Teaching Critical Thinking In The Classroom

by | Sep 28, 2021 | Teaching Strategies | 0 comments

Have you heard this phrase before?

“Our job is to teach students how to think, not what to think.”

In an ever-changing world, it is important to the future of our students that we teach them how to think for themselves, not simply what we think. 

If we only taught students what to think, we would be doing them a great disservice. Who wants to be told what to think? 

Not me! And students don’t want to be either – it is a sure-fire way to disengage kids.

Teachers know that a big part of teaching is not the content, but the approach to the content.

Enter the concept of critical thinking.

Why Critical Thinking Matters

Critical thinking is a huge factor in the success of our students as they grow into adults and start making larger choices. 

When we teach our students how to think critically, we are teaching them to examine everything from an impartial perspective. 

When we ask the right questions, students will have to search to find the answers. And when students have to do their own digging, the learning is more memorable. 

When we teach our students critical thinking, we are teaching them to consider the content they are learning in a rational and logical way. This in turn teaches students how to analyze different perspectives, which can help them make decisions as adults.

How To Teach Critical Thinking In The Classroom

The good thing is critical thinking can be integrated into any subject area. Here are some effective strategies for integrating critical thinking into your lessons. 

Model Critical Thinking

If we really want to teach our students critical thinking, we need to show them how it works. 

An easy way to model critical thinking is to use a story that everyone is familiar with as a basis for a discussion. Choose your favorite fairytale or fable and have a conversation with your class about their thoughts on the story. 

Prompt students to dig deeper into the story – why a character did something, do they agree with a character, etc. Allow students to discuss their answers.

You can even compare and contrast different stories and let your students discuss the differences and similarities between the two stories.

Take The Time To Reflect

Students (and teachers) should have time to reflect on what they’ve learned (or taught). 

Make reflection a collaborative effort by grouping students together to have a conversation about what they’ve learned in your day or unit. (A bonus of doing this is students can help explain concepts other students either misunderstood or didn’t understand at all.)

As students take the time to express their thoughts on what they learned, they will be encouraged to think critically about the content in your class and in other situations.

Let Your Students Struggle

I know what you’re thinking, I’m supposed to be helping my students!

I’m not saying to just let your students flounder. However, if we immediately answer the questions and never let students struggle, they will learn to depend on you rather than think for themselves. 

Giving your students the opportunity to think through problems for themselves encourages them to struggle through and find the answer. 


Ask The Right Questions

When asking questions in your classroom, avoid questions that have quick and easy answers. Instead, ask thoughtful questions that require thoughtful responses. 

Learn to be okay with a bit of silence, and avoid filling the silence or answering questions yourself. 

If students continue to give shallow answers, you can ask some of the following questions:

  • Can you give me an example? 
  • Do we need to see another point of view?
  • Can you elaborate on that point?

By asking questions like these, you are forcing your students to give more information. Therefore, more thinking is required – and more time to process their thoughts and develop their answers. 

Take A Look At Your Exams

Analyze the types of questions on your exams and other assessments. 

If your assessments are full of memorizations and easily-to-guess questions, you may want to rework them. 

Switch your assessments from true/false, matching,and multiple choice questions to written-response questions.

You don’t necessarily have to ask only essay questions, but including a variety of questions can provide you with more insight into what students actually know. Personally, I like to include short sections of different question types – a few multiple choice, some fill-in-the-blank, a skill section, and 2 – 3 short-response questions.

Critical thinking is a skill that students need to learn as they grow into confident and independent adults. Use these easy tools to teach critical thinking in your classroom today. 

Drop me an email, and let me know how it goes!

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Over twenty plus years, my educational career has spanned four continents and two states, as well as eight grade levels!

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