Group Work / Speaking

6 Hats for Thinking: Edward de Bono


This year I have noticed that my adult students have developed a whole bunch of reasons for learning English. Some are doing exams and want lots of explicit exam practice. Others want to improve their prospects for employment and some just like the social aspect of coming to class. Imagine these different needs and expectations in one group!

So I have found myself researching strategies that are used by innovative businesses like Google. I bought a book called Gamestorming which has been great. It looks at how to use brainstorming in fun ways. There are loads of ideas that can be easily adapted for your lessons. You don’t need to buy the book. You can have a look at their website: Gamestorming

If you click on the drop-down menu on the right-hand side of their page, you will find a variety of games that can be used in class.

I love their ideas because it adds a bit of variety to our lessons. In doing these activities we are often reviewing lexical items and developing speaking skills. At the same time, we are preparing ourselves to take the world of work by storm!

In future blogs, I will share my ideas of how I have used these games in class.

Our activity today however, comes from another source: Edward de Bono and his 6 Hats for Thinking.

This is a ‘co-operative exploration’ activity which uses ‘parallel thinking’. This involves looking at an issue from a range of perspectives to enable a much more insightful understanding. Participants are encouraged to work towards a solution at the same time as each other (parallel thinking) whilst adopting different approaches throughout. These approaches are symbolised by the use of 6 coloured hats.

The rules are that all members of the discussion are wearing the same coloured hats at the same time. Edward de Bono argues that this is essential for parallel thinking. You don’t need to have hats. You could have pictures of them, or you could make hats out of coloured paper and place these on their desks. If you do this activity with young learners, of course make hats!

Why hats? Hats can be put on or taken off easily. Therefore, it should be easy to change our way of thinking when working through a problem.

To set up the activity, I distribute some information about the hats and what their colours represent. I use a mind-map created by Paul Foreman. Click on this link to view the image:

Under his mind-map you will also find a link to a free PDF handout.

I take feedback of this and write it up on my whiteboard in the correct columns. See photo below:


Next I give my students a copy of a table with the hats in different columns. These columns are the order in which they must work through their discussion (see above). They have to work left to right, working on one column at a time. The numbers in red represent the minutes to spend on each column. You can adapt this.

To start, one student must be selected to be a blue hat wearer throughout. You can see here that I have put the blue hat at the end. On reflection, I think it is better to put it at the start and explain that the blue hat is about process control; the chairperson if you like. They are important at the start to establish the reason for their discussion. They must make sure that the group works through the hats and doesn’t spend too long on one particular hat. Finally at the end, they are responsible for summarising.

Now to the hats!

Blue Hat

1.) At the start the blue hat asks 2 important questions: What are we here for? What is the end goal? Your problem could be based on what you have studied in the textbooks. For example, social issues such as unemployment and housing, obesity, pollution etc.

2.) Throughout, the blue hat can be used to control the sequence of hats. Maybe some people are spending too long on black hat (negative) thinking, so they would need to move people on to the next hat.

Useful expressions for the blue hat thinker:

  • ‘We need some yellow hat thinking now’.
  • ‘Give me your red hat.’
  • ‘That’s great black hat thinking, now lets have some yellow hat on this.’
  • ‘What is the white hat here?’
  • ‘Some green hat, please.’

3.) At the end the blue hat is about providing a summary of agreed solutions.

White Hat

This hat is about facts. What do we know about the situation? This can be statistical, rumours or personal experience. You could provide your students with an information handout, they can use an extract from their books or they can do research before class.

Red Hat

This hat is about emotions, feelings and intuition. People can express these freely with this hat. They don’t need to give reasons or justifications for their feelings.

I do not like this at all…I think it is a complete waste of time…

Black Hat

This hat is about caution. The black hat is used to point out dangers, faults and problems.

The Yellow Hat

This hat is about looking for values, advantages, why something should work. For example: if you are looking at pollution, you might have cited transport and the production of exhaust fumes under black hat thinking. However, with this hat you can highlight the freedom for travel that transport has given us.

The Green Hat

This hat is about generating creative solutions. It asks for alternative solutions, ideas and possibilities.


I have used this activity with my young learners, intermediate and advanced students. The response has been mixed. Most learners have really enjoyed it and can see its value. However, some think it is a bit silly. They think this approach is better suited for finding a boyfriend or girlfriend not for solving important problems. I disagree and I always sell it as a method that is going to help them in the modern world of work.

I have tried using it myself at a staff meeting. I must say that although I thought it was an extremely valuable tool, it did leave me feeling very tired at the end. It is a challenge to follow the hats but maybe that´s because I´m a traditional black hat thinker stuck in my ways!

For examples of how the hats have been used, see the following links:

6 Hats for Thinking Images

Mind Tools

de Bono for Schools


de Bono, E. (2004) How to Have a Beautiful Mind: Random House Books



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