The following questions are the kinds of considerations a cognitive tools approach to teaching stimulate. Clicking on any one of the tools will provide you with more information on the tool and examples of its use in teaching. One tool that may be considered universal is the story form. No matter what age of student you are teaching, you must begin by determining what is emotionally engaging about the topic—shaping the topic in a way that brings out its emotional force is storytelling. Because story is one of the most powerful means through which human beings create emotional meaning, it is a crucial tool in all teachers’ tool kits. You can imagine you are a reporter sent down to get “ the story” on whatever it is you are teaching.

How can the topic be shaped to bring out its emotional force? In other words, what’s the story on the topic?


In addition to being storied beings, oral language provides human beings with a lot of other tools for making sense of the world. Each can be included in teaching to engage students’ imaginations in learning.

Considerations for imaginative ecological primary/elementary school teaching:

What emotionally charged oppositions can help to tell the story of the topic?
(abstract binary opposition)

What vivid mental image (formed through oral language) can engage the students’ emotions with the story of the topic?
(vivid mental imagery)

Can a metaphor contribute to understanding the topic?

How can the topic be explored through the music of oral language? Through song, rhyme, rhythms, or patterns?
(rhyme, rhythm and pattern)

How can students play with the topic? How can they place themselves within the topic?
(games, drama, and play)

What mysteries lie within the topic? Are there puzzles students can solve related to the topic? Are there mysteries students can be left to ponder?
(mystery and puzzles)

What is incongruous or absurd about the topic? Can jokes and humour be employed to contribute to student understanding of the topic?
(jokes and humour)

The development of literacy provides additional tools for imaginative engagement. The tools of oral language continue to influence and engage our sense-making but now another set of cognitive tools is readily employed to make meaning. The imaginative dimensions of the literate mind will need to be considered by the imaginative teacher aiming to engage students’ emotions and imaginations in learning.

Considerations for imaginative ecological middle/secondary school teaching:

What is heroic about the topic?
(association with heroic qualities)

How can the story of the topic be told in a way that includes its extreme dimensions? What is bizarre or odd about it?
(extremes of experience and limits of reality)

Who is the person behind the topic? How does the topic connect with human hopes, fears, and passions?
(humanization of meaning)

What ideals or challenges to the norm are evident within the topic?
(revolt and idealism)

How can the students become experts in one area of the topic? What aspect of the topic can be learned in exhaustive detail?
(collections and hobbies)

How can a change of context or point of view engage students’ attention differently in learning the topic?
(change of context / role play)

What visual tools can be used to make it easier for the eye to retrieve information about the topic such as lists, flowcharts, diagrams etc.?
(the literate eye)

For more information on each cognitive tool visit “teacher tips” on the IERG website.