Thinking Skills Materials

Thinking is an essential skill referring to the ability to solve problems, make decisions, think critically, plan and organize tasks, use memory and find information. The following materials are for educators, tutors, practitioners and anyone who is interested in the Essential Skill of thinking in adult literacy. Every item on this list is available, either from the library or online.

100 things every designer needs to know about people.
Susan M. Weinschenk. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2011.
» Provides information and examples to help designers create products, applications, Web sites, and print materials that match the way people think and feel. Information on how people see, read, remember, think, focus their attention, are motivated, and make decisions can also be used to help design effective teaching materials and lesson plans.

101 ways to improve your memory.
Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest, 2009.
» A book of exercises, games and puzzles to help improve memory.

Assessing online resources. (online)
Duncan Dixon. Trinity Western University, June 19, 2009 Approximately 5:11 minutes.
» This video tutorial shows how to conduct a Google search and assess the results.

Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school.
John Medina. Seattle, Wash.: Pear Press, 2009. Online tutorials available at
» In Brain Rules, Dr. John Medina, a molecular biologist, shares his lifelong interest in how brain science might influence the way we teach our children and the way we work. In each chapter, he describes a brain rule–what scientists know for sure about how our brains work–and then offers transformative ideas for our daily lives.

Casino thinking skills: participant manual: edition 1.0. (online)
Winnipeg, Man.: The Canadian Gaming Centre of Excellence, 2010.
» This resource begins with a facilitator’s guide. The following workbook is organized into two separate parts: foundations and job families. The foundations section is a review of workplace thinking skills, including: thinking critically, making decisions, solving problems, and finding information. It is organized by topic with each topic including an introduction, examples of the skill in use, and exercises for specific skills. The job family sections contain practice questions organized by level for gaming/casino job families: bank, customer services/administration, food and beverage services, housekeeping and ground, maintenance and facilities, retail, security, slots/electronic gaming/bingo, table games, uniforms and warehouse. Answers are provided.

Choosing a job: lesson plan 23. (online)
Ottawa, ON: Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks.
» This lesson focuses on decision making skills for learners looking for work. The activities explore brainstorming, prioritizing, eliminating, organizing, discussion with others, weighing pros and cons, and considering alternatives. Part of the Language for Work: CLB and Essential Skills Lesson Plans for ESL Instructors

Connecting literacy and Essential Skills through employment.
Karen Farrar, Tracy Buchkowsky. Waterloo, ON: Literacy Link South Central, 2011. Also available online at
» This series of 7 workbooks takes learners through the process of planning and organizing a job search. Essential Skills development is embedded in the activities.

Creative learning: activities and games that really engage people.
Robert W. Lucas. San Francisco, CA: J. Wiley & Sons, 2007.
» Contains activities to stimulate learning in many types of learning environments. Designed with trainers, presenters, and educators in mind. Each activity offers a different approach to learning but all use a brain-based learning approach that mentally or physically engages learners.

Decision making and problem solving strategies. 2nd ed.
John Adair. Philadelphia: Kogan Page, 2010.
» Helps adults master the process of practical thinking that lies behind effective decision making, problem solving and creative thinking. Using exercises, checklists and case studies, it helps adults develop a framework for decision making, share decisions with others, learn problem solving strategies, generate ideas through brainstorming, and be more creative in thinking “outside the box”.

Developing critical thinkers: challenging adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting. The Jossey-Bass Higher Education series.
Stephen D. Brookfield. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1987.
» Looks at what critical thinking means and effective strategies for developing it.

Differentiating with graphic organizers: tools to foster critical and creative thinking.
Patti Drapeau. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2009.
» The author presents graphic organizers for nine types of thinking processes based on Bloom’s taxonomy and offers examples of how to apply the graphic organizers in different subject areas and grade levels. This guide includes assessment rubrics for providing quality feedback, and ways to promote and build students’ creative reasoning, communication, and problem-solving skills.

Differentiation through learning styles and memory. 2nd ed.
Marilee Sprenger. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008.
» Includes current research on memory and different kinds of strategies for visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners.

Eat that frog! : 21 great ways to stop procrastinating and get more done in less time. 2nd ed.
Brian Tracy. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2007.
» This book details twenty-one practical steps that help you stop procrastinating and manage your time effectively. Includes information on how to keep technology from dominating your time.

Employability skills curriculum. 3rd ed.
Jo Acampora. Victoria, BC: ASPECT, 2007.
» This curriculum is designed to help introduce adults to the cycle of recognizing employability skills, self-assessing, planning skills development activities, developing skills and giving/getting feedback. It provides basic, universal employment and personal management skills in18 modules about subjects including: Self Awareness, Self Esteem, Communication, Goal Setting, Problem-Solving, Conflict Resolution, Feedback and Criticism, Time Management, Learning Styles and Assertiveness.

Essential Skills for personal success.
Karen Farrar, Sheila Marshall. Timmins, Ont.: Literacy Network Northeasy, 2010. Also available online at
» This curriculum applies Essential Skills to life skills outside the work world including food, clothing, shelter, health, money, voting, transportation and community participation. Includes activities that practice organizing, planning and decision making.

Finding your way at work: beyond reading and writing.
Toronto: Ontario Literacy Coalition, 2006.
» Provides literacy skill practice while learning about employability skills. There is a chapter on getting organized.

Help for the struggling student: ready-to-use strategies and lessons to build attention, memory & organizational skills.
Mimi Gold. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003.
» After reviewing learning styles, this book presents numerous strategies to enhance attention, memory and organization. Includes pictures and worksheets that illustrate how to do a task in a new way (these may be photocopied for educational purposes provided credit is given). While the activities are designed for school age students, they may be adapted for use with adults.

How the brain learns. 4th ed.
David A. Sousa. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2011.
» This fourth edition integrates current developments in neuroscience, education and psychology. Includes new information on memory systems, updated research on how technology may be affecting the brain, revised sections on hemispheric specialization, and an expanded resource section. Includes brain-friendly teaching strategies.

The information diet: a case for conscious consumption.
Clay A. Johnson. Beijing: O’Reilly Media, 2012.
» This book looks at how to handle the information glut that is now readily available from a variety of sources. It contends that junk information is just as damaging as junk food and shows what to look for, what to avoid, and how to be selective.

Is the Internet changing the way you think? The net’s impact on our minds and future. 1st ed.

Edited by John Brockman. New York: Harper Perennial, 2011.
» Examines the way the Internet has affected society and the way people think and poses the title question to various writers, scientists, artists and other influential thinkers who contribute short essays on the subject.

Jump start the adult learner: how to engage and motivate adults using brain-compatible strategies.
Laurie Materna. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2007.
» Background information on adult learning styles, memory and how the brain learns accompanies techniques and strategies for classrooms or workshops, including graphic organizers, music energizers, exercise activities, and self-assessments.

Learning in adulthood: a comprehensive guide. 3rd ed.
Sharan B. Merriam, Rosemary S. Caffarella, Lisa M. Baumgartner. New York: John Wiley, 2007.
» Includes a chapter on memory, cognition and the brain.

Learning to think, learning to learn: what the science of thinking and learning has to offer adult education.
By Jennifer Cromley. Jennifer Cromley and the National Institute for Literacy, 2000.
» Teaching means teaching students to think. Learning is a process of coming to understand the world. This report highlights the importance of teaching all students to think critically.

Learning with the brain in mind.
Frank McNeil. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2009.
» This book explores recent findings in neuroscience and combines them with learning in childhood in three crucial and interconnected ways: attention, emotions and memory. The chapter on memory, the brain and learning argues that memory grows from early experience, and that memory strategies can and should be taught.

Making Essential Skills WORK for you: learning activities. (online)
Jane Tuer and Lorri Sauvé. Waterloo, Ont.: Laubach Literacy Ontario, 2007.  .
» This manual is a collection of detailed learning activities that focus on developing oral communication and thinking skills in a workplace context.

Making memory stick. (DVD + tip sheet)
Carnegie Learning Centre. Vancouver, BC: Carnegie Community Centre Association, 2011. Also available online at
» This resource consists of a digital story on memory and what helps improve memory, particularly in seniors. The print tip sheet summarizes the information in the digital story, including good practices for helping seniors learn. Created for use by instructors, tutors and seniors who are interested in thinking about memory and learning.

Mapping the memory: understanding your brain to improve your memory.
Rita Carter. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press, 2006.
» This resource is a clear explanation of memory and brain function, including the four types of memory and short-term versus long-term recall. Includes tools for maximizing memory such as cognitive therapy exercises and mnemonic tricks and tips.

Memory 101 for educators.
Marilee Sprenger. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2007.
» Based on research on learning, memory and the brain, this resource provides specific techniques for improving memory, including graphic organizers, mnemonics and checklists. Information is presented as the story of an adult educators’ memory workshop.

Moonwalking with Einstein: the art and science of remembering everything.
Joshua Foer. New York: Penguin, 2011.
» Having achieved the seemingly unachievable– becoming a U.S. Memory Champion– Foer shows how anyone with enough training and determination can achieve mastery of their memory. Popular reading with tips for improving memory.

Mozart’s brain and the fighter pilot: unleashing your brain’s potential.
Richard Restak. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001.
» Drawing examples from history, literature, and science, this book provides twenty-eight informative and realistic steps that you can take to boost your brain’s performance through increased alertness, concentration, memory, problem-solving ability, and mental endurance.

Now you see it: how the brain science of attention will transform the way we live, work, and learn.
Cathy N. Davidson. New York: Viking, 2011.
» Documents a 2003 experiment at Duke University where the author had free iPods issued to the freshman class; in virtually every discipline, academic uses were found for the iPods. This book integrates findings from psychology, attention, neuroscience and learning theory to look at how technological change can revolutionize education and work.

On the job: Essential Skill of thinking. (online)
Ottawa, Ont.: Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks, 2009.
» Provides an explanation of the different components of thinking skills and brief strategies for teaching thinking skills at different CLB levels.

Organizing information to help with memory: lesson plan 9. (online)
Ottawa, Ont.: Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks, 2009.
» This lesson plan describes strategies for improving memory such as mapping and categorizing and includes activities and games to improve memory skills. It is part of the CLB Essential Skills series.

Out of our minds: learning to be creative. Fully revised and updated ed.
Ken Robinson. West Sussex: Capstone, 2011.
» Examines creativity in education and in business, arguing that current education systems leave individuals without the sense of creative ability vital to the workforce later in life.

Play: how it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul.

Christopher Brown with Christopher Vaughan. New York: Avery, 2009.
» A blend of research and personal stories, this book looks at why play is important for adults as well as children. It explains how parents can nurture their child’s development through play, how companies can harness the impact of play in the workplace to encourage innovation, and how schools can use play to effectively motivate students.

The playful brain: the surprising science of how puzzles improve your mind.
Richard Restak; with puzzles by Scott Kim. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.
» Reveals how solving puzzles improves one’s brain function – memory, perception and cognition, giving readers the chance to work puzzles while learning how to boost their brain.

Problem solved! A guide for employees and learners. (online)
Ottawa, Ont.: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, 2009.
» Designed for employees and learners who want to improve their problem solving skills, this resource contains techniques, activities and worksheets.

Problem solved! A guide for employers and practitioners. (online)
Ottawa, Ont.: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, 2008.
» This resource describes five different problem-solving techniques, contains a worksheet on the problem-solving process, activities to practice different problem-solving techniques, and a log for problem-solving experiences. Developed for employers and practitioners to use with employees and/or learners.

Problem solving 101: a simple book for smart people.
Ken Watanabe. New York: Portfolio, 2009.
» Assists adults in learning how to broaden and organize thinking about a problem so that more possible solutions are clear. Teaches people to recognize the common elements in the decisions we face every day and how to think carefully about them. It offers tricks and tips for every age.

Reasoning skills success in 20 minutes a day. 3rd ed.
NY: LearningExpress, 2010.
» The 20 concise lessons in this book develop critical thinking and reasoning skills. Each lesson includes activities to practice thinking clearly and logically.

Secret life of the grown-up brain: the surprising talents of the middle-aged mind.
Barbara Strauch. New York: Penguin, 2010.
» Explores the latest findings that demonstrate, through the use of technology such as brain scans, that the middle-aged brain is more flexible and more capable than previously thought. By detailing how the normal, healthy brain functions over time, Strauch also explains how its optimal processes can be maintained.

“Sit & get” won’t grow dendrites: 20 professional learning strategies that engage the adult brain.
Marcia L. Tate. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2004.
» This practical handbook presents an approach to teaching adults based on research on brain-based learning, differentiated instruction, multiple intelligences and adult learning. Each strategy includes an explanation, multiple learning activities, and a section on guided reflection and application. Includes information on graphic organizers and mnemonic devices. It is intended as a professional development resource for anyone who teaches adults.

Super teaching: over 1000 practical strategies. 4th ed.
Eric Jensen. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2009.
»  Based on brain research findings, the teaching strategies and tools outlined in this book can be used to engage students, boost learning memory, and meet the needs of different learners.

Think smart: a neuroscientist’s prescription for improving your brain’s performance.
Richard M. Restak. New York: Riverhead Books, 2009.
» In a readable style, this book reviews recent scientific discoveries about the brain and what we can do to help our brains work more efficiently.

Thinking, fast and slow.
Daniel Kahneman. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2011.
» This book explores “the two systems that drive the way we think and the way we make choices. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.” It looks at the benefits and flaws of both systems, and how they work together to shape our decisions.

Thinking strategies for numeracy: a practitioner’s guide.
Vanya Wong, Julia Lew, Claire Lloyd. Burnaby, BC: SkillPlan, 2008.
» This resource looks at teaching the thinking strategies that translate a work problem into a set of mathematical operations needed to complete a task. It is the step that comes before calculations. Specific mathematics skills are not covered. After teaching the problem-solving strategy, practice is given in using lists and tables, entry forms, graphs and maps, mimetic documents and documents with reading material.

WILM: Workplace Informal Learning Matrix: Matrices. (online)
Centre for Education and Work, 2006.
» WILM consists of a series of scales used to measure Essential Skills required on the job. It also measures workplace culture and leadership skills. Two of the thinking skills covered are problem solving and decision making. It analyzes different factors involved in each skill and what they would look like at different levels.

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