As a new teacher, so many of my objectives stopped at a *very* low level of thinking.

- Students will understand Z.
- Students will know the difference between X and Y.
- Students will be able to explain C.

When I look at these objectives now, they leave me asking, **“then what?”**

Ok. My students know the difference between X from Y. They can explain C. They understand fact Z. **“What do they do now?”**

### Then What!?

If I don’t ask myself, “Then what?” while planning a lesson, **I leave myself open to the dreaded, “Mr. Byrd, what do I do now?” question**. Inevitably, some students will meet my low-level objective right away. I used to call them “early finishers”, but the fact is, I just didn’t plan ahead.

And then, **since I didn’t plan for what’s next, I’m forced to wing it**. I end up with the worst of differentiation: extra worksheets, go read a book in the corner, or (shudder) go tutor your peers.

So, to avoid low-level objectives, **I ask myself, “Then what?”**

### Example: Order the Planets

I’ll start with a lesson I actually taught as a student teacher. My objective was **“Students will remember the order of the planets.”** Then they drew a diagram of the planets in order.

This is a perfect example of a bottom-of-the-barrel, **lowest-possible-level thinking skill: memorize.**

Naturally, a bunch of students finished right away. Since I had not asked myself, “Then what?” **the most advanced kids in the class just… added more colors to their diagram.** 🤢 A fancier-looking final product doesn’t mean there was interesting thinking! In fact, they could have added all of the colors in the world, and the thinking would have stayed at “memorize.”

What if, while planning, I had asked myself that magic question: *then what?*

Ok, so once my students are able to memorize the order of the planets…

then what?How will theythinkabout the planets next.

Now I’m not asking, “What will they DO next.” I’m asking, “How will they **think about the topic** next?” **Differentiation is about higher-level thinking, not creating a more elaborate product. **

### Some Options

I’ll look at some of my personal favorite techniques to go beyond memorizing and explaining:

- form unexpected categories (borrowed from the Concept Formation model of instruction)
- judge with specific criteria
- create a slogan or motto (or other big idea)
- make a change and explain the effects
- think from the perspective of an inanimate object

### Example: Make Your Own Categories

I might have my students **group the planets into 3 or 4 categories of their choosing**. But the categories cannot be based on the planets’ order. So, no groups can be called “inner, middle, outer.” Then, they’d name each category of planets using just 1-3 words.

Do you see how much thinking this requires!? Each student (or small group) will go in different directions. There’s room for Jill Genius to push her thinking in unexpected directions. But even my most struggling students can still form categories. They just may not be as interesting or unexpected. Or maybe they will be! **As a teacher, I’m excited to see what everyone comes up with.**

This objective also has enough headroom for me to say, **“I think you could come up with a more interesting idea”** when I see students taking the easy way out.

And, while this is *way* more interesting than “memorize the order of the planets,” I’m not going to let myself off the hook.

I’ll ask, **Then what?** again!

### Write A Story

So now we have various groupings of the planets. What if we decided that **the planets are going to interact**? We’re going to personify them. And, of course, we want some drama! I might prompt students with the following:

Create a story in which a planet from one of your groups bumps into a planet from another group while walking on the street. The planets initially have an argument based on their different characteristics. In the end, they learn that they also have a lot in common.

If Mars bumps into Jupiter, what will they disagree about? What will they argue over? Then, how will they find something in common so that they can become good friends?

Now, if you have eagle eyes, you’ll spot a compare/contrast task in there. But it’s also couched in the delightful “planets meeting each other” situation not just make a Venn diagram. **Yes, kids might make a Venn diagram along the way, but that’s not the objective.** I wrote a bit more about a technique like this here.

As a product, students could make an illustrated story, a skit, a video, or a stop-motion animation.

But, friends, I’m not done. I can always ask, **“Then what!?”**

### A ✨New✨ Planet Emerges

Ok, so now the planets have interacted. **What could we do next?**

Well, **what if… a new planet entered the solar system?** Now, my students must put this planet into one of their categories. Which characteristics make it fit into that group? How would it be

*different*from all of the other planets in that group?

We have a synthesize level task here. Kids are creating something new. **It’s not, however, a free-for-all.** They’re adding a planet that is based on real planets. It has to fit into an existing group. Planet Boron is in the same group as Mars, Venus, and Earth. So, it’s going to share some of those characteristics. Yet… it’s not a carbon copy of any planet. **This creative task is grounded in reality.**

See my “create a creature” task for more details on this.

### I Could Go On

Now, will all of your students actually get to all of these things? Probably not! But simply by asking the question, “Then What?”, we force ourselves to practice moving beyond “memorize” and “explain.” It emphasizes that memorizing facts on their own isn’t the point. **Students should use that understanding to do some interesting thinking!**

As my tattoo ^{*} says, students must be *thinking*, not just remembering.

* I do not have this tattoo.