Thinking and mind tools

Site: learnonline
Course: Teaching and learning in Health Sciences
Book: Thinking and mind tools
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Date: Thursday, 18 July 2024, 4:50 PM
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The Y Chart

The Y chart

The aim of the Y Chart is for students to think about environments from three perspectives.

  • Looks like ...
  • Sounds like ...
  • Feels like ... (Usually this is the sensory 'feel', not the touchy-feely emotional 'feel'; but sometimes things do have a feel that triggers emotional responses which are worth exploring.)

If it's appropriate to the content, you can also add a fourth perspective of Smells or Tastes like (forming an X chart).

It takes more than knowledge and practice to change a novice into an experts. Students become aware of the information being fed into their brains by their senses. This means not just 'seeing' but consciously observing, not just hearing but actively 'listening', etc.

These charts are great ways to get students thinking in depth about concepts and situations, because they move from the concrete to the abstract. It encourages them to produce a range of adjectives which can define and scope a concept.

To do this properly, they'll need to think deeply about not just the whats but of the whys. It is particularly useful in the early stages of a task, to explore and define the task requirements.

Before beginning any group work in the classroom a Y chart could be developed on effective group work; thus setting the scene for the expectations of cooperation and teamwork whilst working in groups.

Download a template (73 KB)

Putting it into practice: Application in Health Sciences

Consider a clinical environment. An expert moves into a clinical space and very quickly forms an opinion over whether that space is operating appropriately.

For example, if a patient has a condition like asthma ... what would the expert expect to hear, see and feel?

Sometimes experts may become aware of problems without even being quite sure why, or what the problem is; so they stop and look, listen, and think. They are taking in and processing information through all their senses. Somewhere during that cognitive processing, using sensory information, they identify the problem they have noticed.

This happens with people who have considerable experience to draw upon. The problem is we can't easily teach the skill; partly because we are not always aware that we are doing it, and partly because that is just not what we do. We teach skills in isolation, even if we do it in situ.

Asking the students questions such as, "What does a properly operating ward look like, sound like, and feel like", forces them to step back and think about the whole. What is it that makes a ward function?

Also consider this example from the education sphere:

From the teacher's perspective, what does a properly functioning class look like and sound like?

It has a low murmur; not quiet but not loud. The teacher can't be heard from the hallway. 

What does it look like? The desks are in groups. Work is displayed so that the space is 'owned' by the students: not just the best work, but everybody's. Resources are where students can access them, unless they are dangerous.

There are a few, clearly-displayed rules; they are at the principle level, not the instructional level, and have been jointly agreed.

And so on ...

Interesting resources

Herrington J, Reeves, T, Oliver, R 2013, Authentic Learning Environments  in Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology, pp 401-412. 

Barrows, S 2006 Problem-based learning in medicine and beyond: A brief overview 

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PMI Chart

PMI Chart

The PMI Chart is a useful too to generate discussion and analysis for complex issues. 

The idea is that the entries in the columns can be used as the basis for individual or group learning activities. 

  • The Plus column is for advantages or strengths or positives.
  • The Minus column is for disadvantages or weaknesses or negatives.
  • Any ideas which don’t really classify as a plus or a minus can be put into the third column, which can either be for Interesting or for Implications - whichever is more suited to the content.

The PMI Chart is more valuable in discussions about difficult decisions or issues or situations, which have many plusses and minuses. 

Download a PMI template (100 KB) 

Putting it into practice: Application in Health Sciences

The PMI chart is valuable when examining solutions to scenarios or problem based learning, and to establish what is already known or understood in a scenario.

It is particularly applicable in situations in which students tend to cut their thinking short. They can rush to a conclusion without talking through or coming to grips with the complexity of the issue. Sometimes they ignore information altogether.

A concern about group work in health sciences is how student know that their group conclusions are not incorrect ... even dangerous to their future patients. This is a great way to get reports back to give the teacher oversight of all the discussions.

Activities using the PMI Chart get really interesting when there are a number of groups working on the same scenario, each of them placing their values and emphasis on different things. This can result in a great discussion! 

Interesting resources

Quantitative Pros and Cons. Mindtools website

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De Bono's Six Hats 

Six Thinking Hats is a parallel thinking process that helps students and groups to focus more productively on problems and issues. The process focusses on six team roles, represented by different coloured symbolic thinking hats.  

By getting students to 'wear' and switch the hats (and the roles), they can consider issues, problems, decisions, and opportunities systematically. 

In short, the hats correspond with the following perspectives (Information sourced from

White Hat. This hat covers facts, figures, information needs and gaps, and other objective elements of the problem.  "My white hat thinking is that we need to drop the arguments and proposals, and look at the facts."

Red Hat. This hat covers intuition, feelings and emotions about the problem. The red hat gives the thinker permission to put forward a feeling or an intuition on the problem without having to justify it using logic. "Putting on my red hat, I just feel that this is a terrible proposal." 

Black Hat. This hat represents judgment, analysis and caution. It should not be seen as a negative perspective, but rather as a logical way to establish when proposals do not fit facts, where there are shortcomings in the available experience, or issues in the system or in policy. The black hat can come up with worst case scenarios. 'Putting on the black hat for a moment, I need to play Devil's Advocate here ...',

Yellow Hat. The yellow hat is the opposite of the black hat in some ways. The yellow perspective consider the positive aspects and advantages in the situation. It looks at why proposals will work and be beneficial, or find aspects of past actions which have been positive. 'From the yellow hat viewpoint, I can see some really great outcomes from this approach ...'

Green Hat. This is the hat of creativity, alternatives, interesting proposals, provocative ideas and changes. The purpose of the green hat perspective is to look at the problem in new ways. 'Let's think outside the square for a moment ... this is totally out of left field, but what if we ....'

Blue Hat. This hat represents the overview or process control. Its purpose is to sum up everything which has been learned or presented in the discussion, and establish ways forward. 'From a blue hat perspective, I think that we need more green hat thinking right now ...' 

In the image below, you can see a visual representation of the six hats and the focus of each hat. 

Six hats thinking [Source:]


Download a template (269 KB)



Putting it into practice: Application in Health Sciences

The Six Hats strategy gives students the opportunity to experience different styles of thinking and helps them to view issues and problems from different perspectives. It can be used during a specific critical thinking session to solve problems, discuss arguments, in-depth analysis for planning processes, and creative thinking. 

It is particularly useful for problem-solving activities. Use the colours (or even actual hats, if you can find the right colours!) to help the students to assume their role and hone in on the relevant thinking focus. 


Interesting resources

Six thinking hats

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3-2-1 Thinking

The 3-2-1 Thinking process is a strategy which you can use with students to help them to focus their thinking. All students need to do is to come up with 3 examples of one element, 2 of another and 1 of a third. It's a good way to summarise content or encourage students to think about their learning. 

For example, you could use this tool to summarise learning at the end of a session, by asking the students to  students to record 3 facts they've learned, 2 questions they have, and one professional connection they can make to the information. 

Other ways to use the tool could be to help students to check how well they understand the content during a session, or to get students to record their thoughts during a class discussion.

Download a template (10 KB) 

3-2-1 Summariser [Source:]

Putting it into practice: Application in Health Sciences

The Three-Two-One Approach is effective when used to get students to summarise their learning and think more deeply about various interventions (for example, to come up with three patient considerations for an intervention, two provider considerations, and one technical or administrative consideration.)

Students can also use this process to compare and contrast ideas or processes, by coming up with three similarities, two differences and one question.

The process can be used to help students to focus on readings (three important ideas from the text, two supporting details for each of the ideas and one question about each idea). 

Interesting resources

3-2-1 A reflection and summarising strategy 

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Brainstorming is a time-honoured method of generating ideas and coming up with creative ways to solve problems. It is used not only in a classroom, but for all types of professional and personal groups and situations. 

The idea is for a group to work together informally to come up with any thoughts and ideas that seem to be applicable to the issue under discussion, no matter how unusual or even crazy.

The group then sorts the ideas into useful classifications, looking at the original creative ideas as well as the more 'sensible' ideas. (Image to the right sourced from Shutterstock image library, under a UniSA subscription).

The brainstorming process can be adapted to suit different classroom situations, so long as the basic guidelines are followed: 

  • In the first phase, ask students to just record ideas, without trying to evaluate or comment on them.
  • If you are facilitating the process, stay neutral in your reactions to each idea.
  • Let students express whatever ideas they have, without holding back. Stress that in the first phase, no idea is too crazy.
  • Repetition is OK. It isn't worth the time or interruption to work out overlaps at this stage -- and you don't want anyone to feel their idea was rejected.
  • Students can use each other's ideas to build on, or even repeat each other's ideas with slightly different emphasis.

The aim is to push people into thinking outside of their normal patterns. 

However, note that it's very easy to overuse brainstorming, or to use it badly.

  • For brainstorming to be successful, students have to know how to evaluate their ideas for relevance and feasibility, and have to have the understanding to be able to classify them.
  • It can also be easy for the group to fixate on a dominant idea, and not pay sufficient attention to a range of ideas.
  • Finally, there can be some tension between good group work and effective brainstorming. If members take it in turn to produce ideas and contribute equally, this can lead to 'production blocking', so that members need to wait to contribute, and some of their ideas may not get included.    

Brainstorming is often more useful in conjunction with other mind tools, such as brainstorming from a six hats perspective. The six hats approach gives more structure and shape to the brainstorming process. 

Putting it into practice: Application in Health Sciences

In a brainstorming session, students express their ideas and listen to others. This helps them to adjust their previous knowledge or understanding, accommodate new information and increase their levels of awareness.

In your classroom, you can use brainstorming's to:

  • focus the students' attention on a particular topic
  • teach acceptance and respect for individual differences
  • encourage learners to take risks in sharing their ideas and opinions
  • demonstrate to students that their knowledge and their language abilities are valued and accepted
  • introduce the practice of idea-collection prior to beginning tasks such as writing or solving problems
  • provide an opportunity for students to share ideas and expand their existing knowledge by building on each other's contributions.

(Adapted from UNSW 'What is brainstorming?')

The brainstorming process can be adapted to suit different classroom situations, :

  • If the whole group works well together, and you just want a quick 'on-the-run' brainstorming session, then just open up the whole class for ideas and take them as they come. The ideas will need to be summarised and recorded, and then evaluated either by the class or by subgroups.
  • In many classes, it is better to divide into groups for brainstorming. Students may feel more confident in putting ideas forward, and will have more chance to participate. Each group will need to nominate a recorder.  
  • If your students need a more structured approach, or are at lower levels, it might be worth directing that they take it in turns to speak, with everybody getting an equal chance.
  • Using sticky notes or scraps of paper can give students anonymity, and may be useful if the discussion points are controversial, or could be embarrassing. 

Interesting resources

UNSW What is brainstorming?

Brainstorming: Generating many radical ideas