Teaching critical thinking skills is a necessity with our students because they’re crucial skills for living life. As such, every teacher is looking for interesting ways to integrate it into classrooms. But what exactly are critical thinking skills, and what are some of the best strategies teachers for imparting them to learners?
The term “critical thinking” is open to different interpretation, so let’s begin with 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. However, it’s also about being wide open to other viewpoints and opinions.
Critically thinking about something means formulating your own opinions and drawing your own conclusions.
Teaching critical thinking skills doesn’t require hours of lesson planning. You don’t need special equipment or guest speakers either. In fact, all you need are curious minds and a few simple strategies.
Strategies for Teaching Critical Thinking Skills
You can use the techniques below for teaching critical thinking skills in every lesson and subject. Get creative and find different ways to incorporate them into your teaching practices.
1. 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, ones 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. Having open discussions with students is a big part of defining the problem in Solution Fluency.
2. 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
3. Consult the Classics
Great literary works are a perfect launch pad for critical thinking, with challenging narratives and deep characterization. Use them for specific lessons on character motivation, plot predictions, and theme. Here are some links to explore for resources:
4. Creating a Country
This could be great project-based learning scenario requiring 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. Here are some resources to help you:
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. Try One Sentence
Try this exercise: form groups of 8-10 students. Next, 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 who adds 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, so each time they pass students can only see one sentence.
The object of the task is for students to keep adding the next step of their understanding. This teaches them to really home in on a specific moment in time. Additionally, 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 requiring discovery and synthesis of knowledge through critical thinking.
9. Return to Roleplaying
Roleplaying has always been an excellent method for exercising critical thinking. It’s why actors do tireless research for their roles as it involves inhabiting another persona and its characteristics. Becoming someone else calls upon stretching both your analytical and creative mind.
Pair students up and have them research a conflict involving 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.
10. Speaking With Sketch
Though we are inherently visual learners, it can be challenging to effectively communicate an idea without words. Nevertheless, translating thoughts to picture form encourages critical thinking beautifully. It guides kids to think using a different mental skill set, and it’s also a great way to get them truly invested in an idea. There are some resources on the Teaching Channel and Ruth Catchen’s Blog that you may find useful.
11. Prioritize It
Every subject offers opportunities for critical thinking, so put teaching critical thinking skills at the forefront of your lessons. Check understanding and offer room for discussion, even if such periods are brief. You’ll begin to see critical thinking as a culture rather than just an activity.
12. Change Their Misconceptions
Critical thinking involves intensive work and concentration, but 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. Students will benefit from practicing critical thinking. You’ll offer richer lessons, deeper exploration, and better lifelong learning.
Ed note: This is an updated version of our original article on teaching critical thinking skills.