Hexagonal Thinking Activities in Middle and High School Social Studies

Ever tried hexagonal thinking in your classroom? If not, I highly recommend you give it a shot. Your kids will be engaged and thinking critically about your content!

After attending a professional development conference and learning about hexagonal thinking in the classroom, I decided to give it a try in my classroom. If you're not familiar with hexagonal thinking, it's a way for students to organize their thinking visually. In addition, hexagonal thinking promotes deep thinking about a topic as students both organize content into categories and build connections between different ideas. 

I decided to use hexagonal thinking as a formative assessment near the end of my Holocaust unit in my U.S. History class.  I wanted to see how much content my students had retained as well as how well they could recognize connections between people, places, and events covered throughout the unit.

A summary of what you're seeing in the photos below. 

Five groups of students were given envelopes with several dozen hexagonal cards and an instruction card. (The hexagonal cards have names, dates, events, and vocabulary printed on them.) I spent several minutes at the beginning of class explaining the instructions before I broke the kids up into groups. (The instruction/task card is to use as a reference.)

Once in their groups, students placed all their hexagonal cards face up. Next, students sorted their cards into categories. Then, students started building connections among the cards. Many of the cards had multiple connections.  Students discussed which cards had the strongest connections and placed them accordingly.

I gave my students about 30 minutes to complete the activity. I told them their goal was to use as many cards as possible in the time allotted. If students needed to look up a term, I allowed them to do so. I only had two groups (one from my 3rd period and one from my 7th period) use all or most of their cards in the time allowed. We had a shortened schedule so we didn't have time to complete the second phase of the activity-- marking up the cards. (My original plan was to have my students mark up as many cards as time allowed, indicating how the cards connected. I was looking for cause-effect, change and continuity, and turning points in time connections.

Hexagonal cards aren't difficult to make, just a little time-consuming! I saved a lot of time by enlisting the help of my TA and a few trusted students to help cut out the hexagonal cards! I also laminated my cards to allow for greater longevity. 


My students LOVED this activity. Many of my students BEGGED me to create additional sets of cards to use in future units. I created a Cold War set and a Civil Rights set to use with my U.S. History students and an Ancient Greece set to use with my Geography and World Cultures students. I also added a written component to the activity (a short, post-reflection response card.)

Update Part II...

I tried using hexagonal cards as a summative assessment in my Geography and World Cultures class. We just wrapped up our modern Europe unit and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try using hexagonal cards as a summative assessment. Students were given the opportunity to work alone or with a partner. They were each given packets with hexagonal cards from our study of WWII, WWII, and the Cold War. (Students were required to cut out their cards on their own time.) I provided two class days for students to create their clusters. I monitored student progress but tried to refrain from answering too many questions as students worked. I wanted students to problem-solve on their own. 

Once students developed a "framework" to build from, they began gluing their cards on large sheets of paper I provided them. (Sorting and creating a framework to build from generally takes one class period.) I encouraged students to begin gluing their cards in place about ten minutes before the end of the period.  

I allowed students to work on their projects outside of class if they wished. I stored student projects on a table in the back of my room which allowed students to quietly retrieve them during their study halls if necessary.

On the second day, most students were able to finish their clusters. I also required students to annotate twenty of their cards (demonstrate which cards were cause and effect).

I've provided some examples of my student's final products:

5 Themes of Geography Hexagonal Clusters

Digital Hexagonal Thinking Activities

This past year I've been working on digital hexagonal thinking activities. They work perfectly for both in-person learners and virtual learners. 

With digital activities, (I create them on Google Slides) I like to project my slides on my smartboard and ask for student volunteers to help begin building a cluster. This gets kids comfortable with the process and helps stimulate thinking! Kids love when I do this!

If you're interested in my Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You digital hexagonal thinking activity click HERE