10 Ways to Use the “Six Thinking Hats” Activity to Engage Students and Enhance Critical Thinking Skills


six thinking hats teaching strategies critical thinking case studies
Here are 10 ways to use the "Six Thinking Hats" activity to engage students and enhance critical thinking skills.

This is an active learning strategy you can use in any course to help students enhance their critical thinking and analysis skills. It’s called “Six Thinking Hats” and it can be adapted in many ways to work in any discipline.

Quick tip!
You can also adapt this activity to work in meetings, advising sessions, training and development programs, or any environment where you want participants to analyze different perspectives before making decisions.

I frequently share this strategy in my workshops to give faculty a framework for structuring conversations to promote critical thinking, analysis, and engagement.

What is the “Six Thinking Hats” activity?

The Six Thinking Hats activity was developed by Dr. Edward deBono, a Nobel prize nominee in Economics, scholar, and expert in critical thinking. Dr. deBono’s framework has been used throughout the world to help leaders enhance critical thinking, inspire creativity, and promote a culture of innovation in corporate, nonprofit, government, and educational settings.


The framework is based on the idea that there are six different colored “hats” and each hat represents a different perspective. When you “wear a hat,” your task is to represent the perspective associated with that hat as you and your team members analyze a decision or situation.


Here are the meanings of the six hats (with a few questions to prompt your thinking):

Hat Color


White Hat

Facts, objective information, data

What does the data tell us? What facts do we know?

Red Hat

Feelings, emotions

How are people feeling? What reactions do we need to anticipate?

Yellow Hat

Positives, advantages, benefits
What are benefits or positive outcomes associated with this decision? What are the advantages of this solution?

Black Hat

Caution, concern, alert
What should we be concerned about? Where should we proceed with caution?

Green Hat

Creativity, generate new ideas
What ideas haven’t been tried before? What if…? Imagine this…

Blue Hat

What have we done so far, summaries, suggest next steps

What has been done before? What impact did that decision have? Where should we go from here?

Reference: de Bono, Edward (1999). Six Thinking Hats. MICA Management Resources, Inc. Website: http://www.debonogroup.com/six_thinking_hats.php

Note: I haven’t read de Bono’s research in depth to know why he chose a particular color for each of the perspectives. The colors may be associated with moods, emotions, or color theory. For more on this, refer to deBono’s book and publications.

What to Consider Before You Begin Using the Six Thinking Hats Activity:

  • It will take time. If this is the first time you are introducing the Six Thinking Hats to your students, allow at least 30 minutes of class time. You need to show students what the hats mean, explain the activity, clarify their roles, and answer questions as they prepare to participate. Add more time if your case, problem, or scenario is complex with many layers, solutions, or possibilities.

    NOTE: If your students are familiar with the Six Thinking Hats (maybe you’ve introduced them to it before in a previous class or in a pre-class assignment), then you will not need to spend as much time in class explaining the hats, roles, and expectations. As soon as you remind them which hat they are wearing, then they will be ready to jump in and get to work.

  • Be sure to include time to debrief the activity. Since students are representing roles, arguments, and perspectives that may be in conflict with how they would personally or professionally respond to a situation, they need time to process their ideas.

    All students will need time to analyze the ideas related to the other hats they are not representing in order to get the “big picture” of the situation and possible solutions.

    You can lead the debriefing session at the end of class and/or in an online format. Make connections between ideas from different groups (hats) and reinforce important points that may have been overlooked during the activity.

    Finally, make sure to connect the activity with the learning outcomes/purpose of your lesson. Some students may not learn from the activity itself, but they will learn from the process of reflecting on it.

  • You can assign hats or let students choose hats. If you have a “hot” or potentially controversial or emotional issue that may cause tension, you might want to assign hats so students aren’t too personally or politically connected to their argument (although, I could also argue the opposite approach here).

    If you want to encourage students to step out of their comfort zone, you can assign hats. If you want students to feel confident as you introduce this new activity, you can ask them to choose their own hat. As they gain confidence and become familiar with the activity, you can mix it up and switch up the roles.

  • You don’t have to use actual hats for this activity (although, I guess you can if you want to!). If you want to make these virtual hats more “real” you could use pieces of paper cut into hat shapes and give them to students as they prepare for the activity. Or you could use different colored index cards or other props that make the hats visible.

    Other ideas: Create pictures using graduation caps, baseball hats, or top hats to create a theme based on your course topic, the time of year, or your hobbies. Encourage students to wear their hat color on a shirt, jacket, sweater, tie, socks, shoes, glasses, etc. Have a fun with it! : )

Now let’s explore different ways you can adapt and use the Six Thinking Hats activity in your courses.

10 Ways to Use the “Six Thinking Hats” in Your Courses:

The six hats activity can be integrated into an existing lesson, lecture, or discussion. You don’t have to redesign your whole course, but it will probably require the redesign of the majority of a lesson or lecture since it takes time to implement the process.
  1. Case study analysis: Give the students a case study and challenge them to analyze it from each of the six hats.

  2. Discussion forums: Structure the discussion forums around the six hats. Divide a forum into separate hats or ask students to post which hat they are “wearing” when they post their responses.

  3. All students, same hat: Ask all students to wear the same hat so they can dig deeper into an idea together. Everyone can wear the red hat in Monday’s class, the green hat in Wednesday’s class, etc.

  4. Different groups, different hats: Divide students into groups and assign each group a separate hat. Analyze an idea, case, or situation, and then ask each group to prepare their response based on their group’s hat color. Then discuss as a whole class and compare and contrast the different groups’ ideas.

  5. Different groups, individuals within each group wears the same hat: Divide students into groups (with 6 members in each group if possible). Then, assign one hat color to each individual group member.

    Groups can work together to analyze a situation or problem from all six hats at the same time. Then, discuss their ideas as a whole class, making note of similarities and differences between each group and the hats each person represented.
  1. Switch hats: Assign hats to students or groups and ask them to analyze a case, problem, or situation. Then, in the middle of the discussion, switch hats. Give students a different hat color and continue the same problem or situation.

    During the debriefing session, ask students to share how they felt when they had to switch perspectives and how that influenced their decisions. This is interesting when the hats appear to be in opposition, such as when students wearing the white hat switch to a red hat or vice versa.

  2. Guess the hat: Secretly assign hats to a few students (or ask them to randomly select a hat color). Then, present a case, problem, or situation and ask those students to play their role without disclosing what color hat they are wearing.

    During the debriefing session, challenge other students to guess what color hats were being represented. Ask questions such as:

    -How did you know which hat John was wearing?
    -What clues, signs, or signals did you notice?
    -What kinds of words did he use that made you think he was wearing the [insert color] hat?
    -How might these words and behaviors appear in the “real world” outside of the context of this classroom? How would you respond?

  3. Writing/speaking assignments based on hat color: Create assignments and rubrics based on how well students analyze a case, situation, or problem based on their hat color. If students are working in groups, each member of the group can write their part of the assignment based on their assigned hat color. Then the group can combine all of their different perspectives into one comprehensive analysis assignment.

  4. Stretch it out: Once students are familiar with the Six Thinking Hats framework, stretch it out beyond one lesson. Use the hats all week, throughout a whole module, or during an entire semester. Add complexities to the problems and help students analyze how a situation changes over time as new information becomes known.

  5. Create a new hat: Challenge students to create a new hat or consider a perspective that has not been introduced.

There are so many ways to make the Six Thinking Hats work for you and your students! 

Recommended Resources:

de Bono, Edward (1999). Six Thinking Hats. MICA Management Resources, Inc.

de Bono Group Website: http://www.debonogroup.com/six_thinking_hats.php