Thinking Skills & Personal Capabilities

Thinking Skills & Personal Capabilities

Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities in Your Classroom

A Thinking Classroom

As you plan for Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities (TS&PC), you should consider:

  • the classes you teach and their readiness for new material;
  • your individual teaching style;
  • the subject topic you are going to cover; and
  • whole-school or departmental priorities.

Creating a Thinking Classroom: Classroom Climate

It’s essential to create the right environment for a thinking classroom. For example, pupils need to feel free to ask questions and to make mistakes without others seeing them as inadequate. When things don’t go to plan, they need to develop the resilience and Growth Mindset that comes with:

  • recognising and acknowledging mistakes;
  • asking for help;
  • treating mistakes as learning opportunities; and
  • being prepared to work through difficulties to overcome obstacles.

A thinking classroom is a product of the environment that the teacher creates. It values and models thinking in the following ways.

  • Explicitly emphasising that you are teaching thinking builds habits of thinking and reflection that prepare pupils for lifelong learning.
  • If your classroom teaching style encourages thoughtfulness, you will guide pupils towards valuing considered thinking and questioning prejudice.
  • When you integrate teaching thinking into your lesson, you can influence what pupils think about in class, which will be what they are learning.

The materials we have included on these pages will help you to decide on your priorities for including TS&PC in your practice and how best to act on them.

A significant component of the Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities (TS&PC) framework:

  • equips pupils with the skills they need to recognise and exploit connections; and
  • scaffolds the attitudes and dispositions that lead to original thinking, independent learning and confident experimentation.

The strand of Self-Management is about attitudes and dispositions to learning, and becoming a self-regulated learner.

By emphasising how to develop habits of self-regulation, TS&PC focus on planning learning experiences that include self-management skills. That means fostering knowledge and control of the self (behaviour) and of thinking (metacognition).

Attitudes and dispositions towards learning lie within the affective domain (emotional, motivational, encouraging, prompting, supporting), and involve the pupil’s:

  • sense of self;
  • self-esteem;
  • confidence or lack of it;
  • emotional resilience;
  • self-belief; and
  • perceptions of the value of learning.

Everyone’s personal preferences, aptitudes and dispositions are unique to them. However, they are not entirely fixed and responsive teaching can optimise the conditions for successful learning.

It’s mainly factors outside school that form attitudes and dispositions to learning and we form them very early. They can be difficult to change once in place, but consistent messages from school can help to influence them.

The procedural (process, skill, method, technique) and cognitive (knowledge, understanding, insight, thought processes) components of learning are easier to influence. These are about how the pupil perceives themselves and how they relate to school, teachers, the subject they are studying and their peers.

Over time, as pupils overcome difficulties when developing their knowledge, they add new techniques to their skill set. This helps them to steadily build their confidence, resilience and appetite for new challenges.

While pupils’ attitudes and dispositions to learning tend to resist change, school can make a difference. Especially if staff acknowledge the significance of these factors for pupils’ future success.

If teachers are aware of their pupils’ attitudes and dispositions towards learning, then they can positively influence and challenge counterproductive behaviours.

The materials in the Self-Management Thinking Cards are useful when planning activities that focus on becoming a self-regulating learner. The webinar on the implications of Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset is useful when considering the issues associated with pupils’ attitudes and dispositions to learning.

The Language of Thinking

For pupils to become more skilful thinkers, they need to be ready to talk about their thinking. To enable your pupils to do this, you should introduce them to the language of thinking.

A Thinking Vocabulary

There are various ways to introduce ‘thinking words’. You could start by identifying words or phrases that are suited to the activity.

For example, if a lesson or topic features opportunities for Thinking, Problem-Solving and Decision-Making, you could explain words in the context of the planned activity and then display them around the classroom. These words could include:

choose       connect       for and against       argument

Over time, pupils can build up a sense of:

  • what's involved in thinking;
  • the different types of thinking that are useful and effective in different activities; and
  • what it means to be a skilful thinker.

To discuss the type of thinking they are doing, pupils need a vocabulary to describe and articulate the various dimensions of thinking. Providing pupils with a starter vocabulary means they can talk about how they are thinking as they continue with their work.

Remember that the thinking word on its own is not a thinking skill. Performing the action with increasing skill is the target for using the thinking words. Once you have identified the type of thinking you want to feature in the lesson, plan what you will do that will encourage pupils to carry out that activity with increased skill.

For example, if the thinking word best suited to the lesson is estimate, then planning should include considerations of what it means to demonstrate skill in estimating, such as:

  • What will count as a skilful estimate?
  • What’s involved in becoming more skilful at making estimates?

Resources in the Downloads section provide examples of thinking words that can be associated with the five strands of the Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities framework. Remember to select and use a thinking vocabulary that is relevant to your pupils’ age and experience.

Assessment and Reporting

Assessment Reporting Image


We can assess pupils’ Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities (TS&PC) when they demonstrate the skills they have developed through learning experiences. The diagram above shows how teachers can see pupils’ progress in their work.

Pupils’ progress in the TS&PC is connected to their progress in the Areas of Learning. As the quality of pupils’ thinking improves, they will make progress in their classroom work. This is the essence of the infusion approach.

However, pupils’ progress in the TS&PC is not necessarily a smooth upward curve. Unlike the linear progress they can make in subject knowledge and understanding, their progress in the TS&PC might be uneven.

TS&PC are closely linked to Assessment for Learning. Both focus on the formative use of assessment to improve the quality of pupils’ learning. See the section on Links with Assessment for Learning in Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities (Guidance Booklets) and the resources on Formative Assessment and Assessment for Learning (Key Stages 1&2 and Key Stage 3)

Teachers need to report only brief details about their pupils’ progress in the TS&PC, based on the opportunities they have had to develop their skills. From such experiences, teachers will readily recognise where pupils have made progress and when it is secure or still fragile.

See Assessment and Reporting in the Downloads section for details about what’s required, links to the reporting regulations and end of Key Stage arrangements.