How About a Tug of War? Making Thinking Visible

Have you ever heard of using the "Tug of War" strategy with your students?

I got this great idea from the book, "Making Thinking Visible"


This is an AMAZING teaching resource! If you are looking for ways to promote engagement and critical thinking in your class (who isn't?!) this is definitely a must read!

So, the Tug of War strategy goes like this:

  1. Present a fairness dilemma.
  2. Identify the factors that "pull" at each side of the dilemma. These are the two sides of the tug of war.
  3. Ask students to think of "tugs", or reasons why they support a certain side of the dilemma. Ask them to try to think of reasons on the other side of the dilemma as well.
  4. Generate "what if?" questions to explore the topic further.

My first and second graders have been learning about animals.  So today we did a tug of war for how people impact the lives and homes of animals.

In the middle I wrote: "People have a positive impact on animals and their habitats. Then I gave students sticky notes and had them write down their ideas to support this or refute it. 

Check out how many ideas they had! I was amazed! And the conversations we had while they were writing out their sticky notes were phenomenal.




This is a great strategy for increasing engagement in your students and for using higher order thinking skills! Whether you teach Kindergarten or grade twelve I believe all students will find success with this activity. Give it a try.

What are your favorite activities that promote higher order thinking skills?

Another activity you might like is creating a digital wonderwall. You can read about that here.

29 comments

  1. I am a Grade one teacher in Ontario. Our board is starting to go more inquiry based for Grade 1 and to help students think more critically. This book sounds like it would definitely help with critical thinking. We are also doing animals at the moment so I may steal your idea on the impact of humans. Thanks!!

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    1. Hi Patty, I teach in Ontario as well (not sure if you knew that). My board is also very inquiry based. What board are you with? I'm presenting about inquiry based learning at a learning Symposium next week! I really highly recommend. It fits in very well with inquiry based learning. There are a ton of practical strategies in it. You don't even have to read the whole book all at once, you can pick a strategy to read about and then try it out right away. And of course feel free to "steal" the idea! That's what it's there for! I'm happy that someone else is going to try it out. Let me know how your kiddos do with it.

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  2. Thanks for sharing this great strategy and book - may have to add that to the summer reading pile. I can't believe we only have 5 weeks left - then I can't believe we have 5 weeks left : )

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    1. Definitely give it a read! And I know what you mean about 5 weeks left!!

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  3. Heidi, could you give me details about the symposium. I also teach in Ontario and would like to see if I could attend. Thanks. kellyapulham@gmail.com

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  4. I'm thinking this would be FABULOUS in high school as well! Thanks for a super idea!

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    1. I do think it would be great in highschool as well! I can imagine they could end up with some great conversations.

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  5. Can you see using this in 4th grade too? Would this be a good read for my level? Thanks!

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    1. This book is great for ANY grade! I think the strategies apply to everyone. They worked great in my class but I think it would be even better in older grades!

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  6. I am thinking about using this in a high school Biology class! Any idea can be used with a little creative tweaking. Thanks for posting this.

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  7. I plan on using this in my high school classes - I teach special education resource government, American history and science. All three subjects would benefit from this learning strategy and foster a deeper discussion and comprehension of their subjects! Thank you so much!

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  8. I teach 3rd-5th grade in Kansas and have been using the structures in this book for the last 3 years. I have been excited to see how my students are thinking at a deeper level. There is a chart in the book that gives the purpose of the structures. The chart makes it easy to choose appropriate structures for your objective. Some of the structures have become part of our regular routines. I love your post about the Tug of War. I plan to try this one in the fall.

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  9. I love this idea! I'm always looking for new ways to make my students think deeper. I can't wait to try this out!

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  10. I was looking for an engagement strategy to go with the book, A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart. It talks about how humans impact the habitat of birds all over the world. This would be perfect! Thanks for the visual and description.

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    1. That book sounds great, I'm going to check it out!

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  11. Hi
    I'm in the UK, what age group is first/second grade please.
    fantastic idea, I'd love to give it a go.

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    1. First grade is 6 and 7 year olds and second grade is 7 and 8 year olds.

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  12. Hi Heidi,

    I am a teacher in BC, Canada, and I work with a small group of about 300 teachers and I send a newsletter out. The group is called BC Cooperative Learning. I was wondering if I can borrow your tug of war idea and put it in our newsletter? It would be great to get your permission. Of course I would include your name and blog.
    Please email me at erica88@telus.net

    Thanks,
    Erica Tjart
    http://bccla.weebly.com/

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  13. I think this would be a great way to start off a persuasive writing project! Definitely going to try it!

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  14. I teach in Ontario as well. I was incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to attend a summer institute at Harvard this summer with the authors of Making Thinking Visible. You can access all of the powerful "thinking routines" explained in the book, including Tug of War, without having to buy it, check out the Visible Thinking website at this link:
    http://www.visiblethinkingpz.org/VisibleThinking_html_files/VisibleThinking1.html
    Enjoy!

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  15. Whoa! Great idea and I'm totally adding that book to my Amazon wish list!

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  16. Not sure if my comment came through. Trying again just in case. Did you have a way to assess the students with this activity? I would like to use it for my up coming evaluation and I am required to have an assessment for the kids. I was thinking of a rubric. Thanks!

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  17. Thank you for this good strategy.I want to know more about using games for developing mental skills generaly

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  18. Such a great idea! I will be using this for our natural resources unit!

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  19. I love it! This will be my seventh year teaching, but first year as a ELL teacher for 4th grade...I am thinking about all the positive attributes that this strategy will bring out in my students...taking a side and defending it is a great strategy. Thanks for sharing!

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  22. Have just come across your blog and have just ordered the book. Just what I need teaching in a Modern Learning Environment of 105 children and 4 teachers. Thanks for sharing.

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