Looking for ideas for learning activities that build metacognition? We've scoured the internet and compiled this comprehensive list of metacognition activities and teaching strategies! For each metacognitive learning activity we have included a brief description and explanation; where possible we have included a link to downloadable resources. If we've missed one, do let us know!!
Exam Wrappers Metacognition reflection worksheets that students complete before and after and assessment or practice exam paper. Advice on designing effective exam-wrappers can be found here. (Download)
Get Students to Evaluate the Importance of Various Study-Skills Working collaboratively, students create a large list of all the skills a person might learn that would make them a more effective learner. There are dozens of such skills: mind-mapping, independent research, reading/deep-reading/speed-reading, team-work skills, emotional regulation skills and so on. Once the list is complete, students should use various categories to evaluate the important, usefulness, and practicality of each skill (e.g. by giving them ratings out of 10). Finally, they should order/rank all of the study skills from best to worst and take ownership of targets that relate directly to their winning study-skills.
Debates Get students to debate and discuss topics relating to metacognition. This article might be helpful in planning this activity and inspiring some ideas on how to use debates to foster metacognitive awareness. (Downloads)
Use of Personal Learning Checklists (PLCs) A Personal Learning Checklist is a list of the main topics students need to know about a given subject: students run through the list and evaluate their progress in respect to each aspect of the required subject-knowledge. They are especially useful (arguably essential to good practice) in exam-subjects: a PLC should contain subject headings for all the required learning from the exam specification, students have a clear guide as to what they need to know and can evaluate their confidence for each point on the checklist (e.g. 1-10 or by shading red/orange/green). This is a highly effective way for students to monitor and regulate their learning (a central aspect of metacognition).
Knowledge Hunts Knowledge Hunt activities involve placing information around the room and having students use that information to complete a task or worksheet. This learning activity is easy to apply to the subject of metacognition (e.g. students could explore 'Factors that impact learning power') and can help students to gain a great deal metacognitive knowledge in an efficient and timely manner. (Download)
Lesson Wrappers & End-of-Lesson Reflection Worksheets Free resource here. Using a worksheet to structure and guide reflections, students can be lead to reflect upon what worked well in the lesson, what held them back, and how they might improve next time. Having students evaluate their learning at the end of the lesson helps them to practice metacognitive monitoring skills. A great selection of 'Mini End of Lesson Reflection Worksheets' can be downloaded here.
Metacognition Diagnostic Tasks Free resource here. A great starter activity: have students reflect on different aspects of their readiness to learn before they tackle the main tasks of the day. For example, have students rate their current state-of-mind in terms of: energy-levels, concentration, mood, attitude etc. and reflect on how they might improve those ratings next time. This gets them into the habit of monitoring their readiness to learn so that they can maximise it in the future.
Force Field Analysis Ask students to identify an educational goal and to provide a description of what success looks like. Ask students to chart out the hindering forces and helping forces that affect their movement towards the goal. Next, have students articulate where they currently are in terms of reaching that goal and steps they can take to accomplish it. A great activity for articulating goals and developing strategies to achieve them.
Use of Philosophical Questions & P4C (Philosophy for Children) You can read more about how philosophical thinking can benefit metacognition in this article. Put simply: guided philosophical discussions and effective use of questioning, especially in relation to epistemological issues, can trigger deep-reflections on the nature of knowledge, what separates knowledge from mere belief, and what serves as a strong foundation for knowledge (and therefore learning). (Download)
A Letter From The Future Students should write a letter to themselves from their future selves: the letter should explain to them how they can improve their performance in school and why it is important that they do so. A good way to promote metacognitive reflection and regulation whilst reminding students that enhancing learning-power is there responsibility and that, ultimately they will be the ones to reap the rewards of success in school.
Use of Videos to Direct-Teach About Metacognition Show students a video about metacognition and have them complete a reflection task in response to it. Click here for guidance and resources.
Figurative Transformation Tasks This end-of-term activity is ideal for showcasing self-development and personal growth; articulating goals; describing how the course prepares them for future educational and professional experiences; thinking creatively. Ask students to imagine themselves and their transformation in the course through an extended metaphor. For example, you might ask students to imagine themselves as a superhero, and then describe (in words or in a drawing): the story of their transformation into a superhero (an account of how they changed in the course), the superpowers they gained (strengths and abilities that have gained in the course), their kryptonite (challenges yet to overcome, areas for improvement).
Dedicated Improvement & Reflection Time Otherwise known as DIRT, this means setting aside time for students to reflect on progress and set targets for improvement on a regular basis. We've compiled a large collection of DIRT worksheets here.
Sticky-Note Challenges Use 'The Sticky-Note Challenge' to inspire metacognitive reflection using fun games and discussion challenges.
Metacognition Reflection Worksheets All schools should have a selection of general metacognition reflection worksheets that students are scheduled to complete on a regular basis. (Download)
Fish Bowl A method for structuring a group participation that encourages peer-to-peer dialogue and active listening. Arrange the space into a smaller inner circle of 3-4 chairs and a larger outer circle of remaining chairs. The facilitator poses an initial question, and those in the inner circle discuss the question among themselves while all others in the outer circle listen attentively. Students in the inner circle may choose to leave, at which point anyone in the outside circle is free to take the empty seat in the inner circle and join the conversation.
A Letter to Other Students Ask students to write a letter to students who will take the course in the next academic year. What should incoming students expect to learn? What will they find most challenging? What advice should they follow? Allow time for students to share and discuss each other’s letters.
Mind-Mapping & Concept-Mapping Mind-mapping is both an essential study-skill to develop in students and a great way to explore the learning-process, obstacles to learning, and metacognition. Use mind-maps as a way for students to express their metacognitive awareness and understanding. For example, you might get students to 'Create a Mind-Map showing your strengths and weaknesses as a learner'. (Download)
Have Students Evaluate the Effectiveness of Different Learning & Revision Activities A useful aspect of metacognition is getting students to understand which activities genuinely help them to learn and which are less effective. For example: you might provide students with a list of various revision activities and strategies and have them rate them according to different measures (fun, effectiveness, time-efficiency etc.)
Pre-Assessments A short task that asks students to reflect on what they already know about a given topic: “What do I already know about this topic that could guide my learning?” - also an excellent way to create cross-curricular connections depending on the topic.
Mindfulness & Meditation Based Activities As this article discusses: mindfulness and meditation can be used as very direct and very deep approaches to metacognition; arguably the ability for students to pay attention to the inner-workings of their mind is an essential skill upon which all metacognitive monitoring and reflection depends. You can teach students to develop their introspective powers using our 'Meditation, Mindfulness & Deep-Metacognition Toolkit'.
Think, Pair, Share A very simple and effective way to structure discussions about metacognition and help students to reflect on the important aspects of their metacognitive development: free download here!
Ball Pass Discussions The facilitator, holding a ball, begins by posing a question or sharing an observation relevant to metacognition and learning. Students wishing to respond raise their hands, and the facilitator passes the ball to one of them. The person who received the ball must first respond to the first speaker’s question or comment before adding his or her own contribution.
Reflective Writing Tasks Reflective writing helps students make connections between what they are learning in their homework/class content and with how they are integrating the content into their current learning structures. Writing helps students observe themselves before, during and after their reading, watching and listening experience. Reflective writing can also take the form of jotting down their affective and other personal reactions to learning the material. The most popular reflective writing activity is the “minute paper” whereby you have students respond to prompts that ask them to think about their experiences with the homework, class activities or recent learning experiences in your class. Here are some sample prompts to use for your reflective writing activities: -The most important part of the reading, video or class is…. -The most useful or valuable thing(s) I learned today was…. -The most surprising or unexpected idea I encountered was… -The ideas that stand out the most in my mind are…. -This helped or hindered my understanding of the reading, video or class …. -Two ideas that I have found confusing are…. -“I learned a lot doing this assignment”. I agree (or disagree) because…. -The advice I’d give myself based on what I know now and if I were starting this assignment over again would be…. -If I were to paraphrase what we have learned today for a high school student it would look like this…. -What I have learned today, I am able to connect to other courses in this way…
Use a Metacognition Reflection Workbook or Reflective Journal You can download our version here: it features over 100 pages of professionally designed learning and reflection activities focused on metacognition, metacognitive strategies and enhancing learning-power. (Download)
Direct Teaching About Metacognition Aside from the activities mentioned so far that lead to metacognition: don't be afraid to explain metacognition to students directly or use your favourite learning activities to explicitly teach students about metacognition, its benefits and different metacognitive strategies they might use. We've made a variety of resources to teach students about metacognition which you can browse here.
The Muddiest Point Towards the end of the lesson, create a task around the question: “What was most confusing to me about the material explored in class today?” with a particular emphasis on students identifying why they think a given topic was confusing and what alternative strategies they could use to gain a more secure understanding. Alternatively/additionally: at the end of a lesson, the teacher passes out index cards and asks students to list their “muddiest point” from the session. The teacher collects the index cards and begins the next class summarising the most confusing points identified by the students. The instructor alters delivery of teaching to address these points and asks students whether they remain points of confusion.
The Metacognitive Awareness Inventory A standardised measure of metacognitive awareness, it's free to download here. It serves as an excellent tool for self-reflection and monitoring and, in lessons, can be used as a prompt for further discussions and debates. Teachers should consider using the generated data to identify students in need of specific metacognitive interventions. For more tips and advice on how to use the MAI check-out this article.
Metacognitive Thunks A Thunk is a deceptively simple question that leads to deep philosophical reflections, debates and discussions. Thunks have been around for a few years now and have been well received by the teaching community: we adapted the idea and created The Metacognitive Thunk Generator - which focuses entirely on philosophical issues relating to metacognition! (Download)
Retrospective Post Assessment Near the end of a topic or end of the course, ask students to reflect (retrospectively) as to what they thought about a topic or concept before the course and what they think about it now. Learning is about change and this activity asks students to reflect on the changes in their knowledge, skills and attitudes and put that into perspective for moving forward. This activity engages students in a mechanism to train students to ‘self-question’, “How has my thinking changes (or not changed) over time?”
Real-Time Line-Graph Task Students are given an empty graph. They have three different colours of pen: at various points in the lesson you ask them to mark on the graph to indicate a rating for three different aspects of their state of mind (e.g. focus, attitude, mood, attention, determination etc) out of ten. Finally, students connect the dots to complete a line-graph indicating how their state of mind has changed throughout the lesson: this should be followed by appropriate reflection questions and target-setting for improvement. A great way to fuse metacognitive monitoring skills with graphology/numeracy skills.
Use of Metacognitive Questioning More of a general metacognitive strategy than a specific learning activity: teachers should use questioning to bring about metacognitive monitoring, reflection, awareness and regulation. Download our FREE Printable Metacognitive Question Prompt Cards and give it a go!
Enhanced Self-Assessment & Peer-Assessment Self-assessment exercises should never be merely about determining a final-mark for a given assessment: they should always include questions that lead to metacognitive reflection and (perhaps through target-setting) metacognitive regulation. Likewise, peer-assessment tasks can be enhanced so that they maximise metacognition; for example, a student might be asked (having marked a peer's work) to give them "three tips to help them improve based on what's worked for me" or even "one thing you did really well that I could learn from and apply to my own work".
Visualisation Tasks For example, asking students to visualise what success looks like for them and the steps they need to take to reach that point. A fun way to do this activity is to have students express their visualisations in the form of a comic-strip: students start by drawing where they are now, then draw the desired goal, and finally fill in the rest of the comic-book to produce a step-by-step story (plan!) as to how they will reach their goal.
Teach Mnemonic Devices: especially the Mind-Palace Technique
Reciprocal Teaching Reciprocal teaching is a strategy used to develop reading comprehension (Palincsar and Brown 1984). Working with small groups of students, the teacher models the use of four key strategies that support reading comprehension: (i) questioning (ii) clarifying (iii) summarising (iv) predicting The students are then asked to take on the role of teacher and teach these strategies to other students.
Reading Comprehension Tasks Whilst a little bit 'old-school', reading comprehensions about different aspects of metacognition and learning can be a straightforward and direct way to help students build metacognitive knowledge. (Download)
Weekly Metacognition Journal In the journal they document their study habits and success with various assignments and class activities. At the midpoint and end of term, students review their journals to assess what study habits and preparations led to the best performance in assessments and class time.
Thinking-Aloud Tasks Think-Alouds are where the thinker talks out loud to articulate the mental processes that are going on inside of their mind. It is an ideal way for students to practice monitoring skills and it allows the teacher a unique insight into what the student is actually doing with their mind (and thus, what they might need to do differently). This activity might be more suited for one-on-one work!
Metacognitive Question Generation Tasks Students generate a list of questions about 'How to learn about X' or 'How to fully understand X'. When giving instructions for this activity make it clear that they should not be generating questions about X itself! For example, in a Biology lesson, metacognitive questions about evolution might be: - "Where is a good place to research evolution?" - "What kind of thinking is required to get the fullest understanding of evolution?" - "What are the main obstacles that might prevent a person from understanding evolution?" An obvious follow-up activity would be to get students to exchange questions and try to answer them.
Have we missed any learning activities that support metacognition? Do you have a great idea for an activity to foster and develop metacognition? What other metacognitive strategies do you know that aren't on our list? We want this article to grow over time and become a central resource for teachers and leaders wishing to continue their professional development in relation to metacognition and metacognitive strategies - get in touch if you have any idea we should add to the list!!