Step 1 guides you in HOW TO create a task which has room for thinking



Before working through the Thinking Task Framework  it is very important to have extremely clear content and thinking aims (see here for advice on how to think through and formulate your aims clearly Aims: an overview). These are essential if we want a thinking task to work.


A thinking task should challenge our students; lead to the need to build strategies for doing the task; make our students reflect on the task and strategies. You can consider a task based on a whole unit of work or just one individual concept or piece of knowledge that can be covered in one lesson. You can use either your subject curriculum or trans-disciplinary skills as your task starting point.



  • Function of STEP 1 for learnerschange learners’ attitude from expecting to be able to do the task immediately to recognising the need to work on a more challenging task to which the answer cannot be easily found and which will force them to move out of their comfort zone.
  • Function of STEP 1 for teacherschange teacher’s ability to create tasks from being able to make typical, non–thinking tasks to being able to make a task with room for thinking by creating a motivating challenge which cannot be solved immediately or without further input and helping the learners to accept this challenge.


Step 1 is divided into three SUB-STEPS which are described below. These will help you to identify if your task is suitable for developing thinking skills.

SUB-STEP 1.1 Consider a task and list typical answers to it

List the typical answers you would expect from the learners you have in mind using this particular task. 

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SUB-STEP 1.2. Set your task in a context relevant to your aims

Contextualizing the task is one way of making the typical answers irrelevant and at the same time of making it more realistic and appealing to learners. Within this context typical task answers are not necessarily relevant and become unacceptable and motivation is increased by the real-life application.      

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SUB-STEP 1.3. Change the task to make both typical answers and procedures unacceptable

This can be done for example by introducing limitations and/ or other specific criteria for the content of the task and what you want the outcome to be. It should not be possible to find the answer or solution easily or immediately from nearby sources or learning materials. The task should be presented in the form of a challenge or problem and it should be unclear to the learners, and possibly to the teacher, how they are going to solve it, so that a major outcome will be finding a way to do this particular task and others like it, leading on to step 2. A motivating context, relevant to the learners’ lives, is important. 

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SUB-STEP 1.1. Consider a task and list typical answers or solutions to it

  • Function: change the teacher’s awareness from thinking about a task in isolation to considering a task along with its possible solutions and answers.
  • Outcome: task with a list of the obvious solutions or answers.
If you are designing a unit of work you will probably design a series of tasks rather than a single task. Your starting point will be your aims and what you consider to be a suitable task for achieving them. It’s necessary that the teacher thinks through carefully in advance what the learners already know and considers the immediate answers they are likely to give. This will help you to make the task more challenging and suitable as a thinking task in the next sub-step. Finding or creating a method of solving the problem or challenge which constitutes the task is a major outcome at Step 2.

Possible procedure:

  • List the answers you would expect the learners to give.
  • List the ways you would normally expect them to go about solving this task.  

Support resources:


SUB-STEP 1.2. Set your task in a context relevant to your aims

  • Function: change the context of the task from one without a relevant context to one which motivates and is relevant to the learners’ interests and lives.
  • Outcome: a motivating context for your task
You have thought about what the typical answers to your task might be. Now you have to create a relevant context for the task and you have to go about making the answers unacceptable. To do this you need once again to keep your aims in mind. What exactly do you want your learners to learn? With this in mind you can add limitations to the task, forcing them to think beyond the typical answers which can be easily found. Examples of tasks in context and ways of limiting tasks can be found in the support resources below. You could also add more specific criteria to the task, for example in connection with the context you have chosen. When planning such a task it is important to accept that you no longer know how the learners are going to respond and that their answers will be unpredictable.

Possible procedure:

  • Consider what interests the learners and try to think of how these could be connected to your task.
  • Think about the learners’ possible future need for what you want to teach them.  

Support resources:


SUB-STEP 1.3. Change the task to make both typical answers and procedures unacceptable

  • Function: change a task in a context from being motivating but non-challenging to being motivating and challenging.
  • Outcome: a motivating contextualized task in the form of a problem or challenge which makes room for thinking
A challenging task should have a clear purpose, deal with a specific, limited situation or problem and have set criteria to be used. It should reveal gaps in both the learners’ knowledge and thinking skills and should therefore ideally lead to the learner being stuck, unable to progress alone. An important part of the challenge is that the learner does not know how to do the task. This condition will give you the opportunity to move the task to a more generic level and to introduce a thinking tool to your learners to help them solve this specific problem, as will be explained in Step 2 tutorial. When planning such a task it is important to accept that you no longer know how the learners are going to respond and that their answers will be unpredictable. It is frustrating for learners not to know how to do the task and therefore they need to be motivated to want to find out how to make progress. Although the teacher is clear about the aims, it cannot be predicted how exactly the task will play out. Some examples of ways you can make the task more challenging can be found in the resources below.

Possible procedure:

  • Consider your context and introduce limitations to it, by specifying particular criteria to be used.

Support resources:


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