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Extending and developing your thinking skills
Extending and developing your thinking skills

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7 Giving structure to thinking

Two common thinking problems are: a feeling of not being able to 'see the wood for the trees', and difficulty in being logical and orderly. The key to solving them is being able to think about ideas and information in a conceptual and systematic way so that you have ways to structure your thinking. This can involve:

  • looking at the broader context

  • developing mental models and frameworks to hang ideas and information on

  • being able to distinguish relative importance and seeing patterns and relationships.

The following activity is designed to help you see the power of structuring information and ideas.

Activity 14

  1. Read through the following list of words one at a time, then cover it up and see how many words you can remember:

    leaf, animals, Dalmatian, dogs, tree, living things, plants, mammals, oak

  2. Now look at the words again and see if you can link them together in an order or structure. When you have done this, see how many you can remember now without looking.

  3. Reflect on the difference this makes to understanding and making sense of the information.


Were you able to recall many of the words? Did you find a way to link the words together? Did having a structure make the list easier to remember?

This is the structure we thought of:

This image shows a complex mind map. In the centre, there is picture of a star with a tube of paste. This represents ‘Memory’. Around it are pictures and words which represent different things. There are lines to connect these to each other and to the memory image at the centre of the image. Some examples of the representations around the image are ‘long term store’, ‘constructivism e.g. Bartlett’, ‘methodologies’, ‘lab-based methodologies’, ‘Clinical studies’, ‘schemas’, ‘theories’, ‘working memory’ etc.
Mind Map

The process of looking for a way of structuring the concepts should certainly have made you think. It is through processes like this that information is retained and recalled, and knowledge and understanding develop. Knowledge, understanding and meaning are not just there for the taking. You have to create them through your own structured thinking. In fact, knowledge is often acquired in the process of doing structured thinking for tasks such as solving problems, making decisions and evaluating arguments. There are many tools and techniques for structuring thinking. What is appropriate will depend on the purpose of your thinking and what works best for you.