Hexagons Spur Collaborative and Creative Thinking!

This article was originally published in Kim Essenburg’s blog on October 3, 2020.

  1. You need to be brave to try something you’re afraid of. A part of growing up is learning to face your fears.

  2. Jack is being brave and stops being friends with Julian. Well done, Jack!

  3. I like this connection because Summer is really empathetic and becomes friends with August.

Every single 6th and 7th grader was deeply engaged in conversations about the connections between the characters, topics, and significant quotations from the novel Wonder. That’s what I saw in class this past Wednesday. I’ve been hearing a lot about “hexagonal thinking”  over the last 6 months, and this seemed the perfect opportunity to try it. We’d just finished reading the novel, doing 6-question journals on each of the reading assignments, and sharing them in pairs each day in class. Now I wanted to help the students step back and make connections across the entire novel before demonstrating their individual understanding of the work as a whole. It was a huge success, and I highly recommend it.

What is hexagonal thinking? You know math manipulatives? It’s like thinking/connecting manipulatives. You can use it for any topic, subject, or activity where you want to promote new connections and conversations about them.

How do you set it up? There are so many different ways, but basically, you make a bunch of hexagons. (It’s really easy in Google Draw.) Label them (or allow participants to label them) with significant elements of the topic at hand. 

I choose 3 categories: 2 that we’d put in our journals (characters and significant quotations) and 1 that we’d touched on frequently (topics). I made 6 character hexagons for each student partnership (August, Jack, Julian, Summer, Via, Justin), 6 topic hexagons (kindness, bravery, growing up, empathy, choices, friendship), and gave each student 2 blank hexagons for writing their own 2 significant quotes (not to duplicate a partner’s). Then I gave each partnership a large sheet of paper and asked them to arrange the hexagons on it in as solid a composite shape as possible. 

The hitch? Every place sides from 2 hexagons coincide, students have to be able to explain the connection from the book. There are many possible ways to do this, I told them—keep talking and rearranging until you and your partner are satisfied. When you are, glue the hexagons in place. 

Finally, I gave each student one paper arrow and asked them to find one connection they really liked, write an explanation on the arrow, and glue it on so it pointed to to the relevant meeting of hexagons. To celebrate the completion and possibly discover unique connections other pairs had made, we set them on the end of each row, and we did a tour of the posters.

What learning goals can be accomplished with hexagonal thinking?

  1. Revisiting the text to make connections between different parts of it

  2. Collaboration

  3. Creative, flexible thinking

  4. Great differentiation for ESL students and introverts who can participate and demonstrate their thinking with a minimum of words—spoken or written

  5. Giving students an opportunity to use their journals (“But I don’t have any significant quotes!” “Those who have them in their journals can use their journals; those who chose the shortest quote possible for their journals can feel free to go back to their books.”)

  6. Brainstorming, scaffolding, and segueing into a project or paper to demonstrate individual understanding

I loved seeing all the students actively involved in discussion, arranging and rearranging hexagons, checking journals and books. I was impressed with the quality of the connections and explanations I heard in discussion and saw written on their arrows (see quotes at the top of the page). I’ll definitely do it again, and I look forward to seeing the one-pager individual projects students turn in next week!

What activities do you use to scaffold making connections?