Critical thinking is a crucial skill for living life. That’s why teaching critical thinking skills is a necessity with our students. Every teacher is looking for more ways to integrate it into classrooms. But what exactly are critical thinking skills? The term is admittedly open to different interpretation. In the meantime, here’s a simple perspective.
It’s more than just thinking clearly or rationally. It’s about thinking independently. Critically thinking about something means formulating your own opinions and drawing your own conclusions. This happens regardless of outside influence. It’s about the discipline of analysis, and seeing the connections between ideas.
Teaching critical thinking skills doesn’t require hours of lesson planning. You don’t need special equipment or guest speakers. All you need are curious and open minds, along with a few strategies.
That’s what this article is all about. You can use these techniques for teaching critical thinking skills in every lesson and subject. So dive in and get critical!
Begin with a Question
This is the simplest foray into critical thinking. What do you want to explore and discuss? It shouldn’t be a question you can answer with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’
You want to develop essential questions here. These are questions that inspire a quest for knowledge and problem-solving. They’ll support the development of critical thinking skills beautifully.
When you pose your question to students, encourage brainstorming. Write down possible answers on a chalkboard or oversized pad as a student reference. This is a big part of defining the problem in Solution Fluency. Have big open discussions where students can dissect and discuss questions.
Create a Foundation
Students cannot think critically if they do not have the information they need. Begin any critical thinking exercise with a review of related information. This ensures they can recall facts pertinent to the topic. These may stem from things like:
- reading assignments and other homework
- previous lessons or critical thinking exercises
- a video or text
Employ the above strategy of questioning to ensure students are up to speed.
Consult the Classics
Great literary works boast challenging narratives and deep characterization. They are a perfect launch pad for critical thinking. Use them for specific lessons on character motivation, plot predictions, and theme.
Here are some links to explore for resources:
- Literature.org Classics Online
- Skeptic North
- Shakespeare and Critical Thinking
- The Critical Thinking Community
Creating a Country
How does one create a country from scratch? This could be great project-based learning scenario. It requires sufficient research to discover what actually “makes” a country. In the process students learn history, geography, politics, and more.
Leave this assignment open-ended over a couple of days or weeks so they can really dig deep.
- The Geography Site
- Discovery News: A Simple Guide to Starting Your Own Country
- How to Start Your Own Micro-nation
Use Information Fluency
Part of critical thinking is knowing when to pursue and when to discard information. Students must learn to amass the appropriate knowledge to inform that thinking. Teaching critical thinking skills can be supported by an understanding of Information Fluency.
Mastering the proper use of information is crucial to our students’ success in school and life. It’s about learning how to dig through knowledge in order to find the most useful and appropriate facts for solving a problem. Critical thinking is deeply embedded in the process of Information Fluency.
Need help teaching the process? Learn about it in the free Information Fluency QuickStart Guide
Utilize Peer Groups
There is comfort in numbers, as the saying goes. Digital kids thrive on environments where critical thinking skills develop through teamwork and collaboration. Show kids their peers are an excellent source of information, questions, and problem-solving techniques.
Try One Sentence
Try this exercise: form groups of 8-10 students. Instruct each student to write one sentence describing a topic on a piece of paper. The student then passes the paper to the next student. The next student will add their understanding of the next step in a single sentence. This time, though, that student folds the paper down to cover their sentence. Now only their sentence is visible, and no other.
Each time they pass, students can only see one sentence. They must keep adding the next step of their understanding. This teaches them to really home in on a specific moment in time. They learn to critically apply their knowledge and logic to explaining themselves as clearly as possible.
Assigning a specific problem is one of the best avenues for teaching critical thinking skills. Leave the goal or “answer” open-ended for the widest possible approach. This is the essence of asking essential questions that have no easy answer. It requires discovery and synthesis of knowledge through critical thinking.
Return to Roleplaying
Roleplaying has always been an excellent method for exercising critical thinking. It involves inhabiting another persona and it’s characteristics. It’s the main reason why actors do tireless research for their roles. Becoming someone else calls upon stretching both your analytical and creative mind.
Pair students up and have them research an historical conflict. Ideally it should involve an interaction between two famous historical figures. Then lead them to decide which character they each choose to play. They’ll each have opposite points of view in this conflict. Have them discuss it until they can mutually explain the other’s point of view. Their final challenge will be to each suggest a compromise.
Speaking With Sketch
We are inherently visual learners. It’s challenging to effectively communicate an idea without words, though. Translating thoughts to picture form encourages critical thinking beautifully.
It guides kids to think using a different mental skill set. It’s a great way for them to become truly invested in an idea. There are some resources on the Teaching Channel and Ruth Catchen’s Blog that you may find useful.
Put teaching critical thinking skills at the forefront of your lessons. Every subject offers opportunities for critical thinking. Check understanding and offer room for discussion. It will help even if such periods are brief. You’ll begin to see critical thinking as a culture rather than just an activity.
Change Their Misconceptions
Critical thinking involves intensive work and concentration. Students should be left to themselves for much of the process. That said, it can be helpful to step in partway through their process. You can do this to correct misconceptions or assumptions.