Using SOLO Taxonomy to Develop Student Thinking & Learning

The 15 minute forum was led by Simona Trignano (newly appointed Deputy Leader in Science, KS3 – @simonatrignano).  During the session Simona went through the work that she has been doing this year as a part of her ‘Learning Innovator’ project – on SOLO taxonomy.

What is SOLO Taxonomy?

SOLO (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) provides a structured framework for students to use to progress their thinking and learning.  It encourages students to think about where they are currently with there learning, and what they need to do in order to progress. There are five main stages:

solo1This is the first stage – where students don’t really have any knowledge or understanding of the topic being studied.  A student who is pre-structural will usually respond with ‘I don’t understand’.

solo2Moving on from pre-structural, students who are unistructural have a limited knowledge of the topic – they may just know one isolated fact about the topic. So, a typical response might be:

‘I have some understanding of this topic’

solo3Progressing from unistructural to multistructural simply means that the student knows a few facts about this topic – but is unable to link them together.  So a typical response might be ‘I know a few things about this topic’ or ‘I have gathered some information about this topic’.

solo4With relational, we are starting to move towards higher level thinking – students are able to link together and explain several ideas around a related topic.

So a typical student ‘relational response might be:

‘ I can see the connections between the information I have gathered’.

solo5The final and most complex level is extended abstract.  With this, not only are students able to link lots of related ideas together, but they can also link these to other bigger ideas and concepts.  So a student response at this level might sound like:

‘By reflecting and evaluating on my learning, I am able to look at the bigger picture and link lots of different ideas together’.

An example….

In science, students might be asked the question ‘What do you understand by the term respiration’. Students may then respond in the following ways:

  • Prestructural – “Err…..What?”
  • Unistructural – “It releases energy
  • Multistructural – “It’s a chemical reaction that releases energy, uses oxygen and glucose and release carbon dioxide.”
  • Relational – “It’s a reaction that takes place in all body cells.  Products of digestion, such as glucose, are transported to cells by the blood and reacted with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide – which is breathed out.  Energy is released.”
  • Extended abstract“It’s a reaction that takes place in all body cells.  Products of digestion, such as glucose, are transported to cells by the blood and reacted with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide – which is breathed out via the lungs (using gas exchange and ventilation).  As energy is released, respiration is an example of an exothermic reaction.  The energy that is released can then be used by the body for growth of new cells, repair of tissues and keeping warm.”

Why is it so useful?

  • It supports students to reflect on their own thinking
  • It helps teachers to thoughtfully shape learning intentions and learning experiences.
  • It makes it easy to identify and use effectives success criteria.
  • It provides feedback and feedforward with regards to learning outcomes.
  • It helps students to reflect meaningfully on what the next steps in their learning are.
  • The diagrams provide a simple and easy to remember staged approach for students, in terms of these next steps.

Using SOLO in the classroom

The following describes one way in which a SOLO activity can be set up in a lesson:


In the next example, a student designed ‘SOLO Board’ was used to pin up examples of student work at each level – a great way of modelling exemplar work:

solo board

SOLO has also been used to create ‘Learning Journeys’ for students.  This outlines the possible learning outcomes for each lesson, based on the SOLO levels.  This has been given out at the start of the unit, so students can self assess themselves as they progress through the lessons.  It has also been used as revision tool at the end of the unit:


Using hexagons is a great way to implement SOLO effectively in the classroom.  Students are given a set of laminated hexagons and asked to write key words from the topic on them (alternatively, hexagons could be prepared in advance with the words on them).  They then have to link together related words.  Once they have done this, they can then start to construct sentences that link the key words together – progressing on to a full paragraph. An example follows:


This is also a great way to develop discussion and group work.

SOLO stations can also be set up around a room.  The idea is that students work at different areas of the room, at different SOLO levels.  A possible protocol for this can be seen below:


The following is a list of strategies posted on the 15 minute forum Padlet wall by Twitter users:


“SOLO Taxonomy provides a simple and robust way of describing how learning outcomes grow in complexity from surface to deep understanding”

  Biggs & Collis

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13 Responses to Using SOLO Taxonomy to Develop Student Thinking & Learning

  1. Sue marooney says:

    Simona, I know you will have enthused colleagues as you did me when you introduced solo to me, it’s a great learning tool. Well done

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