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Developing Metacognition by Modeling with Contextual Frameworks

Metacognition means, simply, thinking about one’s thinking and realizing if you are comprehending what you are thinking.  Modeling thinking is one metacognitive approach to instruction that Buehl (2014) found increases student’s abilities to transfer or adapt their learning to new informational contexts.  To do this, instructors need to think aloud their approach to concepts and guide learning by creating a context for understanding.  This can be done by thinking aloud or by guiding students’ thinking with concept related questioning.  For example, if the concept is framed through comparison and contrast, then the instructor can discuss how things differ and/or how things are the same.  A Venn diagram also creates a visual mental map in which to frame thinking and organize information.   In the chart below, different contextual frames are offered with possible questions and graphic organizers that students/instructors can use for gathering or presenting information thus guiding their thinking.  Guiding thinking by establishing a framework for understanding helps with comprehension and transferring of concepts to other situations.  How might some of these conceptual frames apply to your content area?  How can you weave them into your lectures, in class or homework activities?  Give me a call or drop me an email if I can help you brainstorm implementing these strategies.

Conceptual Frame  Questions to Guide Thinking

Visual Images for Framing Thinking


  • What is the problem?
  • What causes it to happen?
  • What needs to be improved, changed, or fixed?
  • What solutions are recommended?
  • What are the results of the solutions?
  • Is the problem solved?
  • Have any new problems developed because of the solution?
  • What approach would you recommend?

  • Why or how something works?
  • What is it that happens?
  • What causes it to happen?
  • What are the important elements or facts that cause this effect?
  • How do these factors or elements interrelate?
  • How would the result change if the elements or factors are different?
  • Will this result always happen from these causes?  Why or why not?
  • What situations to you know that fit this area in our subject matter?
cause and effect image

bar graph

  • What is being compared and contrasted?
  • What categories of characteristics or attributes are used to compare and contrast these things?
  • How are things alike or how are things different?
  • What are the most important characteristics that make them alike or different?
  • What can we conclude about these things?
  • How can you use these comparison and contrast models to illustrate a concept?
venn diagram image
Concept, Definition

concept definition map

  • What is the concept?
  • To what category does it belong?
  • What are its critical characteristics or attributes?
  • What does it do?
  • What are its functions?
  • What are examples of it?
  • What are examples of things that share some but not all of its characteristics?
  • Why do the characteristics make a difference?
concept map


  • What is the general topic area or issue?
  • What proposition (viewpoint, theory, hypothesis, thesis) is being presented?
  • How is this proposition being supported?
  • Are examples provided to support the proposition?
  • Are data provided?  Does it support the proposition?
  • Is a logical argument provided which supports the proposition?
  • Is a sufficient case presented to warrant acceptance of the proposition?


Baker, L. How do we know when we don’t understand?  Standards for evaluating text comprehension.  In D.L. Forrest, G. E. MacKinnon, & T. G.      Waller (Eds.), Metacognition, cognition and human performance.  New York:  Academic Press, in press.

Bransford, John D., Brown Ann L., and Cocking Rodney R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Buehl, D. (2014). Classroom strategies for interactive learning (4th ed.). Newark, DE:  International Reading Association.


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