How to Teach Critical Thinking

How to Teach Critical Thinking

If you want to teach your students critical thinking, give them opportunities to brainstorm and analyze things. Classroom discussions are a great way to encourage open-mindedness and creativity. Teach students to ask “why?” as much as possible and recognize patterns. An important part of critical thinking is also recognizing good and bad sources of information.

EditSteps

EditEncouraging Students to Have an Open Mind

  1. Start a class discussion by asking an open-ended question. Open-ended questions are questions that have more than one right answer. This will allow students to think critically and creatively without fear of getting anything wrong. Show enthusiasm about answers that are outside of the box to encourage students to let their minds expand to different possible ideas.[1]
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    • For example, ask students an open-ended question like, “What would be a good way to get more people to recycle in the school?”
    • Whether or not it’s realistic, offer praise for an inventive answer like, “we could start to make a giant sculpture out of of recyclable things in the middle of the school. Everyone will want to add to it, and at the end of the year we can take pictures and then break it down to bring to the recycling plant.”
  2. Give students time to think things through. Narrow thinking is often the result of rushing to give an answer. For classroom discussions or in-class assignments, give students a few minutes to think clearly before they propose any ideas. For the best results, have students sit quietly and put down their books and pens while they reflect.[2]
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  3. Make a list naming the pros of two conflicting ideas. Get students out of the mindset that there is always a “right” and “wrong” answer by looking for the good in two contrasting ideas. Make a large list on a chalkboard, white board, or large poster with a column for each idea. Ask students to name positive things for both sides and to think about a possible third option that would use parts of each.[3]
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    • For instance, make columns to name the good things about both a camping trip and a city excursion, then have students think about a happy medium between the two.

EditHelping Students Make Connections

  1. Ask your students to look for patterns. Across various subjects of study, encourage your students to look for patterns and connections. This will help your students tie individual lessons to bigger trends or concepts. Encourage students to point out themes or ideas that they’ve seen before as they are learning.[4]
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    • For instance, environmental themes may come up in science, history, literature, and art lessons.
  2. Show students a vague picture to get them thinking about their own assumptions. Show your students a picture of something that is a bit vague and have them guess what’s happening in the picture. Next, ask them to break down the clues in the picture that led them to this assumption. Finally, ask them to think about how some of their own beliefs or experiences shaped what they thought about the picture.[5]
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    • Explain to your students how the clues and their own personal influences form their final conclusions about the picture.
    • For instance, show students a picture of a man and woman shaking hands in front of a home with a “For Sale” sign in front of it. Have students explain what they think is happening in the picture, and slowly break down the things that made them reach that conclusion.
  3. Analyze statements by asking “why” five times. Make a game out of interrogating claims by asking “why?” about it five times. You can apply this to most lesson plans you are teaching, especially in regard to literature or history. Encourage students to do this on their own to get to the root of problems and to think about things more deeply. [6]
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    • If you are studying a book or play, you can ask a question like, “Why did Bob go to the train station?” and break down the responses in such a way:
      • “To take a train.”
      • “Why?”
      • “To get to the city.”
      • “Why?”
      • “To meet his friend.”
      • “Why?”
      • “Because he missed him.”
      • “Why?”
      • “Because he was lonely.”
    • On a more advanced level, students will benefit from interrogating their research and work to determine its relevance.

EditTeaching Students About Reliable Information

  1. Teach students the difference between opinions and factual statements. Teach your students that any claim they make is considered an opinion until they can provide evidence about it. This evidence might be an experiment that they conduct, or reliable information published by experts. In class discussions and projects, remind your students to back up every claim they make with some supporting data.[7]
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    • For instance, if a student says that there are fewer libraries than there used to be, have them provide some actual statistics about libraries to support their statement.
  2. Help students spot advertisements disguised as information. Disguising product placements as neutral information is a powerful advertising tool that is common today. Show students a simple paid story article or subtle commercial segment to get them to think more critically about that information that is presented to them every day. Ask them to consider the sources of this information and the motivations driving someone to share the information in the first place.[8]
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    • Encourage students to ask the simple question, “Who is sharing this information, and why?”
    • For instance, an advertisement for a low calorie food product may be disguised as a special interest television segment about how to lose weight on a budget.
  3. Have students rate a website. In the age of electronic information, it is important to know what websites are offering reliable facts and which ones aren’t. Discuss the issue in class, or give students an assignment to look at a website on their own and evaluate it. They should be looking at the following factors:[9]
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    • The date it was published, whether or not it has been updated, and how current the information is. Tell students where to find this information on the website.
    • What the author’s qualifications are. For instance, a medical article should be written by a doctor or other medical professional.
    • If there is supporting evidence to back up what the writer says.

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