Get Your Thinking Caps On: Using Edward De Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats in Formative Peer Assessment & Feedback

Increasingly, management students are required to demonstrate their critical thinking and problem-solving skills upon entering the workforce. This prompts us as educators to ask how can students be taught to think critically, and what kinds of exercises we can build in to teaching and learning, to ensure critical thinking and problem-solving are practised. As such, I decided to incorporate peer assessment as learning into my courses as it promotes active critical thinking and problem-solving via collaborative assessment and exchange of feedback amongst peers. Furthermore, I wanted to bring an extra dimension to peer assessment and to identify a way in which to facilitate more in-depth critical analysis, so I turned to the use of Edward De Bono’s 6 thinking hats; a heuristic based on separating different reasoning modes.

How does De Bono’s 6 thinking hat technique work? Using the metaphor of wearing different coloured hats, De Bono designed a very simple model but one which when applied correctly can augment critical thinking and assessment. In explaining the technique’s philosophical underpinnings, De Bono declared that “when we attempt practical thinking, there are three fundamental difficulties that we encounter”, which he identifies as emotions, helplessness and confusion. Given that students are likely to encounter all of these elements during a peer assessment task, I chose to implement this technique in an attempt to alleviate some of these feelings whilst undertaking the task.

What do the six coloured hats stand for? The blue hat considers thinking as a whole. It can be used to manage the overall evaluation process of the peer assessment and to enforce the guidelines for each hat, or it can be used as a tool for each individual to evaluate the feedback received from each ‘hat’. The red hat introduces emotions and feelings, and the person wearing this hat states their hunches or instinct about the piece of work. The white hat primarily looks at data and facts, and considers what information is present and how it could be improved and what further information is needed. The black hat represents caution and looks at potential flaws or issues with the piece of work. The green hat represents creativity, offering creative solutions and alternatives to the advice suggested by the black hat, thus offering up feedforward. The yellow hat represents optimism, and the wearer looks for positives in students’ work. Thus, white, red and yellow speak particularly to feedback elements of the assessment, whereas black, green and blue speak to feedforward elements of the assessment.

To conduct the exercise, I divide the class into groups of six and provide each group with the hats (these are available on Amazon). I also provide a rubric and a grading sheet and access to the assessments for grading. Students choose which hat perspective they want to adopt and wear the corresponding hat. They then work in groups to a set time with each group member reviewing the assessment from their mode of thinking only and writing notes from their specific mode of thinking on a corresponding piece of coloured card. After a period of individual assessment, students should have a group discussion with each student relaying what he/she has written on their card. The blue hat collates all thoughts and once a consensus is agreed to fill out the grading sheet with written feedback and feedforward from each hat perspective.

After the exercise is complete, I explain to students that this exercise gives them a new way of thinking about not only the piece of work they are grading, but also about their own future assessed work. I prompt the class to think in future when conducting a piece of work, ‘what might the blue hat say about my work?’ or ‘if I put on the black hat now, what would be some of the issues to consider?’

As we continue to look to innovate in business schools and to find challenging, fun and appealing ways to engage our learners all the while achieving and assessing specific learning outcomes, this task certainly helps to tick all of those boxes!


Dr. Lucy Gill-Simmen, Lecturer in Marketing, Royal Holloway, University of London.

If you would like to discuss this technique in more detail or to hear about other innovations in teaching the author is currently adopting, do not hesitate to get in touch at