Every teacher’s goal is for students to use critical thinking in the work they do. Students who can think critically grow into lifelong problem solvers. Critical thinking with students means that they can take information and analyze it, draw conclusions, form and defend opinions with data to back it up, reflect on their work, and approach problems in a systematic way. Where does that begin in the classroom? And how do we promote critical thinking in the lessons we do with students? Here are a few suggestions:
Develop essential questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. These questions should be open-ended and require evidence. Essential questions should promote discussion, inquiry, and problem solving. The best questions allow for students to apply existing learning to new concepts. The Global Digital Citizen offers A List of Over 100 Awesome Essential Questions Examples by Subject to spark some ideas in generating quality essential questions.
Promote brainstorming and provide time for students to generate their own questions. The Right Question Institute encourages educators to develop the Question Formulation Technique (or QFT) within the classroom as a way to build student questioning. This process involves a question focus, rules for questioning, producing questions, categorizing questions, prioritizing questions, next steps, and reflection. The question focus should be clear and should not be a question, but rather a topic to promote questioning. Rules are provided to students such as writing a question down that is asked exactly how it is stated, not judging the quality of the question, and just listening instead of trying to answer the question.
Once a list of questions is developed, time is then provided to sort questions by open-ended and closed-ended, discussing advantages and disadvantages of each type of question, and practice changing the questions from one type to another. Prioritizing questions gives students the ability to sort by the actions they want to take. The next steps would be for students to put those questions into action through various ways such as research. The final step is reflecting on the process and how to make it better or applying it further in other activities. Make questioning a habit in your classroom and students will become actively involved.
Encourage students to think for themselves. In some situations, it might seem easier to just provide the student with the answer—but this solution will not promote critical thinking. Lessons should naturally provide students the opportunity to find their own answers and share them with others. Question everything with students and encourage students to do the same. The Global Digital Citizen created The Ultimate Cheatsheet for Critical Thinking with questions to ask in order to promote critical thinking in students. Give students the ability to make their own choices in their learning, from project deliverables to writing prompts. Additionally, TeachThought has created a blog detailing 60 Ways to Teach Students to Think for Themselves, which is full of excellent ideas.
Make connections. There are many opportunities to connect student learning to real-life experiences. This could take place by connecting students to project topics that are of interest to them. Find topics in the real world that might have an impact on students or their families. Additionally, connect students to experts in the field. There are a multitude of resources to make classroom connections to experts such as scientists, museums, zoos, and field reporters. These connections can be done through programs like Google Meet, Skype, and Zoom. You can sign up for various programs through Google+ Connected Classrooms and Skype in the Classroom.
Provide opportunities for collaborative work. Collaborative work is how our world functions. Providing students with the opportunity to work together promotes critical thinking and a deeper understanding of the content they are learning. Collaborative work can take on the role of small in-class activities or larger project-based learning approaches. Examples of collaborative activities could be a “think, pair, share” discussion, a fishbowl debate, or a group problem solving project. Consider using class time for group work and at-home time for researching, watching a class video, and reading content. For larger projects, use class time as checkpoints and for conferencing with students.
For more insightful teaching tips, and to stay up to date with the latest education trends, be sure to subscribe to our Educator blog.