How to Implement Cognitively Guided Instruction in Your Classroom

Please welcome Nicole from Teacher0f20 to Minds in Bloom today! Nicole is sharing her insight on implementing cognitively guided instruction in the classroom.

Cognitively Guided Instruction, or CGI, refers to focusing on the thought process behind solving math problems rather than the end results (in other words, the answer). There are three different ways to implement CGI, all of which are discussed in this post.

I love talking about CGI, because it is something on which my district is big, and it is something that I think I’ve successfully implemented in my classroom!

CGI stands for Cognitively Guided Instruction, and it is a way to teach math by focusing on the thought process behind solving problems, instead of the end result. It is not a curriculum.

The way I begin implementing it is by giving my class a word problem. I let them read it, or I read it to them (depending on the time of year we begin). Then, I let them solve the problem without giving them guidelines for doing so. (EX: I don’t tell them to draw a picture, use blocks, etc.). Several students will undoubtedly come up with an answer and be very eager to share it with the class. I ask them beforehand not to yell out the answer. As they are working, I am walking around observing how different students are arriving at their answer. This will help me decide who I will call on when we come to the carpet, and it also alerts me as to who does not understand the problem.

After I’ve given them time to solve the problem, we come to the carpet and share how we solved it. Students are very eager to share the answer, but they have difficulty explaining their thought process. I ask them questions such as, “How did you get that answer?” and “What did you use to help you get the answer?”

Slowly, they begin sharing a bit about their thought process based on the questions I’m asking them. Most students at this point zone out and are not paying attention to what the student is saying, as we’ve already shared the answer. I make it a point to tell them that listening to how this person solved the problem may help them solve tomorrow’s problem, and they may get called when we come to the carpet.

After the student has explained his thought process, I begin an anchor chart.

Cognitively Guided Instruction, or CGI, refers to focusing on the thought process behind solving math problems rather than the end results (in other words, the answer). There are three different ways to implement CGI, all of which are discussed in this post.

Whatever strategy the student used to solve the problem is the strategy that I write on the anchor chart. That is the only thing I add to the anchor chart at this point. I will repeat the process tomorrow, with a different problem, and will choose another student who hopefully used a different strategy to solve the problem. I will add it to the anchor chart.

The first few days I do not tell students any strategies, because I want them to come up with ways to solve on their own. The idea is that they are learning from each other. If several days have gone by, and I notice we are not adding any more strategies to the anchor chart because no one is implementing new strategies, I may at that point model a strategy. The number line is one that is not often used, and I have to model it. Although, I have seen students use it before I have to introduce it.

Slowly, we begin adding strategies to the anchor chart, as students implement them. Each day we begin a new problem, I remind students that they can refer to the strategies on the anchor chart to help them think of ways to solve the problem.

CGI has different problem types:

Joining problems contain:

  • Result Unknown: 6+3=___
    • Jon had six apples. Jane gave him three more. How many apples does he have now?
  • Change Unknown: 6+__=9
    • Jon had six apples. Jane gave him some more. Then he had nine apples. How many apples did Jane give him?
  • Start Unknown: __+3=9
    • Jon had some apples. Jane gave him three more. Then he had nine apples. How many apples did he have to begin with?

There are separation problems, which contain result unknown, change unknown, and start unknown. Part whole problems contain whole unknown or part unknown. Comparing problems contain difference unknown, quantity unknown, and referent unknown. Finally, multiplying and dividing problems contain multiplication, measurement division, and partitive division. You can find all problem types for the K-1st classroom with the CGI Problems of the Day for the Whole Year in my TPT store! Or you can try out this freebie.

After students have solved their problem using one of the strategies we have modeled, I encourage them to write a sentence stating their answer. For example, “Jon had three apples.” I love incorporating reading and writing into other content areas, like math!

Here is an example of a problem I gave my class:

  • There were five trees. Each tree had three apples. How many apples were there in all?

Here is how they solved it. It was interesting to see the way they arranged their blocks. Some students chose to use blocks, while others drew a picture. The early finishers re-solved it using another strategy they hadn’t used:

Cognitively Guided Instruction, or CGI, refers to focusing on the thought process behind solving math problems rather than the end results (in other words, the answer). There are three different ways to implement CGI, all of which are discussed in this post.

Cognitively Guided Instruction, or CGI, refers to focusing on the thought process behind solving math problems rather than the end results (in other words, the answer). There are three different ways to implement CGI, all of which are discussed in this post.

Cognitively Guided Instruction, or CGI, refers to focusing on the thought process behind solving math problems rather than the end results (in other words, the answer). There are three different ways to implement CGI, all of which are discussed in this post.

Cognitively Guided Instruction, or CGI, refers to focusing on the thought process behind solving math problems rather than the end results (in other words, the answer). There are three different ways to implement CGI, all of which are discussed in this post.


Teacherof20Teacherof20 is a stay-at-home mom and a past K-1st teacher and reading specialist. She enjoys making clipart for her TpT store and helping other teachers with easy, ready-to-go products that challenge students! You can also follow her on Facebook for seasonal freebies!

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