Teaching Students to Rank

To introduce students to ranking and critical thinking, it is important that they understand that there is no right answer.  If students are struggling to understand how to complete the ranking, try the following steps:

1. Define the Question and Any Terms


Students need to understand what the question means and should understand that there could be more than one possible interpretation. This is a very important discussion.

For example: What is the most important part of a plant? Requires students to define what ‘important’ means. Important to whom? If they decide it means important for the plant, then what does important mean? Does it mean life-giving?

2. Define the Criteria


Once students understand what the question means, they will need to come up with a list of criteria or a more specific question that they will judge against.

For example, in the question above, if important means life-giving, what are the criteria for judging this? Would the plant die without this? How long would the plant be able to function without this part? Can the part be damaged and the plant still live? The criteria might be the length of time the plant can continue to live.

This may be completed as a class or you may allow groups or individuals to come up with these.

3. Assess Each Item Against the Criteria


This is where students can begin the ranking process by ordering the items using their criteria. You may turn off the ability to compare rankings until all students have submitted their rankings.

4. Provide Justifications


Once students have ranked the items, they should add in their justifications, citing evidence where possible and referring to their criteria. You might need to also explain the concept of citing evidence. Can they give examples to demonstrate their point? Can they refer back to the criteria? They may continue to move their rankings as they do this.

You may require students to give justifications for every item or only a selection (e.g. the top four or the top two and bottom two) or you could differentiate with how many are required.

The process of giving justifications can be scaffolded and appropriate sentence starters provided. Examples of sentence starters are provided with the Rank & Reason Strategies for English Learners (EL) resource.

5. Compare Rankings


Allow students to compare their rankings to others or to the class average and encourage them to read and discuss other justifications.

Where there are large discrepancies between rankings, encourage students to discuss these. You should remind them that there is no right answer and that it is acceptable for another justification to ‘move their thinking’ so that they change one of their own rankings.

You might end with a class discussion of the rankings, the class average and the ranking process that they went through.



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    Alexis Johnson-jimenez

    I love the way that this is structured. Typically, we seem to only teach Ranking, but adding the reasoning to this in a manner that holds students accountable is a fantastic way to empower them through the use of evidence based justifications! Thank you!

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