The role of the teacher

Each lesson focuses on a specific thinking technique and provides situations to practice that technique. Teachers choose which practice items are suited to their class and can generate their own. Teachers choose the type of output wanted and how much time is going to be given to each item.

Variation and enrichment

The teacher can vary the situational context as long as the focus remains on the thinking technique. For instance, the teacher may decide to try one of the practice items with a role-playing or debate format or as a scoring game.

Enrichment also refers to the way the teacher deals with the output from the groups. Teachers can comment and elaborate on ideas that are put forward. They can link one idea with another or contrast them. Teachers do not have to accept passively the ideas that are offered. They can work on them and develop the interest in them.


The lessons should run at a fast pace. The overall aim should be one of crispness and effectiveness. To maintain the crispness the teacher must be like the conducter of an orchestra. In the thinking lessons the teacher does not have the authority of imparting and judging knowledge but still provides direction. The teacher can comment on ideas or summarise a discussion and move on to the next item when they want to. The teacher is also on the look out to keep the students engaged by asking any group or individual for a comment.

The degree to which teachers may have to exercise control will vary with the class. With a well-motivated and experienced class teachers may simply be caretakers watching the thinking as it flows. Students who expect knowledge orientated lessons will need encouragement to volunteer their own ideas.

If a student is being difficult then focus on the motivation of the student rather than criticise weak or unusual output. Silly remarks can be used as stepping stones to different ideas. If groups persist in being difficult for the sake of it, then the composition of a group can be changed. 

If groups are overly wordy in their output then the teacher can ask for a summary of the three main points. The teacher can also summarise a discussion and move on. If students feel they are not getting enough time, then written output can be requested instead of group discussion.

If no ideas are forthcoming, teachers should make suggestions of their own for the students to react to. The teacher's notes for each lesson contain suggestions.

A group may let the other groups take the lead. Such a group can be invited by the teacher to give its output to the rest of the class. Output in note form can also be requested.


Please keep the thinking tool as the central purpose of the lesson. It is easy for the lesson to become a general discussion of the practice situations. When this happens teachers must focus attention on the thinking technique. They should not be shy about using the acronym labels and should be able to ask someone to "do a PMI" on an idea or a "CAF". Although these will sound artificial at first, this soon passes.

It is also up to teachers to explain the difference between the different thinking operations. As all the lessons have practice situations, they will seem alike. Teachers must point out the difference between APC and AGO and between C&S and CAF, etc. This should  be done in the initial introduction and during the discussion.


Many teachers make the mistake of assuming that since there is no one right answer in the thinking lessons, they cannot judge the ideas offered but must accept them all. There is no one right answer but there are many possible right answers.

There are many wrong answers, silly answers or trivial answers, and the teacher is perfectly justified in not giving these much attention. The only thing that teachers must not do is to dismiss an idea simply because it differs from their own. Quite apart from the right/wrong basis of judgment, there are many other ways in which a teacher can comment on a suggestion.

Some possible responses are listed below.

  • How might that idea be different from the one we just had?

  • Could you compare your idea with the other one?

  • Which of the two do you think is more important?

  • I do not understand - please explain.

  • What would happen next with that idea?

  • Please summarise those variations into a single idea?

  • How important is that?

  • What else can you think of?

  • What would you like to add to that idea?

  • What are your thoughts on the idea we have just heard?


This can be a difficult point, especially for those students who have been used to dealing with situations for which there are definite right answers. They miss the sense of achievement and personal credit. They are also unsure of the rules of the thinking lessons and what they are aiming for. It is up to the teacher to create a sense of achievement. This is not based on the right answer system but on having something to say, on having some thoughts on the matter. For instance the teacher can say:

  • That is a very important point.

  • We have not had that point before.

  • That is a very interesting idea (a new angle).

  • That is an original idea.

  • That is an interesting variation.

  • That is a neat (or elegant) idea.

Similarly, group output can be praised as follows:

  • That is a very well organized output.

  • Those ideas are very comprehensive.

  • That is very imaginative.

  • You have covered most points.

Expressing displeasure is more difficult because it depends not so much on the idea itself but on the teacher's assessment of the motivation involved. The teacher is not really judging ideas but judging whether the students are practicing thinking. There is no point in condemning the output of someone who is genuinely trying. On the other hand, someone who is not trying to think can be encouraged further:

  • Can you think of a situation where this thinking tool would be useful to you?

  • What are the benefits of being a better thinker?

  • What sort of mistake might someone make in their thinking if they didn't use this thinking tool?

In general, the thinking lessons are not different from lessons in other subjects which do not have absolute answers.

The main points to remember are:

1. If students are really trying their hardest, you cannot get them to think better by condemning their performance.

2. If students are not trying then focus on their motivation, rather than their output.

3. There are many ways of praising an idea apart from saying it is the only right idea.

4. A distinction has to be made between trivial and important ideas if there seems to be deliberate generation of trivial ideas. Vary your praise accordingly.


The main points are that the teacher should:

  • Make the lessons interesting.

  • Maintain control and a brisk pace.

  • Keep the focus on the thinking tool, not the situational excercises.

  • Give the students a definite sense of achievement for making an effort with their thinking skill.

(c) Copyright Edward de Bono Ltd, trading as de Bono