Metacognition: 7 strategies to use in any class

Nathan Burns offers his tried-and-tested methods that can be used in any subject

Nathan Burns

Tes round-up 11/12/10: Teaching metacognition and 23 other guides

Metacognition – also known as thinking about thinking – is an increasingly popular and a hugely important area of pedagogy. 

The Education Endowment Foundation has found that it can boost student attainment by around seven months; the second most impactful intervention that it has identified. 

Here are seven strategies that can be taught explicitly to students outside of the main subject curriculum, possibly through assemblies; tutor times; personal, social, health and economic education; or in other time blocks. 

The purpose of pre-teaching these strategies to students is so that they can then be seamlessly introduced into lessons, meaning teachers don’t have to teach or re-teach strategies and, also, that students are better prepared to complete homework and revision outside of school.

Metacognition is typically broken down into three sub areas: planning, monitoring and evaluation, and there are useful techniques that can be employed for each.


Graphic organisers
This is a planning tool that focuses on a particular type of thinking. A multi-flow map considers cause and effect, for example, while a bubble map is useful for descriptions, and a flow map supports sequencing.

Explore the different types available, identify the ones that suit your department and school, and then take some time to teach students how to draw and use them. Students can attempt to complete them using knowledge of any subject area.

'Knowledge of' grids
Metacognition can be split into three other sub-areas: knowledge of self, knowledge of task and knowledge of strategies. 'Knowledge of' grids are made up of three columns with these titles.

Students use them to record their knowledge of self (the content requirements of the given task), knowledge of task (what the task requires them to do) and knowledge of strategies (how they can approach it) on the grid. When practising this strategy, students can pick a random task – such as making a cup of tea – and complete the grid for that.


Flow maps
These are a kind of graphic organiser that can be used to help sequence events. This strategy focuses on teaching students to plan the stages (and correctly order these stages) in order to complete a given task – and then using it to do so.

Content checklists 
Does what it says on the tin. In this strategy, students decide what content to include in an answer based on the question/task information.

Not only does this strategy help students to identify, and then include, all required content within an answer, it also helps to develop their comprehension.


A wrapper is a table that records the questions within a task, and then a separate column for common reasons for not getting the correct answer (not reading the question, not revising that topic, needing extra help and so on).

Students can use these documents to evaluate the most common causes for dropping marks, providing them with areas to work on moving forward. 

Get students to bring some homework or assessments with them and produce a wrapper for those pieces of work when you are teaching them how to use this strategy.

Learning diaries 
This is a log of an individual’s successes, weaknesses, areas to revise, targets, target evaluations and so forth. Show students what information they can include in a learning diary, as well as a possible layout, and provide students with the opportunity to evaluate recent tasks, assessments or whole school days.

This strategy is possibly more suitable for primary but can be adapted nicely to secondary, too.

PMI grids
Students split their page into three PMIs – plus, minus and interesting – then simply fill in the sections based upon a recent task, day or week, lesson or assessment.

One key focus is to ensure that students put an action point on any minus. They should not leave these as negatives but rather a point that they can learn and improve from.

Students should be encouraged to use this evaluation method on a frequent basis to help them set targets and identify areas of weakness where they may need to revise further or seek out support.

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Nathan Burns

Nathan Burns is an assistant progress and achievement leader for KS3, as well as a Maths teacher

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