An Introduction to Ryan's Thinkers Keys
Tony Ryan is an Australian professional speaker, author and publisher. He is the manager of two training and publishing companies, HeadFirst and Thinkers Keys. He is a worldwide educational consultant about innovative thinking and life-long learning.
tony ryan
tony ryan

Where it all began: Tony Ryan
“When I initially designed the Thinker’s Keys, the impetus for my ideas came directly from two marvellous books on the teaching of thinking. The first of these was ‘The Thinker’s Toolbox’ (Thornburg and Thornburg, 1989) in which 16 different teaching strategies, known as Thinker’s Tools, were outlined for classroom use. It is these Thinker’s Tools that led directly to the concept of the Thinker’s Keys. The second stimulus for my thinking came from the brilliant ‘Adventures in Thinking’ (Joan Dalton, 1986). Among the many excellent features of this book was a section known as ‘The Festival of Practical Ideas’, in which the author presented a huge range of innovative activities arranged in a thematic format. To me, it appeared quite obvious that the new Thinker’s Keys should be linked with the thematic approach to teaching, as outlined in ‘Adventures in Thinking’. The majority of the Keys place emphasis upon the development of innovative and creative thinking. I have done this for three important reasons:hello

1. Creative thinking can be exciting and enjoyable. This active participation can then
create a positive attitude towards the learning process.

2. The stimulation of creativity in learning heightens the emotional link with that
learning. This emotional involvement boosts the effectiveness of our memory

3. Developing our creative potential will strengthen our ability to cope with change.
If there is one thing that we can guarantee into the 21st century, it will be the
exponential rate of change that will affect the world. When our thinking is open ended
and accepting of new ideas, we become much more capable of adapting to
these changing circumstances.”
(Ryan, T. 1990, p. 2)

Thinking is an essential skill that every person has, the only difference is how each person uses it. A student’s thinking will determine what learning is deeply absorbed and what learning is not. The main point is the quality of thinking that happens at any one time. The Thinkers Keys have been developed to increase the depth of a students thinking in everyday learning. Although thinking can be explicitly taught, these Thinkers Keys will still require direct instruction. It is very important that the teaching around the Thinkers Keys occurs in the context of the learning, for students to gain the most out of them.

Quick Facts
· The thinker's keys are a range of question starters developed by Tony Ryan, which he first introduced in the 1980s.

· The 20 Thinkers keys are a set of twenty different activities designed to engage and motivate learners in a range of thinking tasks to broaden and deepen their thinking.

· They are an effective tool to introduce different ways of higher-order thinking to students.

· Thinkers Keys can be easily included in contract activities, homework tasks, journal writing activities, extension tasks and as part of a Bloom's and Multiple Intelligence approach to teaching and learning.

· They are designed to engage and motivate students in divergent thinking activities and provide a framework for teachers when developing units of work.

· The Thinkers Keys are a range of question or task starters are presented as keys to unlocking the analytical, critical and creative thinking abilities of learners.

The Thinkers Keys are twenty powerful strategies for generating intellectual thoroughness in everyday learning in all settings and have been organised into two general groups:
  1. Critical / Organisational (the purple cards). When you need to get yourself organised, these are the cards for you. They encourage you to do your research, to evaluate your information, and to place any necessary tasks into action.

  1. Creative (the Orange Cards). When you want to generate all-new ideas, or to develop some different perspectives on an issue, then these Cards will help you to do so. They challenge you to think very differently.

How to use each of the Thinker's keys in relation to a given topic:
1. The Reverse- Challenges Children to think of the never, cannot
2. The What If- A what if question, come up with solutions
3. The Disadvantages- List disadvantages and Improvements
4. The Combination- List attributes of both, then combine
5. The Alphabet- Come up with something for each letter of the Alphabet
6. The B A R- Bigger, Add, Replace acronym. Come up with a solution for each
7. The Variations- How many ways can you…
8. The Picture- Draw a picture/diagram
9. The Prediction- Make a prediction
10. The Different Uses- Find 10 different uses for…
11. The Ridiculous- Try to justify a ridiculous statement
12. The Commonality- Find common points between…
13. The Question- Come up with 5 questions for…
14. The Brainstorming- Brainstorm solutions for…
15. The Inventions- Design a …
16. The Brick Wall- Consider alternatives to…
17. The Construction- Construct a… Materials…
18. The Forced Relationships- Come up with a solution to a problem involving two dissimilar objects
19. The Alternative- Work out 3 ways to…
20. The Interpretations- Give 3 possible explanations for…

A great resource that includes templates and a range of examples of the Keys in use can be found online at