden agendas are uncovered, and objectives are achieved without fragmented thinking and argument.  All sides of an issue are addressed.  The team works together to think clearly, objectively, systematically and creatively!

As a teacher observation strategy, educational leaders SEE the questions and student responses and is able to assess the depth and diversity of them.  The importance of  questioning and discussion is supported by its inclusion in Charlotte Danielson’s four domains of professional practice.  As the instructional process is observed,  an administrator is able to effectively analyze the thinking into the six categories.  Conferences between the teacher and observer are clear, objective, and systematic with the focus on developing in depth critical and creative thinking.  The administrator shows which thinking processes the teacher used during the lesson and offers constructive suggestions and a plan for increasing use of those not in the lesson.

One administrator elaborated on this by creating a system to use the Six Hats® as an observation strategy and a peer coaching tool.  The teachers learned and used the Hats in their classrooms.  The principal developed a question/response chart to determine the diversity of the discussion questions.  She set up a peer observation schedule so that the teachers could observe each other teaching.  Initially the teachers found that the vast majority of their questions were White Hat.  With this knowledge teachers modified their questions.  The principal leading this initiative states

“Our work with DeBono’s SIX HATS® has been a great base for improving our work with higher level thinking.  I often hear references to those darn ‘White Hat questions’,  so deadly in large numbers.  The awareness created from the SIX HATS®  has been valuable.”  Suzanne Herr, Principal, Solanco School District, PA

In Burgettstown Area School District, Deborah Jackson,  adds the following benefits from the point of view of the superintendent of schools.  The Six Hats®:

  1. Empower teachers to utilize best practices in their classrooms
  2. Encourage teachers to utilize proven instructional methods that are researched based
  3. Encourage teachers to “take a risk” to learn something new and apply it to their teaching
  4. Encourage imagination and the power of what ifs….

Many administrators agree with the prevalence of White Hat, knowledge level questions.  However, this changes and diverse, critical and creative questions flourish when applying Six Hats®.  When we see our thinking, administrators and teachers become more effective teaching and working together.

“While leading a class discussion, I could tell the direction the class was headed by listening to their responses.  A few key HATS questions could switch the students’ thoughts in a different direction.  The Six Hats® has been a valuable tool during my student teaching experience.  My cooperating teacher commented on how my questioning skills have improved.”  Andrea Mamrose, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Presentation of “A Quick Look at the Six Hats®”, First Annual Scholars Conference, 2006



Berwick Area School District’s professional staff was introduced to Six Hats® several years ago, providing them a specific way to approach thinking and decision making for themselves and with their students. Thinking is an act that can be somewhat overwhelming because we try to make decisions with various elements pulling at us. Our creative side argues with our practical side, our pros argue with our cons, and our emotions argue with our brains.

The toolbox of the Six Thinking Hats® provides our staff and students with a concrete way to approach decision making in the classroom. One student claims that this technique broadened her way of thinking; she now approaches her assignments in a whole new light, especially with cooperative learning activities and group projects. This thinking technique works both in the boardroom and in the classroom. Holly Morrison, Director of Curriculum, K-12, Berwick School District, PA


Decision making and problem solving are essential skills for adults and children.  HATS IN SEQUENCES provide a colorful seven step structure to solve problems and make decisions.  In a physics classroom problem solving is facilitated by Six Hats®.

“The HATS were introduced in a unit on the use of petroleum in the United States and alternate energy forms. The students became familiar with what I expect for each HAT process.  We now use the HATS for problem solving.  They answer questions using the HATS in greater depth without me prompting them to go deeper. ” Dean Brewer, Physics Teacher,  Southern Columbia High School, PA

 Six Hats® problem solving has benefited students in Odyssey of the Mind, Destination Imagination, and Invent America.  It promotes communication among team members, improves creative production, provides the next steps, and resolves team problems effectively.

“My students revel in the metacognitive strategies. They love thinking about thinking! Students purposefully examine all approaches to solving a problem.  Plus it’s just plain FUN!”  Judy Micheletti, Odyssey of the Mind Coordinator, Berwick School District, PA



As a conflict resolution tool, Six Hats®  has been helping to create a safer school climate in Berwick High School.   A multicultural diversity group uses Six Hats® as their leadership and problem solving tool in handling conflict and change.  Scenarios related to diversity challenge the students and the Hats.  Role playing with problems being analyzed and resolved connects problem solving to their lives.

The Six Hats® helps multiculturally diverse students SEE how they react in difficult situations.  The concreteness of the Hats helps them identify their reactions to situations, analyze them, and create real life change, the primary goal of a diversity groups.  Conflict resolution and a more positive school climate result from student problem solving with Six Hats®.   Sally Meyer, Teacher and Diversity Group Coordinator, Berwick High School, PA



In summary,  Six Hats® is a tool that promotes quality thinking and communication for students, teachers, and educational leaders.   As the HATS activate the brain with color, they create a delightful and meaningful experience for those who teach, learn and lead using them.  Testimonials from around the globe applaud the Six Hats® for their power to focus thinking and communication, provide a self-monitoring strategy, enhance reading comprehension, offer a process for problem solving and decision making, and foster independence, leadership, and teamwork.



  1. Adolescent Literacy, a Position Statement for the Commission on Adolescent Literacy of the International Reading Association, International Reading Association, Newark, DE.  1999.
  2. DeBono, Edward.  Six Thinking Hats®.  First Back Bay:  MICA Management Resources, 1999.
  3. Farr, Roger C. (Senior Author, Harcourt Language, Harcourt Inc.) ”Keynote to Western Pennsylvania Association for Curriculum and Supervision”, April, 2000.
  4. DeBono, Edward.  Serious Creativity.  Des Moines, Iowa:  Advanced Practical Thinking Training, 1992, p. 31
  5. Vacca, Jo Anne,  Richard T. Vacca, Mary K. Gove, Linda C. Burkey, Lisa A. Lenhart, and Christine A. McKeon.  Reading and Learning to Read, Sixth Edition, Boston:  Pearson, 2006.


About the Author

Franny F. McAleer

is on the faculty of the Department of Professional Studies in Education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Indiana, Pennsylvania.  She is also an educational consultant for

You can contact her at 724-413-6001 or via email at or

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