• Chris

A user's guide to hexagonal thinking

Welcome to the hexagonal thinking user guide. You are here because you want to exploit the amazing six sidedness of the Universe’s greatest polygon; the hexagon. This user guide will share three strategies for using this shape as a basis to build powerful hex concept maps, create project curriculum hives and as a literacy tool to support deeper reading of texts.

So let’s hex…

Concept maps

In its simplest form, the hexagon is a special shape because it invites us to tessellate and find multiple connections. Using pre-cut, blank hexagons, we can create complex concept maps, starting with a single idea or set of ideas and adding new hexagons with related ideas. Because they are pre-cut, it is possible to move the hexagons around on the page to show different inter-relations (don’t forget to take photographs at each stage before moving the hexagons). When you have finished your thinking, it is a useful and powerful step to stick the hexagons down and draw lines or use edge colours to show interconnections and jotting down the connections on the map.

To the left we have an example of a group of school leaders exploring the impact of their goal to develop a more stimulating learning environment. They started off with a key question and mapped from there. The ability to dynamically change the map led to a number of iterations before this one, each revealing new information.

A hex concept map can be turned to any topic. If for example, you wanted to look at an organisational challenge like building effective teams in your school, you could work in small teams starting with one hexagon which simply says “effective teams”, your group might then create a cluster of hexagons around characteristics, selection of teams, time given to teams, organisational structures which support or restrict effective teams. The table is your canvas and the hexagons your paint! The way the hexagons are placed, connected, displaced and reconnected is a real reflection of your developing thinking.

In a curriculum context, putting hexagons into the hands of learners allows them to build deeper connections and makes conceptual understanding visible. The ability to break a concept down to its component ideas and then visualise the connections made by learners on a hex map is an incredibly powerful source of formative assessment evidence. When coupled with the SOLO Taxonomy, we have a language of learning growth and a tool to make that growth visible. To the right is a very early example from 2010 of my Y12 students tackling the interconnections of different elements of French grammar.

Project Hives

Some of the most creative work coming out of Unstuck Learning Design workshops is the building of project hives. A project hive is a way to take the elements of the designed curriculum and to explore the interactions and connections of the elements of that designed curriculum to ensure that the enacted curriculum is rich, broad and deep.

This is also a powerful way to design transdisciplinary projects. In my work with David Price, we have explored the idea of STEM (or STEAM or even SHTËAM) and Social Innovation. Using an adapted, science and maths focussed, version of the Design Thinking process, we have explored how we can connect the sustainable development goals, general capabilities, curriculum content and real world learning into a meaningful student project. Working with teachers we have explored building STEM & Social Innovation projects by providing them with pre-populated Curriculum Content Descriptor hexagons as well as blank hexagons for additional ideas. As each curriculum area has a different colour, we are able to see how transdisciplinary each project is at a glance.

Deep reading

Since working on the “Thinking Through Modern Languages” resource book with the inimitable Professor David Leat in 2001, I have been fascinated by the idea of “reading mysteries”. Essentially, a central question is posed with lots of information which may (or may not) be helpful to answering the question supplied on cards (hexagonal cards for me!). Learners read the information and reorganise the cards to visually represent their thinking. In 2018, I am still using the same strategy, but this time using Google Slides and Drawings to create digital versions of this strategy.

The fact that the text is broken down into smaller chunks allows learners to focus their understanding on small pieces of text initially whilst trying to build connections and infer meaning by moving the hexagons.

The example below is a reading comprehension (originally in French) related to the theme of immigration and the film “Welcome”. Click on the image to access the resource.

Here is an example of a completed activity -


Hexagons are the best thinking shape and can be used as a flexible tool to make the complex clear and to surface hidden connections.

If you would like to know more or have a facilitated hexagonal thinking session, feel free to reach out to



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