How to Use Six Thinking Hats in the Classroom

Posted by Pat Delorean

The six thinking hats is a concept developed by Dr. Edward de Bono and was first published in his book Six Thinking Hats in 1985. The concept has been made popular in both educational and entrepreneurial circles, any environment where group collaboration and decision-making are being done.

The basic concept of the six thinking hats is that in order to process information and to reach the best conclusions in problem-solving sessions, people need to look at issues from a variety of perspectives. Companies often have a facilitator take the group through each of the hats and their functions to get a more holistic look at an issue they are facing. It could work for a variety of scenarios from product design to increasing motivation and engagement to risk avoidance.

In classrooms, teachers use the six thinking hats exercise to teach critical thinking. Six hats exercises are also a great way to break out of the typical “teacher standing at the front of the classroom” role and enhances student engagement. This is particularly useful in helping students who are usually more reticent to speak to participate in the decision-making process and express their ideas. It also puts a check on students who tend to dominate classroom discussions by creating a scenario where the focus is on hearing everyone’s perspective and not one “right” answer.

This powerful method can be used to enhance critical thinking skills and increase productivity as well as spark innovation and creative problem-solving.

What are the Six Thinking Hats?

The different hats represent different cognitive functions of the human brain that will be intentionally switched on during meetings or exercises by the teacher or facilitator.

De Bono outlined the following six thinking hats as follows:

  1. Blue – control and management
  2. White – objectivity, facts, logic and information
  3. Red – emotions, intuition, gut feelings
  4. Black – caution, negative predictions
  5. Yellow – optimistic, positive predictions
  6. Green – creativity, free flow of ideas

How do you use the six thinking hats?

When conducting a classroom exercise or group activity or brainstorming meeting, it’s not necessary to follow any particular order. You can mix the order around depending on the effect you’re looking for. For example, if you want to teach something and have a more informative approach, you’ll spend more time with the white hat than with others. If you want to be sure to cover all the possible pitfalls and dangers of taking a certain decision, you’ll spend more time with the black hat. If you’re interested in people’s gut reactions, the red hat will feature more prominently. And if you’re trying to spark new ideas and creativity, the green hat will rule the meeting.

However, because the human brain is complex, using the hats in conjunction with each other will often spark more interesting and in-depth reactions from people, whether it’s fathoming positive or negative outcomes or exploring new ideas.

What are the benefits of using the six thinking hats?

Whether you’re teaching a group of students how to maximize their productivity in working together or problem-solving an issue in your company, using the six thinking hats method offers a lot of benefits:

  • Stimulate outside-the-box thinking
  • Create a productive group dynamic
  • Teach your students or teams to think more holistically
  • Ensure that all members of the classroom or team participate in discussions
  • Enhance group decision-making abilities
  • Support a respectful decision-making environment
  • Conceive of innovative ideas and alternatives
  • Develop leadership skills
  • Teach critical thinking skills
  • Enhance performance

Sample classroom exercise

Ask students to read a polemical article about a specific topic. Then break the classroom up into groups of six students. Students will pick colored cards from a box and, depending on the color they pick, that will be the “hat” they use during the discussion. To keep things organized, it’s easiest if all discussions follow the same flow of colors, which you as the teacher can choose. Allows groups 10 minutes to discuss the issue, giving each student a chance to embody the cognitive function of the hat color they chose. Have students rotate through different groups and pick different colors so they have the chance to explore different ways to seeing an issue. This exercise can be a great prep for an argumentative essay assignment, sparking student’s ability to think critically about a polemical subject and become better essay writers. They can then use those skills to craft an argumentative essay about a subject of their choosing.


The six thinking hats method has been used to great effect by both enterprises and educational institutions to help participants explore all sides of an issue. Using it in classroom discussions or meetings can provide a lot of benefits, ensuring more comprehensive understanding of a problem or subject, stimulating critical thinking and innovation and ensuring that all members of a team or classroom have an opportunity to participate and contribute.