Getting students to dig deeper and answer questions using higher-level thinking can be a challenge. Here are our favorite tips for teaching critical thinking skills, adapted from Mentoring Minds’ Critical Thinking Strategies Guide, that help kids solve problems by going beyond the obvious response.
1. Slow down the pace.
It’s easy to fall into a routine of calling on one of the first kids who raises a hand. But if you wait even just 3 to 5 seconds after asking a question, you’ll probably find the pool of students willing to give an answer grows significantly. Plus, it helps the speedy kids learn that the first answer that pops into their head isn’t always the best. There are times you may even want to wait up to a minute or longer if the question is particularly complex or time-consuming. To avoid an awkward pause, you can let kids know that they have 10 seconds to think before answering the question or that you need to see 10 hands raised from volunteers before you hear a response.
2. Pose a Question of the Day.
Put a new spin on bell ringers by asking a Question of the Day. Use a questioning stem (e.g., create a riddle that uses the mathematics term “multiply” in one of the clues or write a letter to a classmate recommending this book) and put it on the board. Students can write answers in their critical-thinking journals. Then have a class discussion at the end of the day.
3. Make a response box.
Write a random critical-thinking question on the board, (e.g., Is there a better way to work out this problem? Explain your thinking.). Give students a specified amount of time to provide a written response and put it in the response box. Pull out entries one by one and read them aloud to the class. Alternatively, you can give a prize—like a homework pass or free time—to the student with the first appropriate response whose name is drawn from the box or to everyone who submitted appropriate answers.
4. Take a side.
First, read a statement that has two opposing views (e.g., Do you agree or disagree with the author? Why?). Ask kids who agree to stand on one side of the room and those who disagree to stand on the other side. Then have kids talk about why they chose each side. They can switch sides if they change their minds during the discussion.
5. Ask “why?” five times.
When you encounter a problem in class, you can help the class come up with a solution by using the Why? Five Times strategy. Ask the first why question (e.g., Why didn’t the class do well on the spelling test?), and after a response is given, ask why four more times (e.g., Why didn’t students study for the test?, Why didn’t students have time to study for the test?, etc.). The idea is that after the fifth question is asked, the problem will be solved.
Come up with an imaginary scenario and have kids work through the steps to solve a problem as a class. First, identify the problem and write it as a question (e.g., Why didn’t the science experiment work as planned?). Then brainstorm ideas to solve it and choose the best one to write as a solution statement. Finally, create an action plan to carry out the solution.
7. Go “hitchhiking.”
Practice creative thinking by collaborating on a storyboard. Write a problem on an index card and pin it on the top of a bulletin board. Then put different headings on index cards and pin them below the main card. Have kids brainstorm ideas that develop each of the heading cards and let kids pin them on the board. Encourage kids to “go hitchhiking” by building onto their classmates’ ideas.
8. Turn around.
A great way to focus on the positive in not-so-positive situations is the Turn Around thinking strategy. If a student forgets to bring his homework to school, you can ask, “What good can come of this?” The student can answer with ideas like, “I will change my routine before I go to bed.”
9. Put your pocket chart to good use.
Choose six completed questioning stems from different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and put them in a pocket chart. Choose some strips as mandatory and let kids pick two from the higher levels to answer aloud or in a journal.
10. Hold a Q&A session.
One way you can figure out how well kids are grasping critical-thinking skills is by holding question-and-answer sessions. Ask a variety of questions one-on-one or in small groups and take note of the levels of thought individual students use regularly and avoid over time. You can review your notes to help build more higher-order-thinking questions into your lessons.
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What kind of thinker is your child? Does he believe everything on TV? Does she always figure out how to get what she wants?
Does he ask questions? Does she go along with what her friends suggest? You can help develop your child’s critical thinking skills by learning a few key guidelines!
Whether your child is just starting summer vacation or in the midst of the school year, parents can help keep minds active in fun ways. Critical thinking skills don’t fully develop until adolescence, but the foundations for good thinking develop in younger children.
The nonprofit Foundation for Critical Thinking cultivates core intellectual virtues that lead to fair-minded thinking. They have identified three ways K-6 children typically think.
- Naïve Nancy doesn’t believe she needs to think because her parents do it for her! She believes most things she hears on TV, doesn’t ask questions, and goes along with what her friends decide.
- Selfish Sam thinks a lot because it gets him what he wants. He believes whatever is necessary to achieve his goals, regardless of whether it hurts others. He figures out how to get other kids to do what he wants them to do. Sam is a clever manipulator of adults and other children.
- Fair-minded Fran thinks a lot because it helps her learn. She knows she can’t always believe what people say or what she sees and hears on TV. Fran thinks about others as well as herself. She is motivated to understand other people’s situations and attempts to put herself in their shoes.
What is Critical Thinking?
What is critical thinking? Critical thinking comprises a number of different skills that help us learn to make decisions. It is the ability to evaluate information to determine whether it is right or wrong. To think critically about an issue or a problem means to be open-minded and consider alternative ways of looking at solutions. As children grow into pre-adolescents and teenagers, their critical thinking skills will help them make judgments independently of parents.
To be good at thinking, children must believe that thinking is fun and want to be good at it. Parents can make thinking fun throughout the academic year as well as during the summer and on vacations. Good thinkers practice thinking just like they practice basketball or soccer.
You can talk about these ways of thinking with your children by watching this video together. Afterwards, have a discussion about how they can practice being like Fair-Minded Fran.
5 Ways to Help Kids Think Critically
The Foundation for Critical Thinking developed a short series of five “Intellectual Standards,” ways of helping elementary-aged children learn to think better. Teach these standards to your kids, and then interact with them in ways that reinforce the five standards.
- Invite them to BE CLEAR by asking for explanations and examples when they don’t understand something. Let children know it is okay to be confused and ask questions.
- Urge kids to BE ACCURATE, to check to see if something is true by researching the facts.
- Encourage children to BE RELEVANT by discussing other topics that are pertinent to the discussion or problem at hand. Help them stay on track by linking related and meaningful information to the question they are trying to answer or the topic they are learning about.
- Support your child’s ability to BE LOGICAL. Help her see how things fit together. Question how she came to her conclusions and whether her assumptions are correct.
- Set expectations that your child BE FAIR. Promote empathy in his thinking processes. Make sure he considers others when drawing conclusions.
An excellent video to share with your K-6 aged child reviews these five standards in ways that children can understand. Once parents and children speak a common language about the standards of critical thinking, employ them throughout the year and especially during the summer months! Along with having fun, your child’s mind will learn to think critically about the world!
Photo Credit: JoeBenjamin
Published: June 6, 2011Tags: critical thinking, positive youth development, problem solving, reasoning