Improve Your Students’ Critical Thinking

November 30, 2019

Critical thinking allows us to build a deeper understanding of our environment.

This creates a curiosity of the world and people around us and drives us to constantly look for answers.

This curiosity then extends to the topics we teach in school - ultimately instilling a life-long love of learning, creativity and problem solving.

Critical thinking activities help develop higher-order functioning skills such as reasoning, analysis, and logical thinking, as well as better observational, self-awareness and decision making skills.

Students with good critical thinking skills can:

  • Question and analyse ideas, even those that are deeply entrenched in society

  • Identify links between ideas that suggest new solutions and ways of doing things

  • Effectively support their arguments with logical evidence

  • Approach and solve problems systematically and logically

  • Identify assumptions, cognitive biases, and bad data

  • See a problem from a variety of perspectives; particularly not their own

  • Reflect on and change their own beliefs and ideas if they’re based on poor reasoning

  • Make better decisions and judgements based on these skills

In the classroom, critical thinkers are active, independent learners who are constantly questioning what they see and learn. These skills can lead the way to the next generation of innovators and creators, able to create solutions to the world’s challenges.

Think before you speak. Read before you think.~ Fran Lebowitz

Where Does Reading Come In?  

Reading isn’t just about the words and images in a book - it’s the underlying meanings that are important.

Critical thinking skills will help your students infer profound meanings. This deeper level of comprehension will encourage your students to actively create and understand a story, and it will teach them skills that they can use in every aspect of their lives.

How to Encourage Critical Thinking in your Students

Encouraging critical thinking takes time to develop. Just as reading requires daily practise, so too does critical thinking. Every student learns new things at a different rates, so the more opportunity to practise these skills the better.

Some strategies for encouraging these skills are:

Start early

You can start encouraging critical thinking in your classes no matter how old your students are. In fact, students who start learning critical thinking early on in their education often learn these skills more quickly.

Getting the children to think about what they are reading from when they start learning to read will help with critical thinking and comprehension.

One way to do this is to get the child to read to their parents to work on their own reading, but then ask the parent to re-read the story to allow the child to practise auditory processing and comprehension.

Choose your books carefully

At first, you should start your critical thinking education with books that contain familiar experiences for your student. This will help them to connect the story to their own feelings and experiences. When they’re just starting out, creating a bridge between what they know and what they need to learn can be helpful.

As your students get more advanced, you can go further. Your aim should be to expose them to as many new ideas as possible, so try to show them books written by authors with different experiences to their own.

Let your students choose 

To think critically, your students need to take control of their own learning, and you can start encouraging this by letting them choose their own books to read where possible, and allow them to discuss their honest feelings about the book.

Encourage opinions

Discussion is vital when you’re teaching critical thinking skills, so encourage your students to discuss the book and its ideas in class or in groups. Ask open-ended questions, and then listen without judgement.

Solve problems

In every story there are problems that the main characters must face and solve. Encourage your students to identify the problems and evaluate the characters’ solutions.

Do they think the solutions were good or bad?

Can they come up with their own solutions based on the story world?

This will encourage them to analyse, evaluate, and connect ideas, which is the core of critical thinking.

Question the author’s intentions

This can work with both fiction and nonfiction books. When your students are reading, encourage them to question why the author wrote what they did.

Who were they trying to please?

What did the author believe, and how did that affect the writing?

This will encourage your students to start questioning and evaluating their sources.

Make connections

If you want your students to make connections between ideas, then show them how.

If they’re reading about animals, introduce some biology.

If a class book contains some art, then let them research famous artwork.

Nothing can be taught or learned in isolation. The more connections they make with new knowledge, the better they’ll learn and remember.

The Takeaway

Modern society and the issues we face, as well as how we address them, are changing rapidly.

We are confronted with questions for which there are no single, black and white answers.

Teaching your students to question, analyse and problem solve prepares them for the challenges of modern life.