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Flexible Thinking is a very important social skill.  The ability to think flexibly helps people to get along with others, helps groups to be more effective, and helps people solve problems and or try new ways of doing things.

Flexible Thinking is a must have skill in the elementary classroom.

I’m sure we have all experienced the child who refuses to sit in a different chair or at a different table.  The child who melts down when the schedule changes without advanced notice (or even with notice) and the child who learns a skill one way, but is suddenly unable to do it when even the smallest component of the task is different.  These children have difficulty with Cognitive Flexibility and or with Shifting Set.

Cognitive Flexibility is the ability to think about something in a different way. 

Shifting Set is the ability to move from one way of doing something, to another.  Whether children have challenges with flexible thinking or not, teaching, practicing and growing this important skill has a profound impact on both social and academic skills.


So how can I teach, practice and grow Flexible Thinking Skills in my classroom or group? 


I’m glad you asked!

Here Are 5 Ways To Teach, Practice and Grow Flexible Thinking


1. Be A Flexible Role Model: In order to teach flexible thinking, you need to live flexible thinking.  In other words, you need to demonstrate flexible thinking in front of your students.
I’m sure you do a lot of flexible thinking during the day, the key is to not keep it a secret!  Let the kids know and highlight these situations when they come up.

For example, if you are trying to present a lesson on the white board and you want a red marker, but only have black, be flexible and use the black….but TELL the kids what you are doing.  This is very simple but is a great and very easy opportunity to model flexible thinking.

2. Create Opportunities: Present your students with lots of opportunities to practice being flexible.  If you set your classroom and lessons up so that there is no room for change, it will be difficult for children to practice flexible thinking.

3. Reward Flexible Thinking: When you see it, reward it! A quick compliment can go a long way.  You can also highlight the situation so that other children can learn from the situation.

4. Offer Alternatives Frequently: Offer alternative to how to do things, say things, or use things as often as possible.  This will help children to see how to be flexible and to see the value in thinking flexibly.

5. Explicit Teaching: Play games and engage in activities that teach flexible thinking. It’s fun!  You can put it right into your planning book for a fun activity during snack time or at the beginning of recess or at your meeting/circle/rug time.



An Here Are Some Easy Activities To Teach, Practice and Grow Flexible Thinking

First, make sure children understand the definition of Flexible, Flexible Thinking, and Inflexible.

Flexible: Capable of bending easily without breaking

• Flexible Thinking: The ability to think about something in a new way.

• Inflexible Thinking: Only thinking about something one way and not willing or able to listen to other points of view.


1. The Tissue Box Game: Put several items into a tissue box.  Have children pull one item out at a time and tell you if it is flexible or inflexible and demonstrate.  Some common school items to put in box: Tissue, Rock, Rubber Band, Lego, Play Doh, Penny, String or Yarn, Paper Clip, Marker, and anything else you have handy that would work well.

2. Change The Rules: We spend a lot of time telling kids that they must play games by following the rules.  But if everyone agrees, games can be really fun when you change a rule or two.  Pick a common came, like Connect Four ™and make a new rule or a new way to play.  Maybe you change the game to connect six. Try it and discuss. Was the game still fun?

3. Write or Tell Jokes: Jokes are funny because you have to use words differently or think in a flexible way about something.  This can be a really fun way to get kids practicing flexible thinking.

4. Flexible Building: Put children in partners or groups. Give them a bunch of random materials and have them work together to build something, then present what it is to the rest of the class.

5. What Is It?: Have the children sitting in a circle.  Take a pillow case and put a few interesting items in it.  Have the children pull something out of the pillow case and tell/demonstrate a new use for it (something other than what it is intended to be used for).  Have a few children do this for the same item, then have the next child pick a new item from the pillow case and continue.  Use interesting items you have in your classroom.  Suggested items: an empty tissue box, a marker, an eraser, a cup, a book, a ball.

6. Everyday Events Mixed Up: Mix up your everyday events a little bit to encourage Flexible Thinking. See examples below.

7. Popcorn: Popcorn: Have children mill around the room, you could play music if you want to but you do not have to.  After a minute or so, the leader calls out a number and an object.  For example, “2 rocking chair.”  Then the children must form groups of two and form themselves into something that looks like a rocking chair.

And here are some additional ways to practice flexible thinking…

Mixed Up Schedules and Routines:

• Go in or out a different door for recess
• Have children sit at different tables for snack
• Teach from a different spot in the room than usual

Fun Days:

• Wear a funny hat to school, day
• Wear your shirt backwards, day
• Call everyone by their middle name, day


Teaching children flexible thinking is an invaluable resource that will serve them well in and out of school.  I hope you have fun with these tips and activities.


Thanks So Much and Happy Teaching!

Cindy ~Socially Skilled Kids

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