HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) in the Art Room

We all learned about Bloom’s Taxonomy for Higher Order Thinking Skills as undergrads. It isn’t a new idea; in fact, it has been around since the 1950s.

But how do you actually use and develop these skills in the art room?

One method that I use is a simple technique I call an Interpretation Grid.

It is quick, easy, and applicable to almost any lesson or student critique. All you need is a simple foursquare grid, an image, and a list of questions/prompts that help lead your discussion from Level 1: Knowledge to Level 6: Evaluation.

Here is how it works:

Begin with a 4 square grid. You can draw one on the board or create an electronic document.

Write one word in each of the 4 quadrants: Description, Analysis, Interpretation and Judgment.

Place an image in the middle and make sure the credit line is included. You could use an artist’s work, like Frida’s Self-portrait with Monkeys in my example, or a student piece for a class critique. Feel free to download the PowerPoint slide I use by clicking on the image below.

Ask students the questions from each quadrant in the order listed above (description, analysis, interpretation, judgment). If you choose to use my PowerPoint slide, you will notice they are color-coded and in rainbow order. The questions for each quadrant are listed below. I print off a copy of the questions for my reference, but I don’t post them for students to read during a whole group discussion.

If you posted the prompts on a bulletin board, it could serve as a self-reflection station as well or you could leave a space for responses and use it as an assessment piece. There are a lot of options. My list of prompts can be downloaded in a handy PDF by clicking on the image below.

You will notice the questions begin with simple, low-risk questions that focus on information students can easily access. As you move through the grid the questions become increasingly open-ended and thought-provoking.

Not all students will have an answer for each of the levels, but participating in the class conversation will encourage students to process their thinking at a higher level. If you use this same technique frequently, you will begin to notice which students are using HOTS and which ones could use a little scaffolding to get there.

I have used this with Kindergarten to adults and I guarantee your students’ thinking will amaze you. So give it a try and get ready to have a thoughtful discussion!

How do you use Higher Order Thinking Skills in the art room?

What are some other question prompts you might add to the list? 

Heather is AOE’s Project Manager and an expert in differentiation, curriculum development, and assessment. She is a veteran teacher in the art room and at the graduate level.


  • Bloom’s taxonomy was rewritten in the 1990s. I think this is a pretty important note, especially for us as art educators, as it is now remembering to creating.

    •  Very true and very important for art teachers since we are in the business of creating!

  • Another thing you could do with this activity is break it up into tables, with artwork at each table and each group is assigned a quadrant. Everyone could come back and share to the large group. It’s hard to get in group discussion in our limited art time, so this might help to structure it nicely and make it more efficient. I’ve used this in the classroom (thanks, Heather!) and it really does work as a great prompt to get kids talking. 

  • Cathy

    I don’t do this often because of my limited time but at least twice during the 12 times that I see my students each year. I have divided my classes into quads (as Jessica suggested). It has worked really well. My students love doing this! I have even done this type of thing with the lower grades (K-1) but the questions are much less intensive and more simple…..more geared toward their grade level.

  • Breaking the class into small groups is a great idea!  You could also use this grid as a performance-based assessment for older students or an enrichment activity for those who finish early.

  • Tkutarski

    I use ‘Thinking Dice’ in my lessons. They are based on Blloms taxonomy, each dice representing each level. They can be used in any subject area and are fantastic to prompt thinking. I highly reccommend them to any teacher!

    •  Would you be willing to share what is written on your dice?  Neat idea!

    • Xonky

      This sounds like a great idea. I would love to know more! Would you be willing to share this idea further?

  • Heather, this is such a great resource.  I continually refer back to this post.  I teach art history each day and I am using your slide lay out.  I love how you have the four quadrants for each student to see. 

  • Xonky

    Has anyone ever used ‘Thinker Keys’ as an activity? I know some teachers who have used it in Wood Technology, but am wondering if there are some ideas for art?

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