My Mind Works in Different Ways


My Mind Works in Different Ways

by Susan Zuckerman

Susan Zuckerman developed this activity after immersing herself in the literature on metacognition in search of ways to nurture it. She wanted to enhance her students awareness of their thinking, to increase their awareness of the differences in their thinking while they are engaged in different types of activities and to provide ways for students to understand and appreciate the differences in thinking among their classmates when they were all engaged in the same task.

Students are asked to create metaphors for the ways their minds work, first in discussion and then in images and/or words. While doing this students explore how they view their own minds and they engage in introspective and abstract thinking about their thinking.

Dr. Shelby Sheppard used these activities in a research project to investigate any differences in the mind-metaphors gifted students created if they were in a class of high ability peers or in a regular classroom (Sheppard & Kanevsky, 1999). Yes, there were differences--in the high ability setting students generated richer, more complex metaphors.

Setting the stage:

Begin with a group discussion around this question: "Do you ever find your mind working in totally different ways at different times?" Discuss the times and ways and record them in a chart like the one below. Continue until you feel most students know what you're looking for.

Different Ways My Mind Works

When I'm . . . .

doing hard math problems, . . .

My mind . . . .

works hard trying to figure out the right answer.

It's like . . . .

a calculator. writing a poem, . . . flows around, through feelings and words and pictures. a stream full of beautiful fish.

Drawing and writing:

Now, choose one of the two "thought cloud" sheets (see next two pages). The single cloud is good for introducing students of any age to this activity. Young students can stay with it so they have more space to write and draw. Older students can use the three-cloud page once they understand the directions and purpose of the activity. The three-cloud page is particularly useful when your goal is for students to become more aware of the differences in their own thinking when they are working on different types of activities.

Whether students use the one- or three-cloud sheets, they can compare the metaphors they've generated. This will help them (and you) understand and appreciate the individual difference in their classmates thinking.

Choose one activity from the "When I'm . . . ." list below. The activities you choose must be relatively complex; they must each require thinking. They cannot be things students can complete automatically.

Then, choose one type of metaphor for the whole class to use from the "My Mind is Like. .

. ." list, or you can let them choose their own. They will need to come up with their own personalized interpretation to write and draw. For example, if you chose "a machine," one student might describe and draw a blender, another a jukebox, another a VCR, and then someone might draw a fried egg.

Write the choices on the board for students to copy or prepare sheets with them written in the blanks. Young children usually like to draw their metaphor before filling in the line "My mind is like . . .." They can express their metaphor in words more easily once they have their illustration to write about. Older students (ages 8 or 9 and up) can be given the choice of writing or drawing first.

When I'm...

• memorizing a list

• figuring out how much change I'll get back from a store clerk

• planning how to get mom or dad, or both, to let you stay up an extra hour

• trying to settle a fight

• figuring out how to earn money for something I want

• choosing a gift for ____________ (brother, sister, parent, friend)

• trying to learn to throw a ball further

• trying to think of the right word for something I want to say

• reading a story

• planning a story I'm going to write

• choosing names for characters in a story I am writing

• figuring out how to begin a story

• figuring out how to end a story

• figuring out how to illustrate a story

• writing a poem

• solving a tough math problem

• working on a tough puzzle

• doing analogies

• choosing a topic for a report

• planning an experiment

• trying to figure out what the teacher REALLY wants in an assignment

• composing a piece of music

My Mind is Like....

• a machine

• an animal

• a game

• the mind of another person (peer, hero, TV or Story character, etc.)

• a kind of, or a change in the weather (from what to what)

Students can be asked to do this once or more than once. They can each make a Mindbook that is composed of their pages of mind metaphors. Include as many as you like. Each page represents a different situation and has an illustrated metaphor for the way their mind works when engaged in each different type of activity.


Ask students to share their metaphors frequently so they can develop an appreciation for the similarities and differences in the ways they think, and the similarities and differences among their classmates. Invite them to discuss their favorite ways of thinking.

Other group or class questions might include:

• What is it about a _________ that is like your mind when you are _________ing?

• Does it all happen at once?

• Does one thing have to happen before another?

• Does it always happen the same way?

• When is it different?

Avoid questions beginning with "how" and "why". They seem to feel bigger and scarier to students than "what", "which" and "when" questions. You'll find may "how" and "why" questions can actually be reworded to begin with "what", "which" and "when".


Sheppard, S., & Kanevsky, L. (1999). Nurturing gifted students' metacognitive awareness:

Effects of training in homogeneous and heterogeneous classes.

Roeper Review, 21