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3 Simple Steps to the 4 C's

So you’ve heard of the 4 C’s—critical thinking, creative thinking, communicating, and collaborating—but how are you supposed to teach your own subject and the 4 C’s?

The good news is that the 4 C’s help you teach your subject. They aren’t content. They’re skills for gaining content. Here are 3 simple steps that use the 4 C’s to help students learn your subject:

Step 1: Prompt Critical and Creative Thinking

After introducing and modeling a new concept, prompt students to think critically and creatively about it. Assign a 5-minute activity that students complete individually. Here are some examples:

  • Sentence completion: Ask students to complete a sentence in as many ways as possible.

    Complete the following sentence in as many ways as you can: “The cell membrane helps the cell by . . .”

  • Definitions: Ask students to define a key term, providing its denotation, along with examples, synonyms, and antonyms.

    Define the term “executive branch,” giving examples, synonyms, and antonyms.

  • Problem solving: Ask students to list ways that a problem could be solved.

    List as many ways as you can think of that global economic inequality could be reduced.

  • Clustering: Ask students to write an important concept in the center of a piece of paper and to create as many personal connections as they can to it.

    Write “Supply and Demand” in the middle of a piece of paper and circle it. Around it, write ways supply and demand affect your life.

  • Modeling: Ask students to represent a concept visually, whether in a sketch, a diagram, a symbol, or some other form.

    Create a visual representation of entropy—a drawing, diagram, graph, or other visual.

  • Questioning: Ask students to write five questions about the current topic and to pick the most interesting one.

    Write down five questions you have about logarithms and pick the most interesting one.

Step 2: Prompt Communication and Collaboration

After students have completed their individual, 5-minute activities, have them turn to a classmate or small group to share their ideas. This activity requires students to take something written and internal and make it spoken and external. It makes students think critically and creatively with each other—the definition of communication and collaboration. You can once again provide specific prompts, which appear below, from quick activities to involved ones:

  • Select a thought: Ask students to share their ideas with a partner or small group and work together to select one specific thought they find most interesting to pursue.

    Share your ideas with a partner and choose one aspect of Beowulf that most interests you. Be ready to indicate why.

  • Wild hares: Ask students to share their ideas with a partner or small group and decide which idea is the most “out there”—unique and perhaps a little wacky. Ask students to be able to indicate why.

    Discuss your ideas about mitochondrial DNA and, as a group, choose the idea that is most original or bizarre. Be ready to indicate why you find the idea unique.

  • Summarize: Ask students to share their ideas and create a statement that summarizes what they have found.

    In a group of three or four, share your ideas about human trafficking and write one sentence that summarizes all of the ideas.

  • Advocates: Ask student pairs to select one idea from each student. Then have the opposite partner advocate the idea, presenting reasons to support it.

    Discuss your proposals for creating energy independence. Choose one proposal from each partner, and have the opposite person argue for the proposal.

  • Dramatize: Ask students to share ideas and choose one idea that they will dramatize in a 30-second public service announcement, which they will act out in front of the class.

    With a partner, share your ideas about the Truman Doctrine. Choose one idea and create a P.S.A. that you will act out in support of or in opposition to the doctrine.

  • Rapid prototyping: Ask student groups to select an idea and create a rapid prototype of the concept—a drawing, model, program, or other representation of how it might work.

    As a group, choose one trebuchet design that should work best to launch a Ping Pong ball. Using the materials on the back table, build a working prototype of your design.

Step 3: Present

After students have communicated and collaborated, have them share their group’s ideas with the whole class. One person should be chosen to be the main presenter, but all members should participate in some way. This step requires more critical and creative thinking, communicating and collaborating. It also cements the concept you are trying to teach. Finally, when students know they will need to share what they come up with, they have a reason to care about the work they put in.

Scheduling the Steps

At a minimum, this 3-step process will take 15-20 minutes, depending on how involved you make each step. At a maximum, it could take multiple class periods, so decide how important a given concept is for students. If you would’ve lectured for 20 minutes on the concept, turn it into a 20-minute inquiry experience instead. If your concept is one that you would spend days on, you can use an inquiry experience like those listed above to lead to a larger-scale project, such as a scale model or film.

Remember: You aren’t just teaching your subject in an engaging way. You are teaching your subject in a way that deepens understanding and helps students develop the 4 C’s.

If you’d like to learn more about inquiry-based learning, click on one of the links below.

What is inquiry?

How can I form strong driving questions?

How can I get students engaged in driving questions?

How can I improve the quality of students' questions?

What kinds of inquiry experiences can I use?

How can students find answers to their questions?

How can students share what they find?

Teacher Support:

Click to find out more about this resource.

Standards Correlations:

The State Standards provide a way to evaluate your students' performance.