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Connect, Extend, Challenge

Here is a step-by-step guide to help you implement Connect, Extend, Challenge in your classroom.

Implementing a thinking routine like Connect-Extend-Challenge in your classroom can significantly enhance the learning experience for your students. This approach addresses a common issue in education where students passively receive information without actively engaging with it. Simply listening or reading isn't enough to foster true understanding. Connect-Extend-Challenge encourages active processing of new information by guiding students to connect it with their existing knowledge, identify ways in which new ideas extend their thinking, and challenge them to explore uncharted territories of thought. By employing this routine, you provide your students with a structured framework that helps them interlink ideas and recognize the value of unresolved questions for further exploration.

In many classrooms, students often encounter fragmented pieces of information that can lead to a disconnected understanding of important concepts. Connect-Extend-Challenge acts as a cognitive glue, helping students weave together ideas into a coherent tapestry. As they connect new information to their prior knowledge, they cultivate a deeper understanding of the subject matter. This routine prompts them to reflect on how their thinking evolves and expands as they engage with new learning experiences. By focusing on both connections and extensions, you send a powerful message that learning is an evolving process, and ideas are fluid entities that can continuously grow.

Furthermore, Connect-Extend-Challenge encourages students to confront challenges and puzzles within a topic. This critical aspect of the routine pushes students to articulate and address complex questions, fostering a deeper awareness of the underlying principles. By acknowledging and expressing these intellectual puzzles, students develop a heightened sensitivity to essential ideas necessary for profound comprehension. This thinking routine not only aids in building a holistic understanding of the subject matter but also nurtures a sense of curiosity and inquiry, qualities crucial for lifelong learning.

Incorporating Connect-Extend-Challenge in your classroom provides a dynamic platform for students to actively process information, establish meaningful connections between ideas, and engage in purposeful critical thinking. By guiding them through the process of connecting, extending, and challenging their own thinking, you empower them to become more independent, curious, and thoughtful learners. This thinking routine transforms learning from a passive activity into an active exploration, fostering a genuine passion for knowledge and a deeper grasp of the subjects you teach.

Planning the process

When planning and preparing to implement the Connect-Extend-Challenge in a classroom, here are three important steps that a teacher must consider. Engaging in these thought processes while planning your lesson using the Connect-Extend-Challenge routine will help you create a dynamic and enriching learning experience for your students.

Step 1

Identifying connections and prior knowledge

As you plan a lesson using Connect-Extend-Challenge, the first mental exercise you must engage in involves identifying connections between the content you're teaching and what your students have previously learned. This step encourages you to delve into your students' prior knowledge and experiences. Ask yourself: "Are there connections to be made between this content and what the class has previously studied or already knows?" This helps students build on existing mental frameworks and facilitates the assimilation of new information. Begin by mapping out the existing knowledge your students possess. Create a list of concepts, topics, or skills they have encountered before that relate to the current content. As you do this, think about how these connections can serve as a foundation for the new material you're introducing. This process sets the stage for meaningful learning experiences by integrating the old with the new.

Step 2

Extending learning beyond existing knowledge

The second mental exercise you must undertake while planning for Connect-Extend-Challenge centres on extending the students' learning beyond their current understanding. Reflect on whether the new information you're presenting provides opportunities for students to extend their thinking, knowledge, or skills. Consider how the content can broaden their perspectives or deepen their understanding. Envision potential scenarios where students can apply the newly acquired information. This step involves asking yourself: "Was new information presented that students can identify?" This encourages you to challenge students to go beyond surface-level comprehension and engage with the material in a more profound way. Envision scenarios where the newly introduced information can be applied or extended. Consider real-world situations or hypothetical scenarios that showcase the practical implications of the content. This mental exercise will not only help you design engaging activities but also challenge students to explore the material's potential beyond the classroom setting.

Step 3

Identifying puzzles and challenges

The third thought process while planning for Connect-Extend-Challenge involves identifying puzzles and challenges inherent in the content. Analyse the material to determine if there are aspects that might confuse or intrigue students. These puzzles and challenges provide opportunities for critical thinking and problem-solving. Think about questions that may arise in students' minds as they encounter the content. Consider how these questions can stimulate their curiosity and encourage them to explore further. This step encourages you to ask: "Were puzzles and challenges raised from this information?" By addressing these puzzles, you prompt students to think actively and engage deeply with the subject matter. Put yourself in the shoes of your students and try to identify potential points of confusion or questions that might arise. This will guide you in crafting prompts or discussion points that address these challenges head-on. By addressing uncertainties, you encourage a proactive approach to learning, where students actively seek solutions and deeper understanding.

Performing the process

You can conduct the Connect-Extend-Challenge over the course of two to three class periods, approximately 35 to 45 minutes each.

Step 1

Set Up

At the outset of this classroom activity, it's essential to establish the purpose and framework of the Connect-Extend-Challenge approach. Address your students and explain that this strategy will help them connect new information to their existing knowledge, extend their thinking into new and unexpected directions, and face any challenges or questions that arise as a result of the learning experience. This sets a clear intention for the activity, encouraging students to engage with curiosity and openness. Stress the importance of active participation and the value of thinking critically about the information they'll encounter.

Step 2


After students have engaged with the learning material, it's time to guide them through the process of making connections. Ask them to pause and reflect individually on how the newly acquired information relates to what they already knew or thought about. This step encourages students to delve into their mental archives, extracting relevant ideas and concepts that are associated with the topic at hand. Prompt them with questions like, "How do the ideas you just encountered connect with what you already knew or thought about?" This individual reflection is crucial, as it encourages students to draw from their own knowledge and lay the groundwork for deeper analysis.

Step 3


Once connections have been established, the focus shifts to extending and expanding students' thinking. Here, students are prompted to consider how their thoughts have evolved and broadened due to the new learning experience. Encourage them to think beyond the surface level and explore how the new information has led their thinking in new or deeper directions. This step promotes critical thinking and encourages students to recognize the multidimensional aspects of the subject matter. Use questions such as, "How has your thinking been extended in new or deeper directions?" This prompts students to articulate their growth and understanding in response to the material.

Step 4


With the foundation of connections and extensions laid, it's time to confront any challenges or puzzles that have arisen from the learning experience. Encourage students to identify questions or issues that have piqued their curiosity or caused them to think critically about the material. This step fosters an atmosphere of inquiry and encourages students to actively engage with the subject matter. Pose questions like, "What challenges or puzzles are on your mind after encountering these new ideas?" This empowers students to acknowledge the complexity of the topic and encourages them to seek answers and deeper understanding.

Step 5

Share the thinking

Moving into collaborative mode, it's time for students to share their individual insights and reflections with peers. This step encourages active dialogue and allows students to learn from each other's perspectives. By sharing their connections, extensions, and challenges in small groups or with partners, students engage in a meaningful exchange of ideas. It's important to guide them to provide reasons or explanations behind their choices, fostering a deeper understanding of the thought process. Dividing the discussion into three parts—connections, extensions, and challenges—ensures that each aspect of the Connect-Extend-Challenge process receives due attention.

Step 6

Making connections visible

To solidify the learning experience and make collective insights tangible, documenting the class's connections, extensions, and challenges is crucial. This step allows students to witness the collective wisdom of the group and emphasises the value of collaborative learning. By displaying these insights on chart paper or a shared platform, you're creating a visual representation of the knowledge that has been generated. This documentation serves as a powerful model for future learning and encourages students to engage in robust connection making and critical thinking.

Step 7

Reflect and evaluate

Finally, take a moment to reflect on the entire process. Engage the class in a discussion about their experience with the Connect-Extend-Challenge method. Encourage them to share their observations, insights, and newfound understandings. Ask questions such as, "Did you recognize connections between ideas?" and "Did you consider broader implications of these ideas?" This reflection step encourages metacognition and helps students become aware of how their thinking has evolved. It also provides an opportunity for you as the teacher to gauge the effectiveness of the activity and gather feedback for future iterations.

Improving the process

Understand that Connect-Extend-Challenge might take time for your students to fully grasp and internalise. The language and concepts involved may be new to them, so it's essential to introduce the routine gradually and provide clear explanations. Be patient and offer opportunities for practice until students become comfortable with identifying meaningful connections, rich extensions, and worthwhile challenges. Recognize the importance of providing explicit models and examples that illustrate what constitutes a meaningful connection, a rich extension, and a worthwhile challenge. By demonstrating these concepts yourself and showcasing diverse examples, you offer students a concrete framework for their own responses.

Adapt your approach based on the dynamics of your classroom. Depending on the situation, you can encourage students to share their connections and extensions individually, in small groups, or as a whole class. Probe their reasoning and encourage thoughtful discussions, fostering a deeper understanding of the topic. For example, you might facilitate a joint discussion where students voice their connections and extensions together, while you guide the conversation by asking probing questions.

Strike a balance between challenging your students and providing the necessary support. While the "Challenge" aspect of the routine encourages students to grapple with complex ideas, remember that your role isn't to solve every challenge presented. Instead, use these challenges as opportunities to deepen their sense-making and critical thinking. Let students engage with the puzzles and complexities of the topic, fostering a sense of inquiry and exploration.

As your students become more familiar with the routine and gain confidence in their ability to make connections, extend their understanding, and tackle challenges, you can guide them toward organising their notes under the headings of "Connections," "Extensions," and "Challenges." Remember that the ultimate goal is to empower your students to think critically, engage deeply with the subject matter, and develop a more comprehensive understanding over time.


This modified version of Connect-Extend-Challenge, inspired by Project Zero's Thinking Routines Toolbox, is the result of our application of it within Indian classrooms. We want to express our gratitude to the researchers responsible for developing Project Zero's Thinking Routines Toolbox and making it available for the global teaching community.

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