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Using three-level thinking guides

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Last updated 26 October 2012 15:30 by NZTecAdmin
Using three-level thinking guides (PDF, 32 KB)

The purpose of the activity

To promote active reading for meaning at different levels and to encourage critical reading.

Note: The group discussion that takes place after the learners have completed the guide is an important part of this activity.

A ‘three-level thinking guide’ consists of a series of statements (which may or may not be true) about a specific text. The statements represent three different kinds of thinking. The kinds of thinking vary in terms of the nature, rather than the level (sophistication or quality) of the thinking. All the learners operate as thinkers in all three dimensions.

  • Literal: ‘reading on the lines’ to find out what is actually said on the page (for example, “The writer said that …”).
  • Interpretative: ‘reading between the lines’ to interpret what the author might mean (for example, “When the writer said x, she meant …”).
  • Evaluative: ‘reading beyond the lines’ to relate the information to other knowledge and to evaluate the information (for example, “The writer believes that people should always …”).

Three-level thinking guides can be prepared for a range of texts, including newspaper and journal articles, word problems in mathematics, literary works such as poems, and visual texts such as pictures, diagrams, graphs and cartoons. Threelevel guides need not be restricted to written texts: they can also be used when watching videos or listening to audiotapes or CDs.

The teaching points

  • Finding information.
  • Interpreting the implied meanings.
  • Drawing on knowledge and expertise to evaluate ideas critically.
  • Justifying and explaining answers, referring back to the text.
  • Monitoring understanding.

Note: Do not use this activity as a test. The value of the activity lies in the discussion it generates among the learners as they give their views and justify what they say by referring back to the text.


Select a text with content that is worth studying with close attention, because the guide takes time to prepare and to work through with the learners.

The guided teaching and learning sequence

Provide plenty of time for this activity because it has the potential to stimulate a lot of lively discussion and debate.

1. Select an important aspect of subject content and an appropriate text (written or visual) and decide on the purpose for using this text.

2. Write two or three level-three (evaluative) statements that relate to this purpose. Make sure some of these statements can be interpreted in different ways, in order to promote discussion and awareness that sometimes there is no single right answer.

3. Write the level-one (literal) and level-two (interpretative) statements, keeping in mind the purpose for reading. Some of these statements should be true and some false. There should be more statements at level one and two than at level three.

4. Introduce the subject content and the text to the learners and explain how to read and complete the guide.

5. Take the learners through the process level by level, showing how to identify whether statements are true or false by referring to the text to find evidence for each statement.

6. When the guide is completed, discuss to make sure the learners can explain their answers and justify their views.

7. The learners can now use a similar guide (prepared by you) as they read and discuss another text.


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