THAT’S SO META. A Metacognition Primer!

Metacognition is a very big and impressive sounding word. But what is it, why is it important, and how can we encourage it at the Boys & Girls Club?

Metacognition is the ability to think about your thoughts with the aim of improving learning. This article from Edutopia gives a helpful metaphor- learning metacognition strategies gives young people the tools to “drive their brains.”

Why does it matter? That same article (p.s. if you are in the Academic Success space at your Club or are interested in education, Edutopia is a GREAT resource!) says

A student who is excited about being in the driver’s seat and steering toward learning success may well be destined to become an independent thinker on the way to charting a responsible course for school, career, and life. Being metacognitive can be likened to being more conscious, reflective, and aware of one’s progress along the learning path.

Those sound exactly like the kinds of skills we want youth to learn! By being more megacognitive, youth will be able to think through decisions more clearly, have more success studying, and will have a stronger growth mindset, knowing that they can overcome challenges through dedication and hard work. While hopefully they are learning some of these skills during the school day, we can reinforce them at the Boys & Girls Club.

So, how do we encourage metacognition? Here are five strategies that will work in any area of the Club:

  • Encourage reflection throughout a project or activity. We often think that reflection has to come at the end of an activity, but it totally doesn’t! We can have youth think about where they are and what they need at any point. Have youth think about what they already know and don’t know about a topic before an activity begins, what their goals are for a project, and create an action plan before they begin working. Throughout the process, pause and check in. See if any adjustments need to be made. Then be sure to follow up with an ending reflection.
  • Have young people visualize what they want to accomplish. By imagining where they want to end up, you can then guide youth through the planning process of how they will get there. This works for young children as well in simple ways- as an example, if what they want to accomplish is to get a 100 on their spelling test, what do they need to do? They need to study. What do they need to have to study? Maybe to find a friend to quiz them, maybe to make flash cards, etc. Going through this process with small tasks will set them up to use it on bigger tasks later.
  • Reward creative risk-taking and allow mistakes. We know it can take a lot of failure to get to the right answer. Creating a culture at the Club where youth are encouraged to try stuff out and fail safely will encourage their creativity. And don’t be afraid to model this! By actually (sometimes purposefully) making mistakes as a staff member, we can show members how to course-correct and that there is nothing wrong with learning and improving.
  • Let youth choose what they want to learn about. This is a place where Boys & Girls Clubs can set themselves apart. Because so much of the school day is prescribed by standards and set curricula, the Club can be a place where young people explore their passions and interests. When they are motivated and interested, they are more likely to stick with it.
  • Teach youth to ask questions- both of others and themselves. We can actually teach youth questions that will encourage thinking about their thinking. Edutopia delivers again with this great FREE downloadable poster of seven questions (you’ll recognize them from the video above) to promote metacognition. It is even available in two sizes: Click here for 11″ x 17″ and click here for 18″ x 24″.


Teaching our members these kinds of mental skills will set them up for success both while they are with us at the Club and throughout the rest of their lives. How AMAZING is it that we have the opportunity to impact youth in such profound ways???

How do you encourage metacognition and critical thinking at your Club? What are some strategies for getting youth to think deeply in areas like the Gym or the Gamesroom? What other topics would you like us to write ClubX Blog primers on? Send us your best ideas by commenting below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or at



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