Fostering Critical Thinking Developed by Edward de Bono Called Parallel Thinking

In this journal, I will introduce an approach to fostering critical thinking developed by Edward de Bono called parallel thinking. The most famous version of his approach is the Six Thinking Hats method. The Six Hats approach is one of the most highly thought of approaches to critical thinking, for its emphasis on raising awareness of multiple points of view and considering context in order to deepen and broaden thinking, a defining feature of many critical thinking theories (Halx and Reybold, 2006).

The Six Thinking Hats represent six distinct cognitive modes that guide learners individually, or in groups, to systematically unpack the dimensions of a knotty or messy problem, consider solutions, and monitor the individual thinking moves along the way. Students often get stuck on how to begin the process of analyzing a problem, and Hats gives our novice thinkers, and us, their mentors, a gateway into creatively considering problems and a set of milestones for thinking them through.

In de Bono’s thinking hat metaphor, the hats are colored Black, Blue, Green, Red, White, and Yellow; each hat “represents a different logical and philosophical approach to thinking about a problem and trying to solve it.

” (Kivunja, 2015, p. 382). The hats essentially become a “framework for the training of thinking” (Nuhfer, 2015) that breaks down into manageable chunks the intellectual tasks of investigating unfamiliar problems by allowing a questioner to “wear,” in turn, different “colors,” or dispositions, as a thinker. This strategy guides learners to tease out various components and aspects of a problem or an issue one step at a time and discover what can be gleaned from assuming different points of view, and from one’s own deliberative, cognitive processes, regarding the issue at hand.

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The White Hat is the information hat. When wearing this hat, the thinker is identifying information needed, facts to be considered, and data to be gathered. White Hat questions might include: What are the relevant facts? What information do we have? What information is still needed? What does our data tell us?

The Yellow Hat symbolizes possibility, positivity, and optimism. Yellow Hat questions might include: What are the benefits? Where are the opportunities for positive outcomes? What do we see “on the bright side” of this situation?

The Black Hat offers us the skepticism and judgment. With this hat, we take a cautionary stance and consider risks and weaknesses as a devil’s advocate. Black Hat questions might include: What are the difficulties? Where are the downsides? What might go wrong?

The Red Hat is the feelings hat that brings in emotions and intuition. Red Hat questions might include: What do we like about this, and why? What do we dislike, and why? How can our gut reaction inform our thinking? The Green Hat perspective centers upon creativity, new ideas, and out‐of‐the‐box thinking. Green Hat questions might include: What are some creative possibilities? What are alternatives we haven’t considered? How can brainstorming help us here?

The Blue Hat is the metacognitive perspective that help us manage the entire Six Thinking Hats thinking process. Blue Hat questions might include: What is our first step? How well are we following the Six Hats process and what are we learning? What are the stumbling blocks we are encountering as we go? What are we learning about this process and this topic? (”Six Thinking Hats,” n.d.).

The following exercises, which emphasize role‐play with the Six Hats, can be adopted by instructors who wish to foster the parallel thinking process at the heart of the Six Thinking Hats:

Six Thinking Hats: Group Discussion

Provide students with a handout outlining the Six Hats with questions that prompt thinking in each domain. Arrange the students in a large circle and alternate tossing into the center a hat that corresponds to one of the six colors. Students, as a group, discuss the problems or issue at hand in the mode of that hat, using—and building upon—the questions provided. This process continues until the group has had a chance to discuss the topic with each of the six hats as they are periodically tossed into the center. A recorder at the white board or flip chart captures the contributions of the role‐playing. After the role‐play, provide a follow‐up such as a reflective assignment in which you ask students to write about what they learned in the discussion and then share their insights in a subsequent group discussion; you may wish to have them use one or more of the colored hats to frame their comments and analyses (Nuhfer, 2015).

Six Thinking Hats: Problem Analysis

Give, or let students select, a “real world” problem to think through using the hats—this could be an issue from the day’s headlines, a student‐centric problem they identify in their own institution, or a personal problem each individual identifies for analysis. Working individually, or in small groups, have students systematically address the problem using the thinking of each of the hats and capture their responses in writing. Encourage learners to use the Blue Hat as an ongoing metacognitive monitor, ensuring enough time and effort is given to each step, noticing which hats illuminate any of the others, and noting which steps challenge them or energize them in the process. Afterwards, have students reflect with peers on their experiences, employing individual or group presentations, and share new ideas or awareness they gleaned about the problem and the process (Embree, 2008).

We believe de Bono’s Hats are a useful heuristic for instructors looking for a compelling, straightforward method for helping students think critically and expansively about both new and familiar problems. The Hats facilitate deep and sustained thinking through a deliberate, structured, yet open‐ended “switch in thinking” methodology (de Bono, 1999, p. 14). Opening themselves up to viewing a problem through multiple lenses, and being fair‐mindedly responsive to the results of creatively investigating a problem with others’ contributions at play, can give our students new pathways in their journey toward being thoughtful critical thinkers and flexible problem solvers.


  1. Move ‘References’ block
  2. Payette, P. & Barnes, B. 2017, ‘Teaching for Critical Thinking: Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats’, The National Teaching & Learning Forum, vol. 26, no. 3, pp. 8-10.

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Fostering Critical Thinking Developed by Edward de Bono Called Parallel Thinking. (2021, Feb 10). Retrieved from

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