George Lucas Educational Foundation
Critical Thinking

3 Ways to Teach Logic Without Coding

Teachers can use puzzles and sustained inquiry—and even simple Venn diagrams—to strengthen students’ logical thinking skills.

September 7, 2021
Pile of jigsaw puzzle pieces
Larisa Sviridova / iStock

I live in the Seattle area, a location notorious for the number of technology companies. And working in technology in education, I am constantly surrounded by software engineers, app developers, and computer scientists. Throughout my time here, I’ve found thatfor somelogic is often thought of in the realm of coding and technology. While I think that is true and has merit, I also firmly believe that there are ways to teach logic that do not necessarily have to relate to coding and technology.

After all, not all students want to go on to be software engineers, app developers, and computer scientists, and that’s OK! Logic exists in the humanities, arts, sciences, and mathematics too. And as educators, we have a unique opportunityand responsibilityto teach middle and high school students logic and how logic works inside our classrooms and beyond.

As a STEM coach, I am constantly on the lookout for ways to teach logic in class. Through trial, error, and cycles of student and educator feedback, I’ve been able to find some concepts that stick. Here are three ways to teach logic without coding.

1. Incorporate Puzzles and Board Games Into Your Classroom

From traditional physical puzzles to trivia to crosswords to strategy activities, puzzles and board games are known for introducing logic and problem-solving to children, so why not bring them into the classroom so that we can do this with our students? To begin to incorporate them into your curriculum, start with seeing which standards or concepts you’d like your students to learn about, and then craft puzzle activities that incorporate them. These can be individual, in small groups, or as a whole class.

For example, when I taught high school mathematics, I introduced puzzles through the use of a “math escape room.” I first did this with an introductory unit on number sense and algebraic knowledge. In groups of four to six, students had a set of clues and mathematical problems that they needed to solve that ranged from decoding sentences to analyzing pictures. The catch, however, was that they could advance to the next set of clues only if they solved the first set. This was an engaging way for them to recall prior information on the content topics and learn new facts along the way.

Additionally, one of my favorite moments as a K–12 learner was when my high school German class had a weeklong game of Monopoly in the German language. It was such a neat way to get my brain to think in the language and collaborate with my classmates.

2. Have Open-Ended Discussions That Encourage Critical Thinking

In the same way that we often clarify our thoughts to friends, family, and colleagues, our students should get into the habit of practicing putting things in their own words and explaining their thinking. One way to do this is through the process of sustained inquiry.

I do this in the classroom by starting with a guiding question for the unit (e.g., “How does recycling impact our community?”) and asking students to reflect on it weekly, either in a Microsoft Word document or in a notebook. They keep a log of their responses, and over the course of time, students can go back and see how their thinking has evolved. I often ask for an end-of-unit reflection from my students, which usually includes the following questions:

  • What did you learn that you thought you would not have learned? 
  • What do you want to learn more about, and how can I support you in finding out more about that topic?
  • How can I help you to be successful in the next unit?

When students see their progress in their sustained inquiry logs, they can use them to help write their end-of-unit reflections.

3. Use Venn Diagrams for Lesson Openers

Graphic organizers can provide a great visual aid for students as they go through the process of learning how to apply logic. I am a fan of Venn diagrams, which are traditionally used to help students compare and contrast two different concepts (e.g., “What are similarities and differences between daytime and nighttime?”).

I’ve used Venn diagrams with students as lesson starters for much broader guiding questions (e.g., “How can we use art to show who we are as a school community?”), but with a twist—I do not tell the students what is supposed to be on the Venn diagram.

In partners or individually, encourage them to come to their own conclusions on different types of comparisons that can be made from the guiding question. After around 10 minutes of deliberation and work time, we gather together as a class to see the various perspectives and viewpoints that the students came up with, and we use these as starting points for activities, lessons, and projects.

In my role as a coach, I have found that these three methods are useful across disciplines and can be modified or adjusted for students requiring additional support. The key is to still keep the activities content specific yet broad enough so that students can answer in a variety of ways and work alongside their classmates to problem-solve.

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