3 Ways to Develop Metacognitive Skills


Developing metacognitive skills in young people needs to be an important focus area for teachers. After all, metacognitive skills help learners to think about their thinking and this invaluable ability assists them in analysing, evaluating, and taking control of their learning experiences.

Metacognition is an intrinsic human ability, and research shows that children as young as three can demonstrate metacognitive behaviour. The question is, how can we develop these metacognitive skills? This post provides you with 3 practical ways to do just that.

Start with self-assessment

Self-assessment is a key part of the metacognition cycle. Here, students learn to identify their strengths and weaknesses so that they can determine:

  • What they do know.
  • What they don’t know.
  • What they want to master.
  • What they need to do to achieve this goal.

Self-assessment activities should be embedded in classroom activities. For example, you can introduce a new topic by asking students to rate their existing knowledge of the topic first. This can take the form of a small test. You can then guide the learners in marking the test and encouraging them to analyse the difference between what they thought they knew and what they actually know.

These self-prediction activities are important for developing an understanding of self-knowledge because students can clearly see whether they are overestimating or underestimating what they know. This recognition activates metacognition.

Self-assessment identifies areas that require improvement, and it promotes worthwhile reflection. In this way, it empowers students to be more effective learners.

Model appropriate self-analysis 

Self-analysis is a form of self-questioning – or self-talk – that promotes evaluation and it can have a significant, positive impact on learning success.

When you are explaining problem-solving examples to learners, always make your own thinking visible by describing why you are doing what you are doing.

Embedding self-analysis in learning activities can also be task-based. Here are some questions that you can have learners ask themselves before, during and after a task:

Before the task:

  • Is this similar to a previous task?
  • What is expected of me?
  • What should I do first?

During the task:

  • Am I on the right track?
  • What can I do differently?
  • Do I need help? Who can I ask?

After the task:

  • What worked well?
  • What didn’t work well?
  • Can I do what worked well in other situations?

Self-analysis can also be knowledge specific. This has the added benefit of articulating what mastery of a concept entails. The table below is an example of this when comparing fractions:


Use visualisation to connect knowledge  

Metacognition provides students with a “tool kit” of learning strategies. One of these is visualisation. Visualisation is the creation of images in the mind. Being able to visualise something, such as a video scene, diagram, or picture, is far easier than remembering text.

Visualisation leads to better memory and understanding, which assists learners in expressing themselves more meaningfully.

Here are some examples of how to include visualisation in lessons:

  • Ask students what they are “picturing” in their heads when they read or listen to you.
  • Have students draw pictures and write down words while they are reading or listening. (You can guide their drawings for the sake of consistency.)
  • Use graphic organisers. These help students make connections between concepts and they show how certain concepts depend on others to build understanding.

A model for metacognitive skills

The ability to “think about thinking” is possibly the most powerful tool we can give young people. Reflective Learning’s catch-up intervention follows a metacognitive model that is far more comprehensive than this article covers. We help students to identify learning gaps in order to catch-up mathematics far more effectively and sustainably.

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