What can teachers do to help enable learners who struggle in class regularly? Sometimes it can..
Teaching critical thinking skills is a necessity with our students because they’re crucial for living life. As such, every teacher is looking for exciting ways to integrate it into classrooms. However, what exactly are these skills, and what are some of the best strategies teachers can use for teaching them?
Thinking critically is more than just thinking clearly or rationally; it’s about thinking independently. It means formulating your own opinions and drawing your conclusions regardless of outside influence. It’s about the discipline of analysis and seeing the connections between ideas, and being wide open to other viewpoints and opinions.
You can use these techniques for teaching critical thinking skills in every lesson and subject. Get creative and find different ways to incorporate them into your teaching practices.
12 Solid Strategies for Teaching Critical Thinking Skills
- Begin with a Question
- Create a Foundation
- Consult the Classics
- Create a Country
- Use Information Fluency
- Utilize Peer Groups
- Try One Sentence
- Activate Problem-Solving
- Return to Role-Playing
- Speaking Through Sketching
- Make it a Priority
- Change Their Misconceptions
1. Begin with a Question
Starting with a question is the most straightforward foray into the subject. 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 exercise with a review of related data which ensures they can recall facts pertinent to the topic. These may stem from things like:
- reading assignments and other homework
- previous lessons or exercises
- a video or text
3. Consult the Classics
Classical literary works are a perfect launchpad for exploring great thinking. Use them for specific lessons on character motivation, plot predictions, and themes. Here are some links to explore for resources:
4. Create a Country
This could be a tremendous project-based learning scenario about learning what makes a country. In the process, students learn history, geography, politics, and more. Here are some resources to help you:
5. Use Information Fluency
Mastering the proper use of information is crucial to our student's success in school and life. It’s about learning how to dig through knowledge to find the most useful and appropriate facts for solving a problem. Students must learn to amass the proper expertise to inform their thinking. Teaching critical thinking skills can be supported by an understanding of Information Fluency.
6. Utilize Peer Groups
There is comfort in numbers, as the saying goes. Digital kids thrive in environments involving 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 see one sentence.
The object is for students to keep adding the next step of their understanding. This teaches them to home in on a specific moment in time. Additionally, they learn to apply their knowledge and logic to explaining themselves as clearly as possible.
8. Activate Problem-Solving
Assigning a specific problem is one of the best avenues for teaching critical thinking skills. Leave the goal or “answer” open-ended for the broadest possible approach. This is the essence of asking essential questions requiring the discovery and synthesis of knowledge through critical thinking. Ultimately, with the correct process to guide you, it's best to teach critical thinking and problem-solving skills simultaneously.
9. Return to Role-Playing
Role-playing 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 different 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 Through Sketching
Though we are inherently visual learners, it can be challenging to communicate an idea without words effectively. 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. Make it a Priority
Every subject offers opportunities for critical thinking, so put teaching critical thinking skills at the forefront of your lessons. Check to understand and provide 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 practice it themselves for much of the process. That said, it can be helpful to step in partway through their process. Apart from correcting misconceptions or assumptions, you’ll offer more vibrant lessons, more in-depth exploration, and better lifelong learning.
The Best Tools for Teaching Critical Thinking Skills
If you enjoyed this post and the ideas we've shared, you'd love the guide we've put together for teaching critical thinking skills the right way. The Critical Thinking Companion has everything for developing and assessing these skills in your students. Full of cool tools, engaging games and activities, and lots of brain-boosting challenges in full colour, it’s a critical compendium for any teacher.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published May 6, 2019, updated September 19, 2021