Teaching Students to Rank

To introduce students to ranking and critical thinking, they must understand there is no correct 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 understand that there could be more than one interpretation. Knowing that Rank & Reason is more about justifying thinking than getting the correct answer will help them look deeper.

For example: Which is the most important part of a plant? This question requires students to define what "important" means. Important to whom? If they decide it means "important for the plant," what does important mean? Does it mean life-giving?

2. Define the Criteria


Once students understand the question, they will need to develop criteria or a more specific question that they can use to judge each plant part.

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 of the plant be damaged and the plant remains alive? The criteria might be the length of time the plant can continue to live.

Defining the criteria may be completed as a class, or you may encourage groups or individuals to come up with these.

3. Assess Each Item Against the Criteria


Students can begin the ranking process by ordering the items using their criteria. Consider turning 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 their justifications, citing evidence where possible and referring to their criteria. You might also need to explain the concept of citing evidence. Can they give examples to demonstrate their point? Can they refer back to the criteria? Students 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 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


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

When there are significant discrepancies between rankings, encourage students to discuss these. It would be best to remind them that there is no correct answer and that it is acceptable for another justification to "move their thinking" and inspire changes.

End with a class discussion of the rankings, the class average, trends, differences, similarities, and areas of solid agreement. Reflecting on the ranking process will improve students' effort and understanding the next time.


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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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