17 The Main Strategies for Teaching Critical Thinking Skills

  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 thirst for knowledge and problem-solving. They’ll support the development of critical thinking skills beautifully. When you pose your question to students, either in class or on your chosen virtual platform, it’s important to encourage brainstorming. Offer possible answers 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, which works great in remote settings
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Use Information Fluency. 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. 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 to find the most useful and appropriate facts for solving a problem.

Information Fluency is the ability to unconsciously and intuitively interpret information in all forms and formats in order to extract the essential knowledge, authenticate it, and perceive its meaning and significance. The data can then be used to complete real-world tasks and solve real-world problems effectively.

As teachers of critical thinking skills, it’s up to us to provide guidelines for students to follow when searching for information that’s useful. This doesn’t have to be complicated, although the more queries a learner can make about the viability and credibility of information, the better their chances of finding useful information.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  1. Solve Some Problems. 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.
  2. 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.

  1. Speak With Sketch. 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.
  2. Do Some Prioritizing. 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.
  3. 1 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 part way through their process. Apart from correcting misconceptions or assumptions, you’ll offer more vibrant lessons, more in-depth exploration, and better lifelong learning.

28 Question Stems That Improve Critical Thinking Ability

  1. What evidence can you present for/against…?
  2. How does … contrast with …?
  3. How could you outline or concept map…? Explain your response with examples.
  4. Why is … significant? Explain your reasoning.
  5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of …?
  6. What is the point or ‘big idea’ of …?
  7. How could you judge the accuracy of …?
  8. What are the differences between … and …?
  9. How is … related to …?
  10. What ideas could you add to … and how would these ideas change it?
  11. Describe … from the perspective of ….
  12. What do you think about …? Explain your reasoning.
  13. When might … be most useful and why?
  14. How could you create or design a new…? Explain your thinking.
  15. What solutions could you suggest to the problem of …? Which might be most effective and why?
  16. What might happen if you combined … and …?
  17. Do you agree that …? Why or why not?
  18. What information would you need to make a decision about …?
  19. How could you prioritize …?
  20. How is … an example of …?
  21. What are the most important parts or features of …?
  22. Which details of … are most important and why?
  23. What patterns do you notice in …?
  24. How could you classify … into a more/less general category?
  25. What makes … important?
  26. What criteria could you use to assess …?
  27. How could … and … function together? How do they work separately and together and different ways?
  28. Where is … most/least …? Explain your reasoning.

Critical Thinking Activities

  1. Defining the Problem.

Critical thinking in problem-solving means knowing exactly what it is you are trying to solve, and that means clearly defining the problem. Begin this exercise with pinpointing a problem and then asking these kinds of crucial questions.

  •  What are the details of the challenge we face?
  •  What do we want to overcome specifically?
  •  What do we know about this problem?
  •  Why is it important to address?
  •  Is this a time-sensitive problem?
  •  How does it affect me, the community, or the world?
  •  Where do we begin?
  1. Classroom Gallery

Organizing a classroom gallery walk is a simple way to ignite learners’ imaginations, get them moving around, and engage them in varying discussions about arts and issues of every kind. To mix things up, you can do a different theme each week or month.

The idea is simple. All you do is turn your classroom into a display modelled after what you might find in an art gallery. How you do it is up to you. Use images, documents, objects, and anything else related to the chosen theme. Once you’ve got it set up, students walk around and visit the different “exhibits” in the classroom. They ask and respond to questions, make observations, and record ideas and insights, and share them with each other in their respective groups.

Here are some theme ideas you can try out in your class:

  • Create a walk of political cartoons and memes.
  • Focus on a famous writer, leader, philanthropist, scientist, or other important historical figure and include stories, facts, and quotes from that person’s life.
  • Expand on a theme such as “growth mindset” and offer activities, quote discussions, and examples for students to explore.
  • Use media like video or animations to create visual interest.
  1. Do a Film or Book Review

Here is an analytical exercise students can enjoy through experiencing their favourite films, books, or television shows. The goal is to get them thinking critically about what they are consuming rather than simply viewing it passively. It’s a great collaborative activity too because gaining insights from others can be valuable in helping learners think and observe in different ways.

After learners have finished a book or film or show, have them discuss questions like these:

  •  What did I enjoy most?
  •  What did I enjoy least?
  •  Was there a message or moral to this story?
  •  How can this be applied in daily life?
  •  Did the story engage my emotions? How did it leave me feeling?
  •  Were the characters relatable, and did their journeys
    make sense?
  •  How did this compare to stories of a similar nature?
  •  Do I feel the author achieved their goals?
  1. Asking the “3 Cs”

Achieving transformational learning begins the way all other learning does with a question. That means encouraging critical thinking, introspection, and personal interest in the questions we ask our learners.

These questions are the ones we ask learners most often, and we’ve seen them used by teachers as the provocations for achieving transformational learning all over the world. They can work the same way for your own learners.

  • What are you CURIOUS about? What subjects and topics are exciting to learners? What do they want to learn about? Asking these things is empowering to them. It indicates that their ideas and opinions have value and that we cherish their potential for independent thought and action.
  • What are you CONCERNED about? It is surprising to realize just how deeply connected kids are to the issues of the world, and their awareness of the fact that many of these issues are quite serious. We’ll never know what they’re worried about, or how much they want to help, until we ask them.
  • What do you want to CREATE in the world? How we hand responsibility for learning to students involves giving them space to do what they do naturally. Our learners’ inherent abilities and desires to create and collaborate are fuelled by the right processes for critical thinking and problem-solving.
  1. Fact vs. Opinion

This exercise is about differentiating between fact and opinion. A fact can be proven either true or false. An opinion is an expression of feeling or point-of-view and cannot be proven true or false.

Place statements on paper or on a whiteboard that are either fact or opinion. If it’s a fact, learners mark the statement with an F and explain how it can be proven. If it’s an opinion, they use an O and briefly explain why they feel it can’t be proven. Have them work in groups and use the guiding questions below, and also come up with others.

  •  How can this statement be proven beyond a doubt?
  •  Does the statement have a bias?
  •  Is the statement based on verified information or assumption? How can we tell?
  •  Does the statement make use of descriptive language to appeal to our emotions?
  •  Is there anything misleading about this statement?
  •  Are the facts reliable?
  •  Are the opinions based on facts?
  •  If we all agree on something, does that make it a fact?
  •  How else can we verify something?
  1. Feeling the Fear (and Doing it Anyway)

Anticipatory thinking is an effective critical thinking and emotional management exercise for coping with fear and anxiety. It’s all about projecting the mind into the future and analyzing many possible outcomes instead of just imagining the worst one.

Think of something that you are afraid of doing—it could be anything at all. Now, explore this internal line of questioning and jot down your answers:

  • What’s the worst possible thing that could happen?
  • What is the best thing that could happen?
  • How does my preferred outcome look to me?
  • Do I have any control over the outcome? To what degree?
  • Can I ask anyone for help or advice?
  • If the worst happens, will I still be all right?
  • What is my plan for facing the worst?
  • After I face the situation and move past it, what are my next steps? How will I apply what I’ve learned?
  1. Who is My Hero?

What is the definition of a hero? What does it mean to be truly heroic in our time? Everybody needs a hero, and it’s time to write about yours.Think of someone in your own life that you consider to be heroic, and who you feel embodies your own ideals and values in action. As you explore this, jot down answers to the questions below.

  • What is my definition of a “hero”?
  • Who is a true hero to me?
  • Why do I see this person as heroic?
  • What have they done specifically that caused me to feel this way about them?
  • How do they personify my own dreams and ideals to be a better and stronger person?
  • Am I a hero to anyone? If so, why?
  • Why do we need heroes and mentors in life?
  • What do I want to be remembered for most of all?
  • How will I achieve this in my life?
  1. The Circles of Possibility

The Circles of Possibility are a powerful critical thinking exercise for understanding ourselves and the world around us, and also visualizing meaningful solutions to the issues, challenges, and questions that affect us all.

These steps are a useful collaborative problem-solving exercise that also develops meaningful lifelong learning skills like creative thinking, information literacy, cultural empathy, self-awareness, global citizenship, world view, and many more.

Begin with a problem, and ask: What does this mean …

  • … to ME?
  • … to my FAMILY?
  • … to my COMMUNITY?
  • … to my COUNTRY?
  • … to the WORLD?

Take this exercise one step farther by asking learners to map out what they can do to change any negative impact both in the short and long term.

  1. A Grand Solution

Our world will always have problems that need critically considered and brilliantly designed solutions so it’s a good thing you’re here! What do you think is the biggest problem in the world today? Write it down, and think about how you’d solve it if you had everything you needed and anything was possible. Consider the questions that follow as you dream without limits about a solution.

  • What is the most urgent problem in the world today?
  • What is the background of this problem?
    • How did it originate?
    • Has a solution been attempted before?
    • Why has the problem gotten worse?
  • What do I feel is the best solution for this problem?
  • Why do I feel my solution will work?
  • What would it take to make my solution a reality?
  • What can I do about the problem RIGHT NOW?
  1. The Socratic Seminar

The Socratic Method is an engaging and challenging way to get students exploring questions that matter while developing sharp critical thinking skills. In the Socratic Method, a mediator leads a discussion by asking questions, and each question is based upon the response given to the previous question.

In addition to honing critical thinking skills, the Socratic Method offers a great example of how to use essential and herding questions in class. Students can prepare well beforehand by reading the appropriate text and formulating questions as though they were entering a formal debate. Work with students to also come up with a clear list of guidelines and expectations for the seminar.

On the day the seminar begins, the teacher will be best prepared to lead the discussion in the beginning. At first, students will be merely getting their feet wet with the whole process, but ultimately you want them to be taking the proceedings over and leading the discussions themselves. Since the learners’ thought processes and inquiry are the focal points of the Socratic Seminar, it makes sense to involve students in these structural decisions.

The guidelines you’ll agree to follow are necessary, such as when to turn discussion and sharing of ideas into a debate, which is characterised by persuasion and challenging of opinions. Throughout the process, your role will be one of mediator and guide for the discussion, steering it back to the right trajectory if it should happen to go off the rails.

As always, do a debrief with students and work together to assess the seminar’s effectiveness on your learning goals.


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