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Thinking skills

Books of interest for use with Gifted & Talented children

The If Machine - Peter Worley

This is a practical resource packed with 'philosophical thought experiments' - imaginary situations designed to test an idea or intuition though profound thinking. Can computers think? What makes something human? How big is infinity? From Sartre to Searle, this practical book is rooted in accepted philosophical theory, and introduced at a level suitable for children aged 7+. Each chapter offers an imaginary situation, followed by a series of questions to encourage children to question key philosophical ideas such as values and ethics, gender and identity, existence and beauty. All the thought experiments have been tried-and-tested in the primary classroom, and a handy star system is included to indicate the difficulty level of each one, enabling quick ability differentiation.    Companion website here   
Three of the episodes of the BBC's 'What Makes Me Me?" series are based on chapters from this book. View the videos here

For younger children, see also Peter Worley's 'Thoughtings' - Puzzles, Problems and Paradoxes in Poetry to Think With.

Finish this Book - Keri Smith

Work your way through, carrying out tasks to complete each section and produce a finished book.

"Your mission is to become the new author of this work. You will continue the research and provide the content. In order to complete the task, you will have to undergo some secret intelligence training, which is included in this volume. Since no one knows what lies ahead, please proceed with caution, but know...this book does not exist without you."

See other books by Keri Smith at www.kerismith.com

How to Teach Thinking & Learning Skills - C.J.Simister

Introduces a comprehensive set of thinking and learning skills to children aged 5 to 11, and shows how to integrate these skills through the curriculum. The book and accompanying CD provide ready-to-use lessons involving games, activities and group tasks that will appeal to a wide range of learners and abilities.

C.J.Simister has also written 'The Bright Stuff' aimed at parents who want to develop their children's curiosity, independent thinking, perseverance and risk-taking, using a wide range of games, exercises and activities.


Big Questions: Incredible Adventures in Thinking -Matthew Morrison

"Big Questions" brings the most challenging issues about life, the universe and everything to 10-13 year olds. Is there a reason for everything? Can you trust the experts? Can you prove who you are? Do animals have rights? Does anything really exist? Is there only one answer? Asking questions can be a very risky business.  "Big Questions" is full of entertaining and challenging questions about the world around us - and includes sections on How to Win an Argument, Mind, Bodies and Brains and Right and Wrong.

In the same series as "Big Numbers" by John & Mary Gribbin.

New Kinds of Smart - Bill Lucas & Guy Claxton

New Kinds of Smart brings together all the main strands of research about intelligence in one book and explains these new ideas to practising teachers and educators. Each chapter presents practical examples, tools and templates so that each new strand of thinking can be woven into their work as teachers and into their lives as learners.

Read an article on the 'myths of brightness' by Lucas & Claxton in the Times Educational Supplement here


The Little Book of Thunks: 260 questions to make your brain go ouch!: 260 Questions to Make Your Brain Go Ouch! The Little Book of Thunks: 260 questions to make your brain go ouch!
-Ian Gilbert

A set of questions designed to provoke philosophical discussions amongst children of primary school age, along with instructions on how to conduct such discussions (mainly following a 'Philosophy for Children' approach).

You can try answering some 'thunks' online (or submit your own) at:  www.thunks.co.uk

Frek and the Elixir - Rudy Rucker

A science-fiction novel for older children (and adults) that is packed with wonderfully inventive extrapolations of trends in science and technology embedded in a truly engaging story.

"Imagine Frodo Baggins as a 31st-century human kid in a transformed Earth where bio-engineering and consumerism have run amok... Frek's grand adventures will leave you simultaneously enlightened, awestruck, dazed, and amused by an author working at the height of his powers."                                                                                                  Locus
Body of Evidence (Crime File Investigations) Body of Evidence (Crime File Investigations) - Jeremy Brown

Similar to 'Whodunnit Crime Puzzles' (see below), but with the emphasis on forensic / CSI-style clues. Suitable for older Juniors - probably with extra clue-giving necessary to get to the correct solution, but (as with 'Whodunnit') likely to provoke lots of interesting discussion along the way.

Also available in the same series: Hidden Suspect (Crime File Investigations)

The Book Book -  Sophie Benini Pietromarchi

Artist Sophie Benini Pietromarchi gives children ideas on how to create their own books from everyday materials; the book itself is a great example of book-design.
Developed from work done by the artist in workshops with children (and featuring examples of children's own books at the back), the book explores colours, textures, shapes and feelings, and demonstrates how to turn these intangible elements into pictorial narratives.

The Philosophy Files - Stephen Law

Ideal for work with primary-age children, The Philosophy Files tackles eight of the ‘big’ philosophical questions, ranging from ‘What is the Mind?’, ‘Does God Exist?’ to ‘Where do Right and Wrong Come From?’. Each section is introduced by a short story posing a philosophical problem, then various attempts to answer the problem are examined using further stories, examples and illustrations.

Also available: The Philosophy Files 2

My Map Book - Sara Fanelli

Fanelli challenges the concept of "map" as she demonstrates that places aren't the only things that can be charted. Exploring everyday aspects of a child's world, the author mixes the expected, such as "Map of My Neighborhood," with more conceptual subjects: "Map of My Family," "Map of My Day," "Map of My Heart" and even "Map of My Dog." In some ways, the volume resembles a kit: the dust jacket unfolds, revealing a poster of the contents, and empty areas on most spreads encourage readers to personalize the book.

Ten Sorry Tales

A collection of dark, funny short stories that will entertain both children and adults and are perfect for reading aloud.

"The ten sorry tales .. have a timeless folk tale quality, each leaving you with the sense that - if you'd been sitting on a shingled beach and spotted a bottle wash up with the tale inside ... well, it wouldn't surprise you in the least. Each of these ten sorry tales read like curious artifacts from an older time (a time you're happy to have bid adieu to, a time in which people were ... well, a bit creepy)....  A pure joy from start to finish. There isn't a word out of place here. This is just the kind of creepy, malicious deliciousness guaranteed to get kids reading and keep 'em reading - but it's also a hilarious endlessly re-readable treat."          
                                                                                                 from a review on Bookmunch

The Lost Happy Endings

The Lost Happy Endings - Carol Ann Duffy & Jane Ray

One night, a wicked witch steals the happy endings to bedtime stories. Children weep as their bedtime stories end horribly. It is up to Jub, the keeper of the happy endings, to save the day...

A picture book that could lead to some interesting philosophical discussions.

Thinking Stories to Wake Up Your Mind Thinking Stories to Wake Up Your Mind - Mike Fleetham

"Each story in this vibrant collection leads listeners to the last scene and then lets them go. This approach means they need to be active in engaging with the story's dilemma. Each story is accompanied by teacher's notes that outline the skills that are being developed, a series of searching questions to develop those skills further and ways to apply all the National Curriculum's thinking skills in all subject areas."

Each story comes with resources, questions, illustrations and links to the National Curriculum.

See also 'Surprising Stories to Stimulate Creativity' link

The Red Tree The Red Tree - Shaun Tan

"A small child awakes to find blackened leaves falling from her bedroom ceiling, threatening to quietly overwhelm her. Sometimes you wake up with nothing to look forward to...The Red Tree is about feelings that cannot always be simply expressed in words."
Another great picture book for prompting interesting discussions.

Other excellent picture books by Shaun Tan: The Lost Thing  Arrival

Cunning Lateral Thinking Puzzles

Cunning Lateral Thinking Puzzles - Sloane & MacHale

The latest collection of lateral thinking puzzles from these authors, ranging from easy to very difficult.
"Instead of jumping to obvious conclusions, players have to ask lots of questions, use their imagination, piece together the subtlest clues and come at the problem from a variety of perspectives."

The Number Devil - Hans Magnus Enzensberger

The Number Devil appears in Robert's dreams showing him all sorts of mathematical tricks using
giant furry calculators, piles of coconuts, and endlessly scrolling paper.  With engaging illustrations, this book provides a good introduction to a wide variety of interesting mathematical ideas.

Can a Robot be Human? - 33 Perplexing Philosophy Puzzles - Peter Cave

"In this fun and entertaining book of puzzles and paradoxes, Peter Cave introduces a smorgasbord of life’s important questions with tales and tall stories, jokes and arguments, common sense and bizarre conclusions. From how to get to heaven, to speedy tortoises, paradoxes and puzzles give rise to some of the most exciting problems in philosophy – from logic to ethics and from art to politics."
Probably best used for inspiration, rather than reading directly to primary age children, although
the website has a selection of extracts for download which older children interested in philosophy will enjoy listening to. Five mp3 dramatisations (15 mins each) downloadable here

The Learning Brain - Blakemore & Frith

A survey of the many links between brain science and education, written in a language accessible enough to make it easy to discuss with children. A very good job of summarising recent discoveries in neuroscience, brain imaging, and psychology, from sleep to dyslexia, autism and attention deficit syndrome.

Ellsworth's Extraordinary Electric Ears and Other Amazing Alphabet Anecdotes Ellsworth's extraordinary electric ears

"For each letter of the alphabet, step into a mini theatrical set - constructed of materials such as plastic toys, tin and clay - which not only illustrates the book's alliterative text, but also features hidden objects beginning with the same letter."

Younger children will enjoy searching for all the objects beginning with each letter in these wonderfully eccentric scenes.

cover thumbnail. Click for larger image Number Freaking - Gary Rimmer

'A cheerful little mix of absurdly precise arithmetic ... this is a book for nutters with calculators and a lot of fun' The Guardian
'Rimmertakes everyday numbers and spins them into small stories which are by turns amazing, hilarious and revealing.'

For adults and older children fascinated with calculations and eccentric logic.

Wolves in the Walls The Wolves in the Walls - Gaiman & McKean

"When Lucy hears noises from behind the wall she tries to warn her parents that there are wolves banging about. But her parents don't listen. When the wolves finally take over the house and Lucy and her family are evicted to live in the garden her parents realise perhaps they should have listened. But Lucy is no shrinking violet and pretty soon she has the wolves out and the family back in the house. So what was that noise Lucy heard coming from behind the wall...?"

PIcture book - ideal for discussions on the nature of fear and frights!

Cartoon History of the Universe: From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great Pt.1 (Cartoon History of the Universe) The Cartoon History of the Universe - Larry Gonick

The first of 3 volumes covering history from the BIg Bang up to the Renaissance. The 'Cartoon History of the Modern World' (so far only 1 of the 2 volumes published) continues the story to the present day.
Very informative and very funny - Gonick always likes to take a global perspective on each era by covering many neglected 'by-ways' of history; he also enjoys illustrating what life was like for the 'under-dogs' such as slaves, peasants and foot-soldiers. A wonderful book for giving older children a sense of the rise and fall of tribes and civilizations over the whole span of history.
Details of other Larry Gonick books on his own website here.

Start Thinking - Marcelo Staricoff and Alan Rees

Start Thinking is a book of short daily starter activities to get children excited about their own thinking and to develop their powers of independent learning. It provides over 100 tried-and-tested starter ideas, and describes how to use the starters to encourage children's imagination, curiosity and persistence and to stimulate their enthusiasm for thinking and learning. Suitable for KS 1-2.

Gifted and Talented in the Early Years: Practical Activities for Children Aged 3 to 5 Gifted and Talented in the Early Years: Practical Activities for Children Aged 3 to 5 - Sutherland

"Margaret Sutherland draws on 16 years teaching experience to provide: practical and easily implemented lesson ideas for physical movement, maths, language and music; guidance on how to make sure all children are given the opportunity to achieve and  practical ideas for the identification of able young children."

Whodunit Crime Puzzles - Hy Conrad

There are lots of books involving reading a page or two of story then trying to solve crimes by logical deduction and these are great fun to use with groups of children acting as detectives.

This particular book is aimed at a younger audience than most of the others (crimes are not overly violent, language not too difficult) and works well with Primary-age children from about Year 2 up.

There are two other books in the series - 'Whodunit Crime Mysteries' and 'Whodunit - you decide'.

Encyclopedia Brown - Boy Detective - Donald J.Sobel

Another series of solve-the-case books first published in the 1960s, in which 10-year old 'Encyclopedia' Brown solves crime puzzles for his police-chief father.

Each chapter is only 5-10 pages long and at the end of each you have to work out how 'Encyclopedia' knows who committed the crime. Logic and attention to detail are required to recognise and follow the clues.  Available very cheaply in the UK from Amazon.co.uk

These books (and the Whodunit series) are ideal for reading aloud to a class or group to encourage discussion of possible solutions.

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick - Chris van Allsburg

This was recommended by Barry Teare at the Eastbourne conference. It's by Chris van Allsburg who's more famous for other picture books like Jumanji and Polar Express. It presents a series of loosely related (and curious) drawings each accompanied by a title and a caption which the reader may use to make up his or her own story.

For examples of the pictures and how a schools has made use of them click here
'The Chronicles of Harris Burdick' is available from October 2011. 14 best-selling authors have written stories based on the illustrations in the original book. link

Imagine a Night - Rob Gonsalves

This a really unusual picture book. To quote the web-site for posters of Gonsalves' pictures:

'Although Gonsalves' work may appear to be surrealistic, it differs in that the images are deliberately planned and result from conscious thought.  Ideas are largely generated by the external world and involve recognizable human activities, using carefully planned illusionist devices. Gonsalves injects a sense of magic into realistic scenes. As a result, the term "magic realism" describes his work accurately. His work is an attempt to represent human beings' desire to believe in the impossible.' 

The pictures are great for discussions with children - both for the ideas in the pictures and how the illusions are created, and could also be used to inspire story-writing.

To see a selection of Gonsalves' pictures (not all in the book) click here
Also now available: Imagine a Day

Mad Maps - Bambi Smyth

There are 10 or so different booklets in this series. Each one contains a large map (about 3' x 2') and a set of clues in verse. The description for Runaway Ravens goes:

Legend has it that the Kingdom of England will fall if the resident ravens permanently desert the Tower of London. So when the birds disappear a brave, young traveller sets out to find them, that is, until she, herself goes missing. The only trace of her is her backpack containing a map of contemporary London showing well-known buildings, streets and the places to visit along with 28 verses plotting the route taken by the girl before she went missing. Did she ever find the birds? Solve the cryptic clues and follow her route to see if you can unveil the secret hiding place of the runaway birds and save England from disaster.

These maps are fun to use - probably best given to a group of 2-3 children to try to solve - should take about an hour. Seems to appeal most to children in Years 2-4.

This series seems to have gone out of print, although some are still available on Amazon.

Calvin & Hobbes - Bill Watterson

Calvin and his best friend Hobbes (a stuffed tiger) have philosophical discussions and strange adventures in Calvin's hyper-imaginary world where dinosaurs and aliens can intrude at any moment into his every-day world of school and baby-sitters. Many people's all-time favourite comic strip has much to offer in terms of exploring ideas as well as the subtlety of its humour.
There are 16 separate collections and numerous larger compilations. There is an online index and display of all the cartoons 1985-95 here

If the World Were a Village

Aiming to provoke thought and elicit questions, this book explains facts about the world's population simply. Instead of unimaginable billions, it presents the whole world as a village of just 100 people. We find out that 22 speak a Chinese dialect and that 17 can't read or write. This book includes guidance on teaching activities for use in the classroom and includes notes for parents and teachers as well as extra teaching activities.

There is a website at http://www.acblack.com/globalvillage/ with KS2/3 activities linked to the book. For a similar online view of a world of a 100 people - try 'The Miniature World'