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Teaching Diagnosis to Make Your Students Better Thinkers

Teaching Diagnosis to Make Your Students Better Thinkers

Cognitive processes describe how we think and solve problems. They are specific types of metacognition at which students can improve to make their lives better. The cognitive processes are broken down into three categories: conscious processes, analytic processes, and social processes.


Diagnosis is the first of the analytic processes. Diagnosis is asking why something happens. Doctors diagnose an illness by asking why a patient is having specific symptoms. A car mechanic diagnoses engine trouble by asking why a car won't start. Every career requires individuals to perform diagnoses, so we should be teaching our students how to do it.

Given that diagnosis is asking why we can incorporate it into any lesson. For example, students can diagnose the cause of the departure of pioneers along the Oregon Trail. They can diagnose why the pioneers used wagons to travel along the trail.


In science, students can diagnose the reason we need to breathe. They can diagnose why giraffes have long necks. The opportunities for teaching diagnosis are endless.

Diagnosing the cause of an event, problem, or outcome is like being a detective. You may choose to use this analogy with your younger students. You can even put together a detective outfit for introducing diagnosis to your students. Bringing creative touches into the classroom will keep your students having fun while they learn.


Like metacognition we teach when reading, most of us are continually diagnosing the events in our life without thinking about it. We have done it so much that it has become automatic. Diagnosis is not automatic for our students, so we need to teach them how to do it step by step.

Step One: Ask your "why" question. For example, why did pioneers travel on the Oregon Trail?


Step Two: List what you already know. For example, a student may know about the Louisiana Purchase. They may also know about limited or expensive farmland in the east and midwest in the 1800s. Immigration during the time may also be a factor. Finally, they know about their own lives. Why has their own family moved or not moved?

Step Three: Make a prediction. If you have watched any medical drama, you know the doctor's first diagnosis is never right. Have students overcome the fear of being wrong and guess. For example, a student might predict that people traveled on the Oregon Trail because they wanted to buy cheap land to farm.


Step Four: Check your prediction by gathering more information. Doctors get more information by doing blood tests. Mechanics get more information by running diagnostics on a car. Now that your student has a prediction, they can research to see if they were right. For example, students can read a chapter in a textbook or look at a webpage. Of course, they could have done this work before making their predictions, but that won't help them improve at diagnosis.

Step Five: Revise your prediction based on what you have learned. Students may find their predictions were completely wrong, or most likely, partially correct. All students can revise their predictions to be more accurate.


Step Six: Gather more information to check the new prediction. Steps five and six are endlessly repeated in the real world. Historians are always trying to update what we know about the past using further information. Of course, you don't want your students spending the entire year researching one question, so you will decide together when they have adequately diagnosed the situation.

Hopefully, you found this article on diagnosis helpful, and you have some specific ideas on how you can use it in your classroom.

To help you out, I made an anchor chart template on diagnosis. You can get it by filling out the form below. By downloading the anchor chart, you are also signing up for my weekly newsletter on teaching. It is full of helpful ideas and freebies. Of course, you can unsubscribe at any time.

Have a great week!


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