The Sinister Sixteen

The Sinister Sixteen

by Erin Clifford

I have a copy of Bloom’s Taxonomy that I love.   It is colourful, easy to read and has a list of verbs a mile long.  I have no idea where I got it from, it sits on my desktop and whenever I start planning a program I use it to create learning outcomes like a mad lib.


Timeline    Audience  will be able to  Bloom’s Taxonomy Verb   content/skill/information  =

After the program participants will be able to develop a program planning checklist.

In a recent Campus Labs webinar I was introduced to a list of words called The Sinister Sixteen from a document created by Michael K. Potter and Erika Kustra for the Centre for Teaching and Learning, University of Windsor.  The entire document (PRIMER-on-Learning-Outcomes) is very helpful resource but of the 22 pages the Sinister Sixteen in the Common Problems with Learning Outcomes section – rocked my world.


The Sinister Sixteen Are:

–        Understand

–        Appreciate

–        Comprehend

–        Grasp

–        Know

–        See

–        Accept

–        Have knowledge of

–        Be aware of

–        Be conscious of

–        Learn

–        Perceive

–        Value

–        Get

–        Apprehend

–        Be familiar with


I use all of these words a lot and I don’t think I’m alone.  The document explains that it is not enough for to use a verb in learning outcomes.  The verbs need to active, public and observable.

With a quick review of my most recent training outline, I found that I am  most guilty of using the “understand” in my learning outcomes. (#1 on the list, and I don’t think it is a coincidence). According to my learning outcomes,  I want the student to understand the definition of mentorship, understand professional development opportunities available to them, understand challenges and barriers students face at U of T, and the list goes on.  I want the peer mentors I work with to “understand” a lot.  When I’m not using understand, I am using one of its useless synonyms – grasp, know, appreciate – you know, for variety.

However, understanding is a self-reported measure, I can’t see if someone understands something.  The only way I can test for it is to ask the student “do you understand the definition of mentorship?”    To be measureable I have to ask the students to prove that they understand.   The verb I should be using is in the proof.  I truly want the students to be able to be able to define mentorship, locate professional development opportunities and identify challenges and barriers students fact at U of T.  Those are all things that I can observe and report on.

Well now I know, (and knowing is half the battle) so I am consciously avoiding the Sinister Sixteen and on the search for a new colourful easy to read chart of Bloom’s Taxonomy Verbs that do not include the Sinister Sixteen.  Do you have one you’d like to share?  Put the link in the comment section below!


Erin Clifford works in the Office of Student Life as Student Life Coordinator (Mentorship Programs)

Leave a Reply