Thinking Models, Strategies, and Extension Ideas for Differentiation and Deeper Inquiry: A Quick Guide



How can G/T teachers and specialists share strategies with other teachers? In our recent book, Collaboration, Coteaching, and Coaching in Gifted Education: Sharing Strategies to Support Gifted Learners (Mofield & Phelps, 2020), we presented a number of popular thinking models, tools, and other strategies teachers can easily use for differentiating instruction, tiering assignments, developing inquiry-based experiences, and “bumping up” the rigor of questions and other tasks. In the book, we also shared specific examples of how these models and strategies are applied to various content areas. Here, we provide an outline of these models and tools for easy reference. This quick “one-pager” can be used as part of any G/T teacher’s toolkit for:

  • discussing ideas for extending student learning in PLCs,
  • providing short professional learning sessions,
  • planning differentiated assessments and creating differentiated rubrics,
  • providing options for teachers to use that are tailored to the standards and lesson objectives,
  • modeling/demonstrating strategies for a classroom teacher,
  • coplanning lesson activities,
  • creating individual learning experiences for students who “compact out” of regular work, and
  • operationalizing “critical thinking” or “creative thinking.”

Keep in mind that when we “share a strategy,” telling others about these ideas is not exactly authentic collaboration until both teachers engage in “co-thinking” and “co-laboring” together. When we ask teachers how they think a given model might work in their classroom, how they might modify it, and how it will impact their students’ learning, it gives them the opportunity to take ownership in the shared decision-making process of true collaboration. This is what builds capacity in others to serve and support gifted and high-potential students!

Elements of Reasoning (Paul & Elder, 2019)This critical thinking model can be used to enhance reasoning around issues or problems. The model includes the following components: Purpose, Issue, Point of View, Assumptions, Evidence, Inference, Implications/Consequences, and Concepts/Ideas.
Depth and Complexity Thinking Tools (Kaplan, 2009)These thinking tools help students examine data and make connections within and across disciplines. The prompts can be combined to add more depth and complexity to student tasks. Depth: Language of the Discipline, Details, Patterns, Trends, Unanswered Questions, Ethics, Big IdeasComplexity: Change Over Time, Across Disciplines, Multiple Perspectives
Double FishboneStudents examine multiple causes (and causes of causes) and multiple effects (and effect of effects) of an issue. This allows for a more complex examination of content.
Six Thinking Hats (de Bono, 1985)Additional opportunities for critical thinking are presented by having students examine and analyze information through six different perspectives, or “colored hats,” including Facts (white hat), Feelings (red hat), Cautions (black hat), Benefits (yellow hat), Process (blue hat), and Creativity (green hat).
Dimensions of Creative Thinking (Guilford, 1986)This model strengthens students’ divergent thinking through the four dimensions of creativity: fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration.
SCAMPER (Eberle, 2008)This creative thinking strategy encourages the generation of new ideas or the improvement of ideas based on existing information through the systematic process of Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify (Magnify/Minimize), Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse/Rearrange.
Stretch Prompts (Mofield, 2023)These prompts can be used to increase the complexity of student thinking with an aim to cultivate “thinking like an expert.” These prompts include analyzing complex relationships, creating criteria for decision making, transferring learning to new contexts, constructing logical arguments, asking next step questions, and being aware of one’s own thought processes.
Concept Attainment (Bruner, 1973)Students engage in critical thinking by being presented with an unidentified concept through keywords and phrases that have been classified into different categories (representing the concept). As the categories develop, students formulate their rationale for what they believe the concept is. Students then continue to test and refine their rationale until the concept has been successfully identified and synthesized through follow-up tasks.
Concept Development (Taba et al., 1971)This inductive reasoning model systematically guides students through developing and supporting broad generalizations, rules, or predictions about a topic as a means to understand the “big idea” of what they are learning.
Metaphorical ExpressionStudents make abstract connections to classroom content through the transference of ideas from one set of concepts to a seemingly unrelated set of different concepts. Through this use of metaphor, students’ conceptual understanding is strengthened.
Mystery BoxThis inquiry-based activity presents students with riddles and/or artifacts that must be solved before moving forward in a unit of study. As students solve for unknowns, they gain a deeper understanding of key concepts, objectives, and content-specific generalizations.
Use of High-Quality Curricular Resources (NAGC Award-Winning Curricula)University of Connecticut (M3) Math Curriculum (Kendall Hunt)William & Mary Gifted Curriculum Units (Kendall Hunt and Routledge)Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth Units (Routledge)Gallagher et al. PBL units (Royal Fireworks Press)University of Virginia CLEAR curriculum units (Routledge)Jacob’s Ladder Reading Comprehension Program (Routledge)
Bumping Up Bloom’s (Mofield, 2021)Students are presented with more complex opportunities to engage with the upper levels (analyze, evaluate, create) of Bloom’s taxonomy through the additional features of abstractness, critical thinking, complexity, and context.

See specific examples of these models and strategies in Mofield & Phelps (2020). You may also use the references in the list below as deeper guides to each of these models and strategies.


Bruner, J. S. (1973). Organization of early skilled action. Child Development, 44(1), 1–11

de Bono, E. (2016). Six thinking hats. Penguin. (Original work published 1985)

Eberle, B. (2008). Scamper: Creative games and activities for imagination development. Prufrock Press.

Guilford, J. P. (1986). Creative talents: Their nature, uses and development. Bearly.

Kaplan, S. (2009). Layering differentiated curricula for the gifted and talented. In F. A. Karnes & S. M. Bean (Eds.), Methods and materials for teaching the gifted (3rd ed., pp. 107–156). Prufrock Press.

Mofield, E. (2021). What makes honors classes more than a name? AMLE Magazine.

Mofield, E. (2023). Vertical differentiation for gifted, advanced, and high-potential students: 25 strategies to stretch student thinking. Routledge.

Mofield, E., & Phelps, V. (2020). Collaboration, coteaching, and coaching in gifted education: Sharing strategies to support gifted learners. Routledge.

Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2019). Critical thinking: Tools for taking charge of your learning and your life (3rd ed.). Pearson.

Learn More About the Authors:

Emily Mofield, Ed.D., is an Assistant Professor at Lipscomb University, teaching graduate courses in the Gifted Education. With over 20 years of experience in gifted education, Emily is passionate about developing high-quality resources to equip teachers to identify, serve, and support gifted and high-potential students. She has recently co-authored Collaboration, Coteaching, and Coaching in Gifted Education with Vicki Phelps (NAGC Book of the Year, 2021) and recently published Vertical Differentiation for Gifted, Advanced, and High-Potential Students.

Dr. Vicki Phelps is an Assistant Professor of Education at Milligan University. She has been involved in gifted education for 25+ years and enjoys providing professional learning and consultation services to districts seeking to improve gifted practice. Dr. Phelps is the recipient of the 2021 NAGC Book of the Year Award (with Emily Mofield). Recent books include: Successful Online Learning with Gifted Students and Strength-Based Goal Setting in Gifted Education (with Karah Lewis).


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