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Tasks Of Problem Solving Elementary
Ages: 6-11   Grades: 1-6

Help students with language disorders develop strong thinking skills and the ability to express their ideas clearly.  They'll manage better in the classroom too!


  • Use language to express reasoning
  • Identify problems, determine causes, infer, and justify opinions
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    The content of these activities are based on research for the Test of Problem Solving 3 Elementary (TOPS 3).  The units are arranged in order of complexity.  Each unit has instructor's guidelines and uses a metacognitive approach.  Individual lessons guide students through a logical progression of learning.  Students learn to problem-solve and use the vocabulary and language to support it.  A glossary of metacognitive terms is included.  The units are:

    General Information—Identify the salient information in a statement to answer questions.

    Identifying Problems—Observe surroundings and identify/express what is or is not a problem.

    Determining Causes—Think through situations and figure out how or why something happened.

    Sequencing—Organize objects and ideas quickly and logically.

    Negative Questions—Students notice and consider the negative marker in questions.

    Predicting—Make a logical guess about what will happen next in predictable and diverse situations.

    Making Inferences—Students think about what they know from past experiences and personal knowledge to form an inference.

    Problem Solving—Students work their way through logical steps to solving problems.  Specific skills include sequencing the problem, determining the cause of the problem, brainstorming solutions, choosing the best solution, and evaluation the outcome.

    Justifying Opinions—Express opinions and explain or justify them to others.

    Generalizing Skills—Answer a variety of thinking questions about photographs.


    Copyright © 2005


    190 pages, answer key, glossary
    • Reasoning skills encourage critical thinking and meta-awareness of internal thought processes.  Reasoning skills support students' logical judgments based on conscious reflection and sensitivity to multiple viewpoints (Little, 2002).
    • Reasoning and critical thinking are necessary skills for competence across the curriculum.  They require students to examine, relate, and analyze all aspects of a problem or situation.  Students engaged in critical thinking must make associations that connect problems with their prior knowledge (Pellegrini, 1995).
    • Questioning is the core of critical reflection.  It prompts students to engage in a research process that fosters higher-order thinking skills and social-moral attitudes (Daniel et al., 2005).  Using specific, metacognitive vocabulary while questioning and prompting students to solve problems encourages them to examine their thinking skills and strategies (Costa & Kallick, 2008).
    • Asking wh- questions is a common method of teaching. Difficulty answering wh- questions affects a child academically, linguistically, and socially (Parnell, Amerman, & Hartin, 1986).

    Tasks Of Problem Solving Elementary incorporates these principles and is also based on expert professional practice.


    Costa, L., & Kallick, B. (Eds.). (2008). Learning and leading with habits of mind: 16 essential characteristics for success. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

    Daniel, M.F., Lafortune, L., Pallascio, R., Splitter, L., Slade, C., & de la Garza, T. (2005). Modeling the development process of dialogical critical thinking in pupils aged 10 to 12 years. Communication Education, 54(4), 334-354.

    Little, C. (2002). Reasoning as a key component of language arts curricula. The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, 13(2), 52-59.

    Parnell, M.M., Amerman, J.D., & Hartin, R.D. (1986). Responses of language-disordered children to wh- questions. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 17, 95-106.

    Pellegrini, J. (1995). Developing thinking and reasoning skills in primary learners using detective fiction. Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute (Vol. 1). Retrieved May 1, 2009, from


    Linda Bowers, Rosemary Huisingh, Carolyn LoGiudice


    Linda Bowers, M.A., SLP, is a co-founder and co-owner of LinguiSystems.  She is a speech-language pathologist with wide experience serving language-disordered students of all ages.  Linda has a keen professional interest in the critical thinking and language abilities of children and adults.

    Rosemary Huisingh, M.A., SLP, is also a co-founder and co-owner of LinguiSystems.  As a speech-language pathologist, she has successfully served the communication needs of school children for many years.  Rosemary is particularly interested in childhood language, vocabulary, and thinking skills.

    Carolyn LoGiudice, M.A., CCC-SLP, wrote and edited products and tests for LinguiSystems for 25 years, incorporating her previous experience as an SLP in school and clinic settings.  She is now retired and savoring time with her family, friends, and hobbies. 

    Linda, Rosemary, and Carolyn are the authors of the Test Of Problem Solving 3 Elementary.  They are also co-authors of the following:

    • The Listening Test
    • The WORD Test 2 Elementary
    • The WORD Test 2 Adolescent
    • Story Comprehension To Go
    • Spotlight on Reading Comprehension
    • No-Glamour Language and Reasoning
    • No-Glamour Language and Reading Cards
    • No-Glamour Language and Reading Interactive Software


    We introduced the Test Of Problem Solving (TOPS) in 1984.  This innovative, standardized test became popular because it was unique in assessing students' ability to use language to express their reasoning.  This test was revised and standardized in 1994 as the Test Of Problem Solving Revised.  To ensure current norms, a revised version was developed and standardized in 2005—The Test Of Problem Solving 3 Elementary (TOPS 3 Elementary).  Although the test items and structure have changed over the years, our passion for developing thoughtful students who express their ideas clearly has remained the same.

    As a test, the TOPS 3 Elementary gives a moment-in-time view of a student's general problem solving skills.  It does not include materials to help students become more thoughtful or to practice the language patterns they need to express their ideas fluently.  For teaching and remediating expressive language and problem solving skills, we developed this Tasks Of Problem Solving Elementary book.

    The TOPS 3 Elementary includes these subtests:

    • Making Inferences: This task requires the subject to give a logical explanation for a present perception based on a specific situation.
    • Predicting: Predicting requires the subject to grasp a presented situation and make a likely prediction about what will happen or what would happen if a certain action were taken in the situation.
    • Determining Causes: This task requires the subject to give a logical reason for a given aspect of a situation.
    • Sequencing: Sequencing requires the subject to determine and explain logical, everyday sequences of events, such as what you need to know or do before taking action or what to do first in a given situation.
    • Negative Questions: The Negative Questions subtest asks why something would not occur or why you shouldn't take a given action in a specific situation.
    • Problem Solving: This task involves recognizing a problem, thinking of alternative solutions, evaluating these options, and stating an appropriate solution for a given situation. It also includes stating how to avoid specific problems.

    Instructor's guidelines and student activities for each of these specific aspects of problem solving are included in this book.  Since general problem solving is a broader area than these skill areas, we have included other specific skill areas as follows:

    • General Information: This section gives students practice in answering various kinds of wh- and how questions.  Answering such questions is fundamental to higher-level problem solving.
    • Identifying Problems: Students practice differentiating problems from non-problem situations.  They also practice restating the problem in their own words.
    • Justifying Opinions: Students practice both forming personal opinions and explaining the rationale for their opinions.
    • Generalizing Skills: This section is similar to the photo situations and questions in the TOPS 3 Elementary.  The situations are different from the test, but the types of questions and skills required to respond appropriately mirror the TOPS 3 Elementary.

    The importance of helping students become thoughtful people who express their ideas clearly is well recognized.  To date, though, there is not one widely acclaimed approach to incorporating thinking skills within the school curriculum.  Most of the reasoning/problem solving materials currently available assume that the students have intact language skills to express their thoughts.  Tasks Of Problem Solving Elementary is designed to help students with impaired language and/or problem solving skills.  It presents a variety of stimuli for specific aspects of problem solving, including prerequisite skills, such as answering basic questions appropriately.  Since this book is intended for students only through grade six, higher-level critical thinking skills for adolescents are not included within the tasks.

    The units of Tasks Of Problem Solving Elementary are arranged in a general order of complexity, as are the tasks within each unit.  There are no grade levels attached to any particular section or task because all students need to master the target skills at their own pace.  Some of the activities in this book are presented orally with no written response required.  Use your best judgment about modifying the tasks to allow students to read the stimuli with you or independently, or to require written responses in order to give students practice expressing themselves in writing.

    The tasks in Tasks Of Problem Solving Elementary are artificial due to the constraints of this format.  We do not have the built-in context of a textbook or a school study unit, so we needed to create imaginary situations.  If you use the activities as they are presented, they will boost your students' problem solving skills on similar kinds of tasks.  The ultimate goal, though, is for your students to generalize what they learn to their own lives and learning experiences.  You can improve the likelihood students will apply what they learn through these tasks if you continuously teach and use appropriate vocabulary to "think out loud."

    As you model and expect your students to use specific vocabulary about what they are thinking, they will learn to monitor their own thinking processes and to purposely think about how they are thinking—metacognition.  Teach your students some of the words in the Glossary and use specific thinking vocabulary as you present the activities.  For example, while working on determining solutions, instead of asking students "What could the person do to solve the problem?," ask them "What are the options or choices to solve this problem?"  This approach reminds your students to think of more than one alternative before they leap at the first solution that comes to mind.

    We hope this book enables you to develop and expand your students' thinking skills and their abilities to reflect on and express their ideas fluently.  We also hope you and your students have fun in the process!

    Linda, Rosemary, and Carolyn