Site icon ELA Brave and True by Marilyn Yung

Hexagonal Thinking and The Great Gatsby

My first attempt with hexagonal thinking

Dear Teacher-Friends: If you’re here for Part 2 of my “Teaching the Sonnet” post, please bear with me. I am still in the process of obtaining permission from a few students to post their wonderful sonnets. As soon as I have those permissions rounded up, I will publish that post! In the meantime, ever tried hexagonal thinking? Read on about my first attempt with it as a culminating activity for The Great Gatsby.


Last December, I concluded the first semester with chapter six of The Great Gatsby. I intentionally timed my unit out like this so, upon returning to class on January 4, we would know exactly where we were: right on the cusp of that gut-wrenching climax of the novel (duh-duh-DUH) CHAPTER SEVEN.

Gatsby’s Chapter 7 is such a ride!

This single chapter includes:

It’s a roller coaster of a chapter. In fact, it’s pretty much the highlight of the book and, for that matter, the 2013 Baz Luhrman film.

Anyway, we started back on Jan. 4 by watching Chapter 7 and then digging into the text. (Yes, this year, I decided to watch first and read second. Actually, this was a request from a student, who told me he would be able to visualize the story better if he had the characters in mind from the movie. I was open to any suggestions, especially since I knew this student was especially engaged with the unit.

So, in short, we finished the book a week or so later, and then it was suddenly time for assessment.

However, this year, I opted to try a new final assessment: hexagonal thinking.

Yes, I would finally try using hexagonal thinking, the brainchild of Spark Creativity’s Betsy Potash. I had previously downloaded Potash’s hexagonal thinking handouts and downloads from her website, but that was my only familiarity with the new visual thinking technique.

Photo: Pixabay.com

But suddenly, with Gatsby in our rearview mirrors, I wanted students to do some critical thinking on their own, to make connections between the big ideas of the text, and to invent their own new ways of thinking about the characters, the time period, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In other words, it was finally the perfect time to try out hexagonal thinking.

I decided to have students independently show their Gatsby knowledge via hexagonal thinking. I could have had them work in partners, or small groups, — and honestly, I think that kind of collaboration is where hexagonal thinking can really shine — but for this first attempt AND since it would serve as my culminating activity for the unit, I opted to make this an independent project.

Photo: Erin Li on Unsplash

I created a Google Slides Presentation to explain the project with directions, a mentor project, an explanation of the concept of hexagonal thinking, and a sample rubric.

Below are photos of a few of the nine slides I created to explain the project. (And yes, you can buy the entire set of slides, if you’re interested, from my TpT store. Since these slides worked pretty well for me, I figured I might as well offer them in my store.)

Anyway, as you can see above, the slides include:

This is a photo of the example I made for my students as a reference. This was the first time for my students to try hexagonal thinking.

As you can tell from the slideshow above, after students determined their categories, arranged and cut out their hexagons, and wrote their explanations for their connections, the assignment was a wrap!

Using Google Classroom, students submitted only two things to me:

Here’s what I like about hexagonal thinking:

Hexagonal thinking lets students do their own analytical thinking, weighing their options as they make connections between Tom Buchanan, for example, and the Rise of the City or the Valley of Ashes, as another example, and social class.

The categories and the connections students can make are endless, as long as they remember that their writing must defend, justify, or otherwise explain the five connections they made and labelled with arrows or connectors in the photo of their hexagonal web.

Some students had trouble uploading their photos to Google Classroom, so I took a quick pic of their he

Hexagonal thinking was something new for my students to mentally muddle through, and I must admit, I think it presented a challenge for several simply because they seem to be so accustomed to standardized and/or objective testing as a cumulative activity.

As for my students, most of them experienced success with this project.

True, I did witness some students who explained their ideas and connections in a minimal way, and their initial grade suffered. However, I decided to highlight or otherwise make notations on their Google Docs (I had printed their papers out to avoid screen time) those areas where they needed to better clarify their thinking. Then, I allowed time in class to revise and edit their writing to improve their score. I felt that was only fair on this new assessment method.

In the end, my first attempt with hexagonal thinking was a winner. It gave me enough success to definitely use hexagonal thinking again.

Thanks for reading again this week!

Have you tried hexagonal thinking yet? Leave a comment below this post or use my my Contact page to let me know your experience with this innovative, student-driven assessment method.

Have a great week!

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