12 Strategies For Creating A Culture Of Problem-Solving In Your Classroom

Problem-solving and critical thinking are both skills and habits that allow students to apply and transfer academic knowledge into the real-world.

12 Strategies For Creating A Culture Of Problem-Solving In Your Classroom

What Are The Best Strategies For Creating A Culture Of Problem-Solving In Your Classroom?

by TeachThought Staff

Without the ability to solve problems, learning is ‘academic.’

Problem-solving, creative thinking, and critical thinking are both skills and habits that allow students to apply and transfer academic knowledge into real-world application. Unfortunately, problem-solving isn’t a significant part of most curriculum in K-12 schools.

Further, problem-solving–being a habit as much as a skill–both creates and is dependent upon a kind of culture in your classroom. To remedy the situation, and grow fruitful and happy students within the confines of the syllabus you are bound to, start to fix the problem yourself by creating an atmosphere of problem-solving in your classes. Create situations where students have to think for themselves.

Here are some ideas.

12 Strategies For Creating A Culture Of Problem-Solving In Your Classroom

1. Use Exit Slips

Instead of telling students what the learning objective is for a task, have them come up with one when they’ve completed it. Make it the exit slip.

2. Ask 3B4ME

Instead of answering an unnecessary question, urge students to take back their power by taking another moment to think about the problem, then to check their books and other resources around them for the solution, before asking their table for help, before asking the teacher. Adam Schoenbart’s advice here is excellent: Ask 3B4ME

3. Perfect–And Actually Use–The Gradual Release Of Responsibility Model

Gradually reduce the scaffolds on tasks, increasing the amount of autonomy with the approach to a task. Explain that in the previous task you helped in this way, but that in this task you are not. This will make students connect previous experiences.

4. Allow–Or Require–Students To Help Shape The Curriculum

The goal is to get students to solve the problem of satisfying the demands of the syllabus while making the learning interesting. Outline what must be covered, and challenge them to come up with interesting and creative ways to get it done. You could begin by looking at the whole course, and asking for suggestions about projects. The more adventurous could increase the challenge by asking – ‘here’s what must be done in this lesson – how can we achieve it’. Trust yourself that you can handle the change in direction, and that if a student comes up with a great way to get to the same place, then be brave enough to go with it.

How you handle the change in direction is the best example of problem-solving there is. Even if no one comes up with something this time, the process will not only stimulate their thinking to some degree, but also empower them to know that you are offering some autonomy in the learning. But the real gain in such a process is that students will begin the process of truly understanding the outcomes of the course. Then out of nowhere you are achieving the desired growth, but in a sustainable manner.

5. Make Sure Students Review Instructions Periodically

Teach students to return to instructions after they have completed some of the work. They may not, but when they don’t and have trouble, use that as a teachable moment.

Why can this help? When students first view a task, they often only take in the first few components of the task, and then automatically ask what’s next once they’ve got to that point. Encourage the habit of revisiting the instructions, emphasizing to students that the brain is now able to process the next parts of the task.

6. Have Students Articulate Learning To Others

Get students to make connections between their learning more often. A great way to do this is to get students to go around the school and describe to another teacher or school leader the activity or activities involved, and ask them what they think the real world learning is for the task/s. The responses will make the student consider the relevancy a lot more, especially if the responder asks the student some questions.

7. Use ABC Feedback

When questioning students, make it interactive. Get them on their toes when discussions ensue. Use Alez Quigley’s excellent suggestion of ABC Feedback to energize student interaction in lessons. Every question then becomes a chance to solve a problem.

8. Encourage Them To Be Self-Sufficient

Redirect students’ questions back to them or to other students. This could have several possible outcomes: it provides more students with a chance to participate in a discussion; provides opportunities for students to teach; and will minimize the number of unnecessary questions, as students are by far the harshest critics of time-wasting, especially when it’s theirs.

9. ‘Play With’ Confusion

Ask questions that deliberately create thinking, such as thunks. Questions that create confusion are also winners – I guarantee someone in the class will respond and have a go at making sense of it. If played well (it can be a fine line at times), creating a space where the class is not able to assume what is presented to them is straight forward, or accurate, begins an unmistakable increase in student awareness, and brain activity.

Examples include getting students to remember everything around the room they see that is the color of white, and then, ensuring they don’t look up, get them to write down everything in the room that is the color green; writing 4 random words on the board and getting students to rank them in order; add a word to board and have students design a question where the word is the only possible answer; adding deliberately wrong info within an activity and getting students to spot it; and of course, riddles – which every student seems to love.

10. Helps Students Focus On The Solution Instead Of The Problem

Teach students what Patch Adams had to learn: to focus on the solution rather than the problem in front of them. It’s incredible what a small change in perspective can achieve.

11. Explain How They’re learning

Above all else, ensure that you label the next unit you teach as a Problem-Solving Unit and consistently refer to it as it unfolds. Explicitly discussing the problem-solving aspects of each activity will develop and consolidate the expectations that your classroom demands. Students will have the chance to thrive as a result!

12. Ask Students What Problems Matter To Them

Then use inquiry learning, create a self-directed classroom culture, promote collaboration, and more to help them solve those problems for themselves.


Teaching is not about raising grades. Teaching should always be motivated by a need to create amazing people. Amazing people, by definition, are active sort of people, inspiring, creative and resilient. They are people who flourish in the right conditions, and who grow with challenge and inquiry.

These qualities are not unique to a select group of people defined by hereditary–they are outcomes of having to consistently solve problems. Changing your classroom from a delivery room into a learning room relies entirely on your ability to change students from receptors to problem solvers.

So let’s get to it, there’s not a moment to lose!