Higher Level Thinking: Synthesis in Bloom's Taxonomy

Putting the Parts Together to Create New Meaning

Bloom's Taxonomy where synthesis sits with the category of evaluation.
Bloom's Taxonomy visualized as a pyramid. Andrea Hernandez/ CC/ Flickr

Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956 ) was designed with six levels in order to promote higher order thinking. Synthesis was placed on the fifth level of the Bloom’s taxonomy pyramid as it requires students to infer relationships among sources. The high-level thinking of synthesis is evident when students put the parts or information they have reviewed as a whole in order to create new meaning or a new structure.

The Online Etymology Dictionary records the word synthesis as coming from two sources:

"Latin synthesis meaning a "collection, set, suit of clothes, composition (of a medication)" and also from the Greek synthesis meaning "a composition, a putting together."

The dictionary also records the evolution of the use of synthesis to include "deductive reasoning" in 1610 and  "a combination of parts into a whole" in 1733. Today's students may use a variety of sources when they combine parts into a whole. The sources for synthesis may include articles, fiction, posts, or infographics as well as non-written sources, such as films, lectures, audio recordings, or observations.

Types of synthesis in writing

Synthesis writing is a process in which a student makes the explicit connection between a thesis (the argument) and evidence from sources with similar or dissimilar ideas. Before synthesis can take place, however, the student must complete a careful examination or close reading of all source material. This is especially important before a student can draft a synthesis essay.

There are two types of synthesis essays:

  1. A student may choose to use an explanatory synthesis essay in order to deconstruct or divide evidence into logical parts so that the essay is organized for readers. Explanatory synthesis essays usually include descriptions of objects, places, events or processes. Descriptions are written objectively because the explanatory synthesis does not present a position. The essay here has information gathered from the sources that the student places in a sequence or other logical manner.
  2. In order to present a position or opinion, a student may choose to use an argumentative synthesis. The thesis or position of an argumentative essay is one that can be debated. A thesis or position in this essay can be supported with evidence taken from sources and is organized so that it can be presented in a logical manner. 

The introduction to either synthesis essay contains a one-sentence (thesis) statement that sums up the essay's focus and introduces the sources or texts that will be synthesized. Students should follow the citation guidelines in referencing the texts in the essay, which includes their title and author(s) and maybe a little context about the topic or background information. 

The body paragraphs of a synthesis essay can be organized using several different techniques separately or in combination. These techniques can include: using a summary, making comparisons and contrasts, providing examples, proposing cause and effect, or conceding opposing viewpoints. Each of these formats allows the student the chance to incorporate the source materials in either the explanatory or the argumentative synthesis essay.

The conclusion of a synthesis essay may remind readers of the key points or suggestions for further research. In the case of the argumentative synthesis essay, the conclusion answers the "so what" that was proposed in the thesis or may call for action from the reader.

Key words for the synthesis category:

blend, categorize, compile, compose, create, design, develop, form, fuse, imagine, integrate, modify, originate, organize, plan, predict, propose, rearrange, reconstruct, reorganize, solve, summarize, test, theorize, unite.

Synthesis question stems with examples:

  • Can you develop a theory for the popularity of a text in English? 
  • Can you predict the outcome of behavior in Psychology I by using polls or exit slips?
  • How could you test the speed of a rubber-band car in physics if a test track is not available?
  • How would you adapt ingredients to create a healthier casserole in Nutrition 103 class?'
  • How could you change the plot of Shakespeare's Macbeth so it could be rated "G"?
  • Suppose you could blend iron with another element so that it could burn hotter?
  • What changes would you make to solve a linear equation if you could not use letters as variables?
  • Can you fuse Hawthorne's short story "The Minister's Black Veil" with a soundtrack?
  • Compose a nationalist song using percussion only.
  • If you rearrange the parts in the poem "The Road Not Taken",  what would the last line be?

Examples of a synthesis essay prompt (explanatory or argumentative):

  • Can you propose a universal course of study in the use of social media that could be implemented across the United States?
  • What steps could be taken in order to minimize food waste from the school cafeteria?
  • What facts can you compile to determine if there has been an increase in racist behavior or an increase in awareness of racist behavior?
  • What could you design to wean young children off video games?
  • Can you think of an original way for schools to promote awareness of global warming or climate change?
  • How many ways can you use technology in the classroom to improve student understanding?
  • What criteria would you use to compare  American Literature with English Literature?

Examples of synthesis performance assessments:

  • Design a classroom that would support educational technology.
  • Create a new toy for teaching the American Revolution. Give it a name and plan a marketing campaign.
  • Write and present a news broadcast about a scientific discovery.
  • Propose a magazine cover for a famous artist using his or her work.
  • Make a mix tape for a character in a novel.
  • Hold an election for the most important element on the periodic table.
  • Put new words to a known melody in order to promote healthy habits.