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Integrating Critical Thinking Into the Classroom

strategies to promote critical thinking in the elementary classroom

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(This is the second post in a three-part series. You can see Part One here .)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What is critical thinking and how can we integrate it into the classroom?

Part One ‘s guests were Dara Laws Savage, Patrick Brown, Meg Riordan, Ph.D., and Dr. PJ Caposey. Dara, Patrick, and Meg were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show . You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

Today, Dr. Kulvarn Atwal, Elena Quagliarello, Dr. Donna Wilson, and Diane Dahl share their recommendations.

‘Learning Conversations’

Dr. Kulvarn Atwal is currently the executive head teacher of two large primary schools in the London borough of Redbridge. Dr. Atwal is the author of The Thinking School: Developing a Dynamic Learning Community , published by John Catt Educational. Follow him on Twitter @Thinkingschool2 :

In many classrooms I visit, students’ primary focus is on what they are expected to do and how it will be measured. It seems that we are becoming successful at producing students who are able to jump through hoops and pass tests. But are we producing children that are positive about teaching and learning and can think critically and creatively? Consider your classroom environment and the extent to which you employ strategies that develop students’ critical-thinking skills and their self-esteem as learners.

Development of self-esteem

One of the most significant factors that impacts students’ engagement and achievement in learning in your classroom is their self-esteem. In this context, self-esteem can be viewed to be the difference between how they perceive themselves as a learner (perceived self) and what they consider to be the ideal learner (ideal self). This ideal self may reflect the child that is associated or seen to be the smartest in the class. Your aim must be to raise students’ self-esteem. To do this, you have to demonstrate that effort, not ability, leads to success. Your language and interactions in the classroom, therefore, have to be aspirational—that if children persist with something, they will achieve.

Use of evaluative praise

Ensure that when you are praising students, you are making explicit links to a child’s critical thinking and/or development. This will enable them to build their understanding of what factors are supporting them in their learning. For example, often when we give feedback to students, we may simply say, “Well done” or “Good answer.” However, are the students actually aware of what they did well or what was good about their answer? Make sure you make explicit what the student has done well and where that links to prior learning. How do you value students’ critical thinking—do you praise their thinking and demonstrate how it helps them improve their learning?

Learning conversations to encourage deeper thinking

We often feel as teachers that we have to provide feedback to every students’ response, but this can limit children’s thinking. Encourage students in your class to engage in learning conversations with each other. Give as many opportunities as possible to students to build on the responses of others. Facilitate chains of dialogue by inviting students to give feedback to each other. The teacher’s role is, therefore, to facilitate this dialogue and select each individual student to give feedback to others. It may also mean that you do not always need to respond at all to a student’s answer.

Teacher modelling own thinking

We cannot expect students to develop critical-thinking skills if we aren’t modeling those thinking skills for them. Share your creativity, imagination, and thinking skills with the students and you will nurture creative, imaginative critical thinkers. Model the language you want students to learn and think about. Share what you feel about the learning activities your students are participating in as well as the thinking you are engaging in. Your own thinking and learning will add to the discussions in the classroom and encourage students to share their own thinking.

Metacognitive questioning

Consider the extent to which your questioning encourages students to think about their thinking, and therefore, learn about learning! Through asking metacognitive questions, you will enable your students to have a better understanding of the learning process, as well as their own self-reflections as learners. Example questions may include:

  • Why did you choose to do it that way?
  • When you find something tricky, what helps you?
  • How do you know when you have really learned something?

itseemskul

‘Adventures of Discovery’

Elena Quagliarello is the senior editor of education for Scholastic News , a current events magazine for students in grades 3–6. She graduated from Rutgers University, where she studied English and earned her master’s degree in elementary education. She is a certified K–12 teacher and previously taught middle school English/language arts for five years:

Critical thinking blasts through the surface level of a topic. It reaches beyond the who and the what and launches students on a learning journey that ultimately unlocks a deeper level of understanding. Teaching students how to think critically helps them turn information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. In the classroom, critical thinking teaches students how to ask and answer the questions needed to read the world. Whether it’s a story, news article, photo, video, advertisement, or another form of media, students can use the following critical-thinking strategies to dig beyond the surface and uncover a wealth of knowledge.

A Layered Learning Approach

Begin by having students read a story, article, or analyze a piece of media. Then have them excavate and explore its various layers of meaning. First, ask students to think about the literal meaning of what they just read. For example, if students read an article about the desegregation of public schools during the 1950s, they should be able to answer questions such as: Who was involved? What happened? Where did it happen? Which details are important? This is the first layer of critical thinking: reading comprehension. Do students understand the passage at its most basic level?

Ask the Tough Questions

The next layer delves deeper and starts to uncover the author’s purpose and craft. Teach students to ask the tough questions: What information is included? What or who is left out? How does word choice influence the reader? What perspective is represented? What values or people are marginalized? These questions force students to critically analyze the choices behind the final product. In today’s age of fast-paced, easily accessible information, it is essential to teach students how to critically examine the information they consume. The goal is to equip students with the mindset to ask these questions on their own.

Strike Gold

The deepest layer of critical thinking comes from having students take a step back to think about the big picture. This level of thinking is no longer focused on the text itself but rather its real-world implications. Students explore questions such as: Why does this matter? What lesson have I learned? How can this lesson be applied to other situations? Students truly engage in critical thinking when they are able to reflect on their thinking and apply their knowledge to a new situation. This step has the power to transform knowledge into wisdom.

Adventures of Discovery

There are vast ways to spark critical thinking in the classroom. Here are a few other ideas:

  • Critical Expressionism: In this expanded response to reading from a critical stance, students are encouraged to respond through forms of artistic interpretations, dramatizations, singing, sketching, designing projects, or other multimodal responses. For example, students might read an article and then create a podcast about it or read a story and then act it out.
  • Transmediations: This activity requires students to take an article or story and transform it into something new. For example, they might turn a news article into a cartoon or turn a story into a poem. Alternatively, students may rewrite a story by changing some of its elements, such as the setting or time period.
  • Words Into Action: In this type of activity, students are encouraged to take action and bring about change. Students might read an article about endangered orangutans and the effects of habitat loss caused by deforestation and be inspired to check the labels on products for palm oil. They might then write a letter asking companies how they make sure the palm oil they use doesn’t hurt rain forests.
  • Socratic Seminars: In this student-led discussion strategy, students pose thought-provoking questions to each other about a topic. They listen closely to each other’s comments and think critically about different perspectives.
  • Classroom Debates: Aside from sparking a lively conversation, classroom debates naturally embed critical-thinking skills by asking students to formulate and support their own opinions and consider and respond to opposing viewpoints.

Critical thinking has the power to launch students on unforgettable learning experiences while helping them develop new habits of thought, reflection, and inquiry. Developing these skills prepares students to examine issues of power and promote transformative change in the world around them.

criticalthinkinghasthepower

‘Quote Analysis’

Dr. Donna Wilson is a psychologist and the author of 20 books, including Developing Growth Mindsets , Teaching Students to Drive Their Brains , and Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching (2 nd Edition). She is an international speaker who has worked in Asia, the Middle East, Australia, Europe, Jamaica, and throughout the U.S. and Canada. Dr. Wilson can be reached at [email protected] ; visit her website at www.brainsmart.org .

Diane Dahl has been a teacher for 13 years, having taught grades 2-4 throughout her career. Mrs. Dahl currently teaches 3rd and 4th grade GT-ELAR/SS in Lovejoy ISD in Fairview, Texas. Follow her on Twitter at @DahlD, and visit her website at www.fortheloveofteaching.net :

A growing body of research over the past several decades indicates that teaching students how to be better thinkers is a great way to support them to be more successful at school and beyond. In the book, Teaching Students to Drive Their Brains , Dr. Wilson shares research and many motivational strategies, activities, and lesson ideas that assist students to think at higher levels. Five key strategies from the book are as follows:

  • Facilitate conversation about why it is important to think critically at school and in other contexts of life. Ideally, every student will have a contribution to make to the discussion over time.
  • Begin teaching thinking skills early in the school year and as a daily part of class.
  • As this instruction begins, introduce students to the concept of brain plasticity and how their brilliant brains change during thinking and learning. This can be highly motivational for students who do not yet believe they are good thinkers!
  • Explicitly teach students how to use the thinking skills.
  • Facilitate student understanding of how the thinking skills they are learning relate to their lives at school and in other contexts.

Below are two lessons that support critical thinking, which can be defined as the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.

Mrs. Dahl prepares her 3rd and 4th grade classes for a year of critical thinking using quote analysis .

During Native American studies, her 4 th grade analyzes a Tuscarora quote: “Man has responsibility, not power.” Since students already know how the Native Americans’ land had been stolen, it doesn’t take much for them to make the logical leaps. Critical-thought prompts take their thinking even deeper, especially at the beginning of the year when many need scaffolding. Some prompts include:

  • … from the point of view of the Native Americans?
  • … from the point of view of the settlers?
  • How do you think your life might change over time as a result?
  • Can you relate this quote to anything else in history?

Analyzing a topic from occupational points of view is an incredibly powerful critical-thinking tool. After learning about the Mexican-American War, Mrs. Dahl’s students worked in groups to choose an occupation with which to analyze the war. The chosen occupations were: anthropologist, mathematician, historian, archaeologist, cartographer, and economist. Then each individual within each group chose a different critical-thinking skill to focus on. Finally, they worked together to decide how their occupation would view the war using each skill.

For example, here is what each student in the economist group wrote:

  • When U.S.A. invaded Mexico for land and won, Mexico ended up losing income from the settlements of Jose de Escandon. The U.S.A. thought that they were gaining possible tradable land, while Mexico thought that they were losing precious land and resources.
  • Whenever Texas joined the states, their GDP skyrocketed. Then they went to war and spent money on supplies. When the war was resolving, Texas sold some of their land to New Mexico for $10 million. This allowed Texas to pay off their debt to the U.S., improving their relationship.
  • A detail that converged into the Mexican-American War was that Mexico and the U.S. disagreed on the Texas border. With the resulting treaty, Texas ended up gaining more land and economic resources.
  • Texas gained land from Mexico since both countries disagreed on borders. Texas sold land to New Mexico, which made Texas more economically structured and allowed them to pay off their debt.

This was the first time that students had ever used the occupations technique. Mrs. Dahl was astonished at how many times the kids used these critical skills in other areas moving forward.

explicitlyteach

Thanks to Dr. Auwal, Elena, Dr. Wilson, and Diane for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected] . When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo .

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Critical Thinking Strategies for Elementary Students: 7 Exercises and 5 Activities to Help

5 critical thinking games and activities, 1. the barometer.

Then, label each side of the classroom with one of the two most extreme opinions related to the topic. Tell students that they need to place themselves on the continuum to designate where their opinion falls.In order for students to decide exactly where they should be standing, they’ll need to have discussions with other students to compare their opinions. This process will help expose them to the logic and reasoning that others are using to form their own opinions, even if they are different from those held by the student.

2. Debating the Accuracy of a Globe vs a Map

Do you think your students could benefit from this lesson? How do you see using it in your classroom?

3. Media Bias Scavenger Hunt

4. brain teasers.

Were you able to come up with the correct solution to the brain teaser? Or, did the misdirection with all the unnecessary key details take your focus off the fact that roosters can’t lay eggs?

5. Take a Side

After each student shares their rationale, provide an opportunity for students to switch to the other side of the room if they have changed their opinion.

Why Critical Thinking is Important

Everyone has inherent biases. Teaching critical thinking to your students will allow them to identify these biases and try to focus on the facts of a situation. It also helps remove some of the emotions from a decision and allows students to clearly see the different points of views of others.Of course, part of your job as a teacher is to prepare your students for the real world and life after school. This includes helping them gain the skills they’ll need to be a successful candidate.

Monarch Elementary teachers have so many great ideas for inquiry instructional strategies and how that increases student engagement, rigor, and critical thinking! @voverman2 @markloach @MeganHoefe pic.twitter.com/z3AItMHnGQ — Katie Delloso (@Katie_Delloso) March 24, 2021

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Strategies to Increase Critical Thinking Skills in students

Matthew Joseph October 2, 2019 Blog , Engage Better , Lesson Plan Better , Personalize Student Learning Better

strategies to promote critical thinking in the elementary classroom

In This Post:

  • The importance of helping students increase critical thinking skills.
  • Ways to promote the essential skills needed to analyze and evaluate.
  • Strategies to incorporate critical thinking into your instruction.

We ask our teachers to be “future-ready” or say that we are teaching “for jobs that don’t exist yet.” These are powerful statements. At the same time, they give teachers the impression that we have to drastically change what we are doing .

So how do we plan education for an unknown job market or unknown needs?

My answer: We can’t predict the jobs, but whatever they are, students will need to think critically to do them. So, our job is to teach our students HOW to think, not WHAT to think.

Helping Students Become Critical Thinkers

My answer is rooted in the call to empower our students to be critical thinkers. I believe that to be critical thinkers, educators need to provide students with the strategies they need. And we need to ask more than just surface-level questions.

Questions to students must motivate them to dig up background knowledge. They should inspire them to make connections to real-world scenarios. These make the learning more memorable and meaningful.

Critical thinking is a general term. I believe this term means that students effectively identify, analyze, and evaluate content or skills. In this process, they (the students) will discover and present convincing reasons in support of their answers or thinking.

You can look up critical thinking and get many definitions like this one from Wikipedia: “ Critical thinking consists of a mental process of analyzing or evaluating information, particularly statements or propositions that people have offered as true. ”

Essential Skills for Critical Thinking

In my current role as director of curriculum and instruction, I work to promote the use of 21st-century tools and, more importantly, thinking skills. Some essential skills that are the basis for critical thinking are:

  • Communication and Information skills
  • Thinking and Problem-Solving skills
  • Interpersonal and Self- Directional skills
  • Collaboration skills

These four bullets are skills students are going to need in any field and in all levels of education. Hence my answer to the question. We need to teach our students to think critically and for themselves.

One of the goals of education is to prepare students to learn through discovery . Providing opportunities to practice being critical thinkers will assist students in analyzing others’ thinking and examining the logic of others.

Understanding others is an essential skill in collaboration and in everyday life. Critical thinking will allow students to do more than just memorize knowledge.

Ask Questions

So how do we do this? One recommendation is for educators to work in-depth questioning strategies into a lesson launch.

Ask thoughtful questions to allow for answers with sound reasoning. Then, word conversations and communication to shape students’ thinking. Quick answers often result in very few words and no eye contact, which are skills we don’t want to promote.

When you are asking students questions and they provide a solution, try some of these to promote further thinking:

  • Could you elaborate further on that point?
  • Will you express that point in another way?
  • Can you give me an illustration?
  • Would you give me an example?
  • Will you you provide more details?
  • Could you be more specific?
  • Do we need to consider another point of view?
  • Is there another way to look at this question?

Utilizing critical thinking skills could be seen as a change in the paradigm of teaching and learning. Engagement in education will enhance the collaboration among teachers and students. It will also provide a way for students to succeed even if the school system had to start over.

[scroll down to keep reading]

Promoting critical thinking into all aspects of instruction.

Engagement, application, and collaboration are skills that withstand the test of time. I also promote the integration of critical thinking into every aspect of instruction.

In my experience, I’ve found a few ways to make this happen.

Begin lessons/units with a probing question: It shouldn’t be a question you can answer with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ These questions should inspire discovery learning and problem-solving.

Encourage Creativity: I have seen teachers prepare projects before they give it to their students many times. For example, designing snowmen or other “creative” projects. By doing the design work or by cutting all the circles out beforehand, it removes creativity options.

It may help the classroom run more smoothly if every child’s material is already cut out, but then every student’s project looks the same. Students don’t have to think on their own or problem solve.

Not having everything “glue ready” in advance is a good thing. Instead, give students all the supplies needed to create a snowman, and let them do it on their own.

Giving independence will allow students to become critical thinkers because they will have to create their own product with the supplies you give them. This might be an elementary example, but it’s one we can relate to any grade level or project.

Try not to jump to help too fast – let the students work through a productive struggle .

Build in opportunities for students to find connections in learning.  Encouraging students to make connections to a real-life situation and identify patterns is a great way to practice their critical thinking skills. The use of real-world scenarios will increase rigor, relevance, and critical thinking.

A few other techniques to encourage critical thinking are:

  • Use analogies
  • Promote interaction among students
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Allow reflection time
  • Use real-life problems
  • Allow for thinking practice

Critical thinking prepares students to think for themselves for the rest of their lives. I also believe critical thinkers are less likely to go along with the crowd because they think for themselves.

About Matthew X. Joseph, Ed.D.

Dr. Matthew X. Joseph has been a school and district leader in many capacities in public education over his 25 years in the field. Experiences such as the Director of Digital Learning and Innovation in Milford Public Schools (MA), elementary school principal in Natick, MA and Attleboro, MA, classroom teacher, and district professional development specialist have provided Matt incredible insights on how to best support teaching and learning. This experience has led to nationally publishing articles and opportunities to speak at multiple state and national events. He is the author of Power of Us: Creating Collaborative Schools and co-author of Modern Mentoring , Reimagining Teacher Mentorship (Due out, fall 2019). His master’s degree is in special education and his Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from Boston College.

Visit Matthew’s Blog

strategies to promote critical thinking in the elementary classroom

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Critical Thinking in the Classroom: A Guide for Teachers

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, teaching students the skill of critical thinking has become a priority. This powerful tool empowers students to evaluate information, make reasoned judgments, and approach problems from a fresh perspective. In this article, we’ll explore the significance of critical thinking and provide effective strategies to nurture this skill in your students.

Why is Fostering Critical Thinking Important?

Strategies to cultivate critical thinking, real-world example, concluding thoughts.

Critical thinking is a key skill that goes far beyond the four walls of a classroom. It equips students to better understand and interact with the world around them. Here are some reasons why fostering critical thinking is important:

  • Making Informed Decisions:  Critical thinking enables students to evaluate the pros and cons of a situation, helping them make informed and rational decisions.
  • Developing Analytical Skills:  Critical thinking involves analyzing information from different angles, which enhances analytical skills.
  • Promoting Independence:  Critical thinking fosters independence by encouraging students to form their own opinions based on their analysis, rather than relying on others.

strategies to promote critical thinking in the elementary classroom

Creating an environment that encourages critical thinking can be accomplished in various ways. Here are some effective strategies:

  • Socratic Questioning:  This method involves asking thought-provoking questions that encourage students to think deeply about a topic. For example, instead of asking, “What is the capital of France?” you might ask, “Why do you think Paris became the capital of France?”
  • Debates and Discussions:  Debates and open-ended discussions allow students to explore different viewpoints and challenge their own beliefs. For example, a debate on a current event can engage students in critical analysis of the situation.
  • Teaching Metacognition:  Teaching students to think about their own thinking can enhance their critical thinking skills. This can be achieved through activities such as reflective writing or journaling.
  • Problem-Solving Activities:  As with developing problem-solving skills , activities that require students to find solutions to complex problems can also foster critical thinking.

As a school leader, I’ve seen the transformative power of critical thinking. During a school competition, I observed a team of students tasked with proposing a solution to reduce our school’s environmental impact. Instead of jumping to obvious solutions, they critically evaluated multiple options, considering the feasibility, cost, and potential impact of each. They ultimately proposed a comprehensive plan that involved water conservation, waste reduction, and energy efficiency measures. This demonstrated their ability to critically analyze a problem and develop an effective solution.

Critical thinking is an essential skill for students in the 21st century. It equips them to understand and navigate the world in a thoughtful and informed manner. As a teacher, incorporating strategies to foster critical thinking in your classroom can make a lasting impact on your students’ educational journey and life beyond school.

1. What is critical thinking? Critical thinking is the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment.

2. Why is critical thinking important for students? Critical thinking helps students make informed decisions, develop analytical skills, and promotes independence.

3. What are some strategies to cultivate critical thinking in students? Strategies can include Socratic questioning, debates and discussions, teaching metacognition, and problem-solving activities.

4. How can I assess my students’ critical thinking skills? You can assess critical thinking skills through essays, presentations, discussions, and problem-solving tasks that require thoughtful analysis.

5. Can critical thinking be taught? Yes, critical thinking can be taught and nurtured through specific teaching strategies and a supportive learning environment.

strategies to promote critical thinking in the elementary classroom

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Promoting Critical Thinking in the Classroom: Strategies and Activities

ritical thinking is a valuable skill that empowers students to analyze information, think deeply, and make reasoned judgments. By promoting critical thinking in the classroom, educators can foster intellectual curiosity, enhance problem-solving abilities, and prepare students for success in an ever-evolving world. This article explores effective strategies and engaging activities to promote critical thinking among students.

1. Ask Thought-Provoking Questions

Encourage critical thinking by asking open-ended and thought-provoking questions that stimulate students' analytical thinking. For example, in a history class, instead of asking "When did World War II start?" you could ask "What were the underlying causes of World War II and how did they contribute to its outbreak?" This prompts students to go beyond simple factual recall and encourages them to analyze historical events, evaluate multiple factors, and develop a deeper understanding of the topic. Instead of seeking one correct answer, focus on guiding students to explore different perspectives, evaluate evidence, and justify their reasoning. Engage students in discussions that require them to analyze, compare, and synthesize information.

2. Provide Real-World Examples

Connect classroom learning to real-world applications by providing relevant examples and case studies. By presenting authentic scenarios, students can apply critical thinking skills to analyze and solve complex problems. Encourage students to think critically about the implications of their decisions and consider the broader impact of their choices.

3. Foster Collaboration and Debate

Promote collaborative learning environments where students can engage in respectful debates and discussions. Encourage students to express diverse opinions, support their arguments with evidence, and listen actively to others' viewpoints. Through collaborative activities, students can learn to evaluate different perspectives, challenge assumptions, and develop their critical thinking skills.

4. Encourage Reflection and Metacognition

Provide opportunities for students to reflect on their thinking processes and metacognition. Ask students to evaluate their own problem-solving strategies, analyze their decision-making processes, and assess the effectiveness of their critical thinking skills. By promoting self-awareness and reflection, students can enhance their critical thinking abilities and become more independent learners.

5. Incorporate Problem-Based Learning

Integrate problem-based learning activities that require students to apply critical thinking skills to solve complex problems. For example, in a science class, present a real-world scenario where students need to design an experiment to test the effectiveness of different fertilizers on plant growth. This activity prompts students to analyze information about fertilizers, evaluate different options, and develop a well-reasoned experimental design. By engaging in hands-on problem-solving experiences like this, students can develop their critical thinking abilities while also building their content knowledge.

Promoting critical thinking in the classroom is essential for developing students' analytical skills, problem-solving abilities, and intellectual curiosity. By incorporating strategies such as asking thought-provoking questions, providing real-world examples, fostering collaboration and debate, encouraging reflection and metacognition, and incorporating problem-based learning, educators can create an environment that nurtures critical thinking skills. By equipping students with this valuable skill set, we empower them to navigate complex challenges and become lifelong learners.

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How To Promote Critical Thinking In Your Classroom

Promoting Thinking

November 25, 2006, by The Critical Thinking Co. Staff

Modeling of critical thinking skills by instructors is crucial for teaching critical thinking successfully. By making your own thought processes explicit in class - explaining your reasoning, evaluating evidence for a claim, probing the credibility of a source, or even describing what has puzzled or confused you - you provide a powerful example to students, particularly if you invite them to join in; e.g., "Can you see where we're headed with this?" "I can't think of other explanations; can you?" "This idea/principle struck me as difficult or confusing at first, but here's how I figured it out." You can encourage students to emulate this by using them in demonstrations, asking them to "think out loud" in order for classmates to observe how they reason through a problem.

Develop the habit of asking questions that require students to think critically, and tell students that you really expect them to give answers! In particular, Socratic questioning encourages students to develop and clarify their thinking: e.g., "Would your answer hold in all cases?" "How would you respond to a counter-example or counter-argument?" "Explain how you arrived at that answer?"

This is another skill that students can learn from your example, and can use in working with each other. Providing regular opportunities for pair or small group discussions after major points or demonstrations during lectures is also important: this allows students to process the new material, connect it to previously learned topics, and practice asking questions that promote further critical thinking. Obviously, conveying genuine respect for student input is essential. Communicating the message that you value and support student contributions and efforts to think critically increases confidence, and motivates students to continue building their thinking skills. An essential component of this process is the creation of a climate where students feel comfortable with exploring the process of reasoning through a problem without being "punished" for getting the wrong answer.

Researchers have found consistently that interaction among students, in the form of well-structured group discussions plays a central role in stimulating critical thinking. Discussing course material and its applications allows students to formulate and test hypotheses, practice asking thought-provoking questions, hear other perspectives, analyze claims, evaluate evidence, and explain and justify their reasoning. As they become more sophisticated and fluent in thinking critically, students can observe and critique each others' reasoning skills.

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strategies to promote critical thinking in the elementary classroom

20 Critical Thinking Activities for Elementary Classrooms

  • Elementary Education

strategies to promote critical thinking in the elementary classroom

Introduction:

In today’s fast-paced world, instilling critical thinking skills in young minds is more important than ever. By nurturing these skills, teachers are laying the foundation for a lifetime of learning, problem-solving, and creativity. Here are 20 critical thinking activities that can be easily incorporated into any elementary classroom setting.

1. Think-Pair-Share

This simple activity encourages students to think about a question or problem individually first and then discuss with a partner before sharing their thoughts with the entire class.

2. Brainstorming Sessions

Encourage students to throw out ideas and suggest solutions within a given time frame on a specific topic without judgment or criticism.

3. Fact vs. Opinion

Prompt students to analyze the statements in this activity and decide which ones are facts and which are opinions.

4. The “Why” Chain

Ask students to continuously inquire ‘Why?’ to any given event, encouraging them to think deeply about cause-and-effect relationships.

5. Comparing Perspectives

Given two or more characters from a story, have students compare and contrast their different perspectives on a particular issue.

6. Classification Activities

Challenge students to classify objects or ideas into specific categories based on their characteristics, fostering organizational thinking.

7. Similes and Metaphors

Encourage imaginative thinking by having students create similes and metaphors to describe various objects or situations.

8. Storytelling Circles

Students take turns adding onto a collective story that promotes creative thinking and collaboration skills.

9. Mind Mapping

Guide students through creating visual diagrams that highlight connections between ideas in an organized fashion.

10. Analogy Activities

Students use analogies to explore connections between seemingly unrelated concepts or ideas.

11. Socratic Seminars

The class engages in group discussions using the Socratic method where they answer open-ended questions and challenge each other’s viewpoints respectfully.

12. Create Your Own Country

In this creative activity, students develop the governance, geography, culture, and history of a fictional country.

13. Problem-Solving Challenges

Present students with real-life scenarios and ask them to brainstorm potential solutions as a group.

14. Peer Review Sessions

Students exchange their work and provide feedback on each other’s assignments, fostering critical assessment.

15. Inquiry-Based Science Experiments

Students participate in hands-on experiments that allow them to develop their own hypotheses and draw conclusions based on observations.

16. Optical Illusions

Examine various optical illusions and discuss as a class how our minds can be tricked into perceiving things differently.

17. What Would You Do?

Pose hypothetical situations to students requiring them to think about what they would do in those circumstances.

18. 4 Corners Debate

Assign the corners of your classroom as “Agree,” “Disagree,” “Strongly Agree,” or “Strongly Disagree.” Pose a statement and have students move to a corner based on their opinion, encouraging them to defend their stance.

19. Creating Advertisements

Guide students through the creation of advertisements for different products, promoting persuasive thinking and communication skills.

20. KWL Chart

Use KWL charts (What I Know; What I Want to Know; What I Learned) to encourage reflection on topics or concepts before, during, and after your lesson.

Conclusion:

The incorporation of these 20 critical thinking activities into your elementary classroom can pave the way for the development of vital skills in problem-solving, decision-making, and creativity, positioning children for future success in academics and life beyond school.

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Teaching Strategies to Promote Critical Thinking

Janelle cox.

  • September 9, 2014

Young boy pointing to a light bulb drawn on a chalkboard

Critical thinking is an essential skill that all students will use in almost every aspect of their lives. From solving problems to making informed decisions, thinking critically is a valuable skill that will help students navigate the world’s complexities. In a post-COVID teaching environment , incorporating teaching strategies that help students think rationally and independently is an excellent way to strengthen students’ abilities and prepare them for any new challenges in the future.

There are several techniques to engage students and help strengthen these skills. Here are some teaching strategies that prove to be effective.

Encourage Students to Question Everything

We are now living in a world where AI ( artificial intelligence ) is slowly making its way into the classrooms. With these innovations, it’s imperative today, more than ever, for students to question everything and understand how to verify information when making an informed decision. AI has the potential to spread misinformation or be biased. Teach students to be careful of what is and is not a reliable source . Discuss credibility and bias and have students look for examples of both trusted content and misinformation. By using different forms of media for this exercise, students will need to use their critical thinking skills to determine the validity of the information.

Activate Student Curiosity

You can activate a student’s curiosity by using the inquiry-based learning model. This approach involves posing questions or problems for students to discover the answers on their own. In this method, students develop questions they want to know the answers to, and their teacher serves as their guide providing support as needed along the way. This approach nurtures curiosity and self-directed learning by encouraging students to think critically and independently. Recent  research  from 2019 supports the assertion that the use of this model significantly enhances students’ critical thinking abilities.

Incorporate Project-Based Learning

Immerse students in real-world problem scenarios by having them partake in project-based learning. Engaging in hands-on projects where students need to collaborate, communicate, analyze information, and find solutions to their challenges is a great way to develop their critical thinking skills. Throughout the project, students must engage in higher-order thinking while gathering their information and making decisions throughout various stages.

This approach pushes students to think critically while they connect to a real-world issue, and it helps them understand the relevance this issue has in their lives. Throughout the project, students will hone their critical thinking skills because PBL is a process that requires reflection and continuous improvement.

Offer Diverse Perspectives

Consider offering students a variety of viewpoints. Sometimes classrooms are filled with students who share similar perspectives on their beliefs and cultural norms. When this happens, it hinders learners from alternative viewpoints or experiences. Exposing students to diverse perspectives will help to broaden their horizons and challenge them to think beyond their perspectives. In addition, being exposed to different viewpoints encourages students to be more open-minded so they are more equipped to develop problem-solving strategies and analytical skills. It also helps them to cultivate empathy which is critical for critical thinking because it helps them appreciate others more and be concerned for them.

To support diverse viewpoints in the classroom, use various primary sources such as documentaries and articles from people who have experienced current events firsthand. Or invite in a few guest speakers who can offer varying perspectives on the same topic. Bring diverse perspectives into the classroom through guest speakers or by watching documentaries from varying experts.

Assign Tasks on Critical Writing

Assign writing tasks that encourage students to organize and articulate their thoughts and defend their position. By doing so, you are offering students the opportunity to demonstrate their critical thinking skills as well as effectively communicate their thoughts and ideas. Whether it’s through a research paper or an essay, students will need to support their claims and show evidence to prove their point of view. Critical writing also requires students to analyze information, scrutinize different perspectives, and question the reliability of sources, all of which contribute to the development of their critical thinking skills.

Promote Collaboration

Collaborative learning is a powerful tool that promotes critical thinking among students. Whether it’s through group discussions, classroom debates , or group projects, peer interaction will help students develop the ability to think critically. For example, a classroom debate will challenge students to articulate their thoughts, defend their viewpoints, and consider opposing viewpoints.

It will also challenge students to have a deep understanding of the subject matter as well as sharpen their communication skills. Any group setting where students can work together and be exposed to the thought processes of their classmates will help them understand that their way of thinking is not the only way. Through peer interaction, students will develop the ability to think critically.

Critical thinking requires consistency and commitment. This means that to make the above teaching strategies effective, they must be used consistently throughout the year. Encourage students to question everything and verify all information and resources. Activate student curiosity by using the inquiry-based learning model. Incorporate a real-world project that students can work on throughout the entire semester or school year. Assign critical writing tasks that require students to analyze information and prove their point of view. Finally, foster peer interaction where students work with their classmates to sharpen their communication skills and gain a deeper understanding of other perspectives.

The ultimate goal is for students to become independent thinkers who are capable of analyzing and solving their own problems. By modeling and developing student’s critical thinking skills in the classroom we are setting the stage for our student’s growth and success in the future.

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4 Strategies for Sparking Critical Thinking in Young Students

Fostering investigative conversation in grades K–2 isn’t easy, but it can be a great vehicle to promote critical thinking.

In the middle of class, a kindergartner spotted an ant and asked the teacher, “Why do ants come into the classroom?” Fairly quickly, educational consultant Cecilia Cabrera Martirena writes , students started sharing their theories: Maybe the ants were cold, or looking for food, or lonely. 

Their teacher started a KWL chart to organize what students already knew, what they wanted to know, and, later, what they had learned. “As many of the learners didn’t read or write yet, the KWL was created with drawings and one or two words,” Cabrera Martirena writes. “Then, as a group, they decided how they could gather information to answer that first question, and some possible research routes were designed.” 

As early elementary teachers know, young learners are able to engage in critical thinking and participate in nuanced conversations, with appropriate supports. What can teachers do to foster these discussions? Elementary teacher Jennifer Orr considered a few ideas in an article for ASCD .

“An interesting question and the discussion that follows can open up paths of critical thinking for students at any age,” Orr says. “With a few thoughtful prompts and a lot of noticing and modeling, we as educators can help young students engage in these types of academic conversations in ways that deepen their learning and develop their critical thinking skills.”

While this may not be an “easy process,” Orr writes—for the kids or the teacher—the payoff is students who from a young age are able to communicate new ideas and questions; listen and truly hear the thoughts of others; respectfully agree, disagree, or build off of their peers’ opinions; and revise their thinking. 

4 Strategies for Kick-Starting Powerful Conversations

1. Encourage Friendly Debate: For many elementary-aged children, it doesn’t take much provoking for them to share their opinions, especially if they disagree with each other. Working with open-ended prompts that “engage their interest and pique their curiosity” is one key to sparking organic engagement, Orr writes. Look for prompts that allow them to take a stance, arguing for or against something they feel strongly about. 

For example, Orr says, you could try telling first graders that a square is a rectangle to start a debate. Early childhood educator Sarah Griffin proposes some great math talk questions that can yield similar results:

  • How many crayons can fit in a box?
  • Which takes more snow to build: one igloo or 20 snowballs?
  • Estimate how many tissues are in a box.
  • How many books can you fit in your backpack?
  • Which would take less time: cleaning your room or reading a book?
  • Which would you rather use to measure a Christmas tree: a roll of ribbon or a candy cane? Why?

Using pictures can inspire interesting math discussions as well, writes K–6 math coach Kristen Acosta . Explore counting, addition, and subtraction by introducing kids to pictures “that have missing pieces or spaces” or “pictures where the objects are scattered.” For example, try showing students a photo of a carton of eggs with a few eggs missing. Ask questions like, “what do you notice?” and “what do you wonder?” and see how opinions differ.

2. Put Your Students in the Question: Centering students’ viewpoints in a question or discussion prompt can foster deeper thinking, Orr writes. During a unit in which kids learned about ladybugs, she asked her third graders, “What are four living and four nonliving things you would need and want if you were designing your own ecosystem?” This not only required students to analyze the components of an ecosystem but also made the lesson personal by inviting them to dream one up from scratch.

Educator Todd Finley has a list of interesting writing prompts for different grades that can instead be used to kick off classroom discussions. Examples for early elementary students include: 

  • Which is better, giant muscles or incredible speed? Why?
  • What’s the most beautiful person, place, or thing you’ve ever seen? Share what makes that person, place, or thing so special. 
  • What TV or movie characters do you wish were real? Why? 
  • Describe a routine that you often or always do (in the morning, when you get home, Friday nights, before a game, etc.).
  • What are examples of things you want versus things you need? 

3. Open Several Doors: While some students take to classroom discussions like a duck to water, others may prefer to stay on dry land. Offering low-stakes opportunities for students to dip a toe into the conversation can be a great way to ensure that everyone in the room can be heard. Try introducing hand signals that indicate agreement, disagreement, and more. Since everyone can indicate their opinion silently, this supports students who are reluctant to speak, and can help get the conversation started. 

Similarly, elementary school teacher Raquel Linares uses participation cards —a set of different colored index cards, each labeled with a phrase like “I agree,” “I disagree,” or “I don’t know how to respond.” “We use them to assess students’ understanding, but we also use them to give students a voice,” Linares says. “We obviously cannot have 24 scholars speaking at the same time, but we want everyone to feel their ideas matter. Even if I am very shy and I don’t feel comfortable, my voice is still heard.” Once the students have held up the appropriate card, the discussion gets going.

4. Provide Discussion Sentence Starters: Young students often want to add their contribution without connecting it to what their peers have said, writes district-level literacy leader Gwen Blumberg . Keeping an ear out for what students are saying to each other is an important starting point when trying to “lift the level of talk” in your classroom. Are kids “putting thoughts into words and able to keep a conversation going?” she asks.

Introducing sentence starters like “I agree…” or “I feel differently…” can help demonstrate for students how they can connect what their classmate is saying to what they would like to say, which grows the conversation, Blumberg says. Phrases like “I’d like to add…” help students “build a bridge from someone else’s idea to their own.”

Additionally, “noticing and naming the positive things students are doing, both in their conversation skills and in the thinking they are demonstrating,” Orr writes, can shine a light for the class on what success looks like. Celebrating when students use these sentence stems correctly, for example, helps reinforce these behaviors.

“Students’ ability to clearly communicate with others in conversation is a critical literacy skill,” Blumberg writes, and teachers in grades K–2 can get students started on the path to developing this skill by harnessing their natural curiosity and modeling conversation moves.

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10 Innovative Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking in the Classroom

Are you looking for innovative ways to promote critical thinking skills in your classroom? As an educator, you know the importance of developing strong critical thinking skills in your students. In today’s complex and ever-changing world, critical thinking is a vital skill that can make the difference between success and failure.

Critical Thinking Lessons and Activities

Now you may be wondering how to promote critical thinking in the classroom or how to develop critical thinking skills in the students. Well, to help you out, we’ve put together 10 surprising strategies to promote critical thinking skills in your classroom, complete with real-world examples and actionable strategies.

Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking in the Classroom

These strategies are designed to promote active learning, inquiry-based learning, and Bloom’s Taxonomy levels of analysis, evaluation, and interpretation. Here they are:

1. Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning is an effective way to promote critical thinking skills in your classroom. By encouraging your students to work together to solve complex problems, you can help them develop skills in analysis, evaluation, and interpretation.

For example, you could divide your students into small groups and give them a problem to solve. Each group can then present their solution to the class and the class can evaluate and critique each solution. This not only encourages critical thinking, but it also promotes teamwork and communication skills.

If you are looking for examples of critical thinking in the classroom, then read our article 11 activities that promote critical thinking skills in the classroom .

2. Questioning

Asking open-ended questions is another effective way to promote critical thinking skills in your classroom. Open-ended questions encourage your students to think deeply about a topic and consider different perspectives.

Read our article: 10 Best Educational Games for Kids That will Shape Their Future

For example, if you’re teaching a lesson on climate change, you could ask your students questions such as “What are the causes of climate change?” and “What are the potential consequences of climate change?” These questions encourage your students to analyze information and think critically about the topic.

3. Active Listening

Encouraging active listening is another way to promote critical thinking skills in your classroom. When students actively listen to each other, they consider different perspectives and analyze information more deeply.

Think Like a Detective – A Kid’s Guide to Critical Thinking

For example, you could ask your students to work in pairs and have each student share their opinion on a topic. The other student must actively listen and ask follow-up questions to better understand their partner’s perspective. This activity promotes critical thinking skills such as analysis, evaluation, and interpretation.

4. Case Studies

Using case studies is another effective way to promote critical thinking skills in your classroom. Case studies allow your students to apply critical thinking skills to real-world situations.

For example, if you’re teaching a lesson on business ethics , you could present a case study on a company that faced an ethical dilemma. Your students can then analyze the case study and identify potential solutions. This activity promotes critical thinking skills such as analysis, evaluation, and interpretation.

Organizing debates is another effective way to promote critical thinking skills in your classroom. Debates encourage your students to analyze and evaluate different viewpoints on a topic.

For example, if you’re teaching a lesson on gun control, you could organize a debate where half of the class argues for gun control and the other half argues against it. This activity promotes critical thinking skills such as analysis, evaluation, and interpretation.

Read our article: Engaging STEM Activities for Elementary, Middle and High School Students

6. Mind Mapping

Using mind mapping is another effective way to promote critical thinking skills in your classroom. Mind mapping allows your students to organize and analyze complex information.

For example, if you’re teaching a lesson on the solar system, you could have your students create a mind map of the different planets and their characteristics. This activity promotes critical thinking skills such as analysis, evaluation, and interpretation.

7. Gamification

Using game-based learning is another effective way to promote critical thinking skills in your classroom. Game-based learning engages your students and promotes critical thinking skills such as problem-solving, analysis, and evaluation.

For example, you could use an online game that requires your students to solve math problems. This activity promotes critical thinking skills such as problem-solving, analysis, and evaluation.

8. Problem-Based Learning

Using problem-based learning is another effective way to promote critical thinking skills in your classroom. Problem-based learning requires your students to solve real-world problems using critical thinking skills such as analysis, evaluation, and interpretation.

For example, you could present your students with a real-world problem, such as designing a sustainable community. Your students can then work in groups to research and propose solutions to the problem. This activity promotes critical thinking skills such as problem-solving, analysis, evaluation, and interpretation.

9. Reflection

Encouraging reflection is another way to promote critical thinking skills in your classroom. When students reflect on their learning experiences, they can identify areas where they need to improve and develop critical thinking skills.

For example, you could have your students keep a learning journal where they reflect on their learning experiences and identify areas where they need to improve. This activity promotes critical thinking skills such as analysis, evaluation, and interpretation.

10. Real-World Applications

Using real-world applications is another effective way to promote critical thinking skills in your classroom. When students can see how the skills they are learning can be applied in the real world, they are more motivated to learn and develop critical thinking skills.

For example, if you’re teaching a lesson on fractions, you could show your students how fractions are used in cooking recipes. This activity promotes critical thinking skills such as analysis, evaluation, and interpretation.

In conclusion, critical thinking skills are essential for success in today’s complex and ever-changing world. As an educator, you can promote critical thinking skills in your classroom by using these 10 surprising ways. Collaborative learning, questioning, active listening, case studies, debates, mind mapping, gamification, problem-based learning, reflection, and real-world applications are all effective ways to promote critical thinking skills. By incorporating these strategies into your teaching, you can help your students develop the critical thinking skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.

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How to promote critical thinking in the classroom.

A comprehensive guide for educators on enhancing critical thinking skills among students through innovative classroom techniques.

Empower Your Students with Critical Thinking Skills

In the evolving landscape of education, fostering critical thinking in the classroom has become paramount. As educators, it's essential to cultivate an environment where students can analyze information critically, engage in meaningful debate, and approach problems with a solution-oriented mindset. This article explores practical strategies to enhance critical thinking skills, leveraging the power of inquiry-based learning and open-ended questioning.

Asking open-ended questions is a cornerstone of promoting critical thinking. By challenging students with questions that require more than a yes or no answer, educators can stimulate deeper thought and encourage students to explore multiple perspectives. Integrating these questions into lesson plans can transform the classroom into a dynamic space for intellectual exploration.

Debate is another powerful tool in the critical thinking arsenal. Structured debates on relevant topics not only sharpen students' argumentation skills but also teach them to consider and respect different viewpoints. This form of student-centered learning fosters a sense of ownership over the learning process, making education a collaborative and engaging experience.

Inquiry-based learning activities are designed to put students in the driver's seat of their educational journey. By posing questions, problems, or scenarios, teachers can guide students through a process of discovery that encourages critical analysis and independent thought. This approach not only boosts critical thinking but also aligns with the natural curiosity and creativity of learners.

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5 Critical Thinking Activities That Get Students Up and Moving

More movement means better learning.

Students engaged in critical thinking activities

It’s easy to resort to having kids be seated during most of the school day. But learning can (and should) be an active process. Incorporating movement into your instruction has incredible benefits—from deepening student understanding to improving concentration to enhancing performance. Check out these critical thinking activities, adapted from Critical Thinking in the Classroom , a book with over 100 practical tools and strategies for teaching critical thinking in K-12 classrooms.

Four Corners

In this activity, students move to a corner of the classroom based on their responses to a question with four answer choices. Once they’ve moved, they can break into smaller groups to explain their choices. Call on students to share to the entire group. If students are persuaded to a different answer, they can switch corners and further discuss. 

Question ideas:

  • Which president was most influential: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, or Abraham Lincoln?
  • Is Holden Caulfield a hero: Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree?

Gallery Walk

This strategy encourages students to move around the classroom in groups to respond to questions, documents, images, or situations posted on chart paper. Each group gets a different colored marker to record their responses and a set amount of time at each station. When groups move, they can add their own ideas and/or respond to what prior groups have written.

Gallery ideas:

  • Political cartoons

Stations are a great way to chunk instruction and present information to the class without a “sit and get.” Group desks around the room or create centers, each with a different concept and task. There should be enough stations for three to five students to work for a set time before rotating.

Station ideas:

  • Types of rocks
  • Story elements
  • Literary genres

Silent Sticky-Note Storm

In this brainstorming activity, students gather in groups of three to five. Each group has a piece of chart paper with a question at the top and a stack of sticky notes. Working in silence, students record as many ideas or answers as possible, one answer per sticky note. When time is up, they post the sticky notes on the paper and then silently categorize them.

  • How can you exercise your First Amendment rights?
  • What are all the ways you can divide a square into eighths?

Mingle, Pair, Share

Take your Think, Pair, Share to the next level. Instead of having students turn and talk, invite them to stand and interact. Play music while they’re moving around the classroom. When the music stops, each student finds a partner. Pose a question and invite students to silently think about their answer. Then, partners take turns sharing their thoughts.

  • How do organisms modify their environments?
  • What is the theme of Romeo and Juliet ?

Looking for more critical thinking activities and ideas?

strategies to promote critical thinking in the elementary classroom

Critical Thinking in the Classroom is a practitioner’s guide that shares the why and the how for building critical thinking skills in K-12 classrooms. It includes over 100 practical tools and strategies that you can try in your classroom tomorrow!

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strategies to promote critical thinking in the elementary classroom

Erin Shadowens believes in the power of school communities to provide children with rich and robust educational experiences. She spent 10 years teaching every grade from K–3, discovering in that time that every child, no matter how young, is capable of taking on academic challenges. Her classroom work was recognized with the 2020 Excellence in Teaching Award from Learning for Justice (formerly Teaching Tolerance).

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How to Teach and Develop Critical Thinking of Your Students in the Classroom

Teaching critical thinking skills to students is like planting the seeds of inquiry to help them develop analytical minds. It is essential to foster these skills amidst the overwhelming amount of information available today. Picture a classroom where students are not just absorbing facts but actively engaging in constructing their own knowledge of the world.

It is through this hands-on approach that students can truly enhance their critical thinking abilities and become independent thinkers.

Examples of critical thinking activities in the classroom

By examining visual advertisements, debating current events, and participating in mind mapping exercises, students can develop their critical thinking skills effectively.

These activities not only foster creativity but also enhance students’ abilities to think critically and solve problems.

Role-Play Scenarios

Socratic questioning techniques.

Implementing Socratic Questioning Techniques in the classroom is a practical and effective approach to fostering critical thinking skills in elementary and high school students. By incorporating inquiry-based learning methods, students are prompted to delve deeply into topics through thought-provoking inquiries. This technique stimulates critical analysis as students learn to assess information, explore various viewpoints, and express their ideas clearly.

Analyzing Visual Advertisements

Debating current events.

Discussing current events in class helps elementary and high school students improve their critical thinking skills by analyzing, questioning, and evaluating real-world issues. Engaging in these discussions enables students to exercise critical thinking through debates.

Mind Mapping Exercises

These exercises involve brainstorming strategies to encourage free idea generation, visual mapping techniques using colors and images to help organize information, interactive group activities to promote collaboration, critical analysis tasks to evaluate information and form opinions, and problem-solving challenges that require analytical thinking and collaborative solutions.

Evaluating Online Sources

Creating decision matrices.

When you create decision matrices in the classroom, you help students analyze options systematically, which boosts their critical thinking skills through hands-on practice. To conduct effective decision matrix activities, consider the following key aspects:

Solving Real-Life Problems

Engaging students in real-life problem-solving not only enhances their critical thinking abilities but also equips them to tackle challenges and make sound decisions in their future pursuits.

Reflective Journal Writing

Reflective journal writing is a valuable tool for helping elementary and high school students develop critical thinking skills. By engaging in reflective writing, students can analyze their thoughts, participate actively in class discussions, and deepen their understanding of various topics. Here are some ways in which reflective journal writing can enhance critical thinking skills:

Peer Feedback Sessions

Additionally, team reflection allows students to reflect on their own work as well as their peers’, enhancing their ability to think critically about different viewpoints. Partner evaluation further encourages students to explore alternative approaches and strengthen their reasoning abilities through thoughtful assessment of their peers’ work.

These peer feedback sessions not only enhance students’ critical thinking skills but also promote a supportive and collaborative learning environment.

Collaborative Problem-Solving

Practical ways to teach and develop critical thinking of your students in the classroom.

To help students develop this skill, it’s essential to encourage questioning and open-mindedness.

By engaging students in problem-solving activities, they can practice and apply critical thinking in practical ways.

Define Critical Thinking

Encourage questioning skills.

Encouraging students to ask questions is essential for developing their critical thinking skills. By fostering a classroom environment that values curiosity and inquiry, educators can help students think deeply and reflect on various topics.

Foster Open-Mindedness

In the classroom, fostering open-mindedness in students is crucial for developing their critical thinking skills. When educators promote open-mindedness, they help students embrace diverse perspectives, improve their analytical abilities, and encourage inquiry-based learning.

Analyze Multiple Perspectives

Analyzing arguments enables students to break down the reasoning behind each perspective, empowering them to effectively critique opinions. Through evaluating beliefs, students can assess the strengths and weaknesses of different viewpoints, leading to a deeper comprehension of the subject matter.

Practice Problem-Solving Activities

When teaching critical thinking to elementary and high school students, it’s essential to engage them in practical problem-solving activities to enhance their analytical skills effectively. Incorporating these activities in the classroom can be done through various approaches:

Engage in Debates

Exploring opposing viewpoints helps them cultivate empathy and broaden their perspective. Research skills are sharpened during debate preparation as students gather evidence to support their arguments. They naturally start questioning ideas and evidence presented, strengthening their ability to think critically.

Stimulate Creativity and Curiosity

Evaluate sources and information.

In the classroom, igniting creativity and curiosity lays the groundwork for teaching students how to assess sources and information critically. I stress the importance of checking the credibility of sources by prompting students to consider the author’s expertise and any potential biases.

Evaluating information involves teaching students to question the accuracy and reliability of the content they come across. Through engaging activities, students are encouraged to delve deeper into the material, spotting logical fallacies and inconsistencies to enhance their critical thinking skills.

Develop Decision-Making Skills

Utilize real-world scenarios.

Incorporating real-world scenarios into elementary and high school classrooms is crucial for enhancing students’ critical thinking skills. By presenting practical challenges that mirror everyday dilemmas, students are encouraged to think critically, analyze situations, and hone their problem-solving abilities.

Encourage Collaborative Discussions

Enhance logical reasoning abilities.

Improving students’ logical reasoning skills in the classroom involves helping them analyze patterns, make connections, and draw well-founded conclusions based on evidence. To foster this development, I incorporate a range of activities designed to challenge their critical thinking abilities.

Lastly, I incorporate creative thinking exercises like brainstorming innovative ideas to inspire students to think outside the box and explore creative solutions to complex problems. By encouraging divergent thinking and fostering creativity, students develop a well-rounded approach to logical reasoning that incorporates innovative thinking.

Integrate Technology Tools

Promote active listening skills.

Engaging in meaningful conversations and asking open-ended questions can help students enhance their critical thinking capabilities. In a classroom environment that encourages interactive discussions, students can share their perspectives and gain insights from their peers.

Emphasize Importance of Evidence

Teach reflection techniques.

For instance, students can write in a journal about a challenging problem they solved, explain their reasoning through Socratic questioning, or visually map out their thought processes for better organization and clarity. These techniques foster a culture of critical thinking, encouraging self-awareness, growth, and confidence in approaching academic challenges.

Provide Constructive Feedback

In the elementary and high school classroom, it’s crucial to provide constructive feedback to help students enhance their critical thinking skills. Here are some effective ways to do so:

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Active Learning Strategies to Promote Critical Thinking

Stacy E. Walker, PhD, ATC, provided conception and design; acquisition and analysis and interpretation of the data; and drafting, critical revision, and final approval of the article.

To provide a brief introduction to the definition and disposition to think critically along with active learning strategies to promote critical thinking.

Data Sources:

I searched MEDLINE and Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) from 1933 to 2002 for literature related to critical thinking, the disposition to think critically, questioning, and various critical-thinking pedagogic techniques.

Data Synthesis:

The development of critical thinking has been the topic of many educational articles recently. Numerous instructional methods exist to promote thought and active learning in the classroom, including case studies, discussion methods, written exercises, questioning techniques, and debates. Three methods—questioning, written exercises, and discussion and debates—are highlighted.

Conclusions/Recommendations:

The definition of critical thinking, the disposition to think critically, and different teaching strategies are featured. Although not appropriate for all subject matter and classes, these learning strategies can be used and adapted to facilitate critical thinking and active participation.

The development of critical thinking (CT) has been a focus of educators at every level of education for years. Imagine a certified athletic trainer (ATC) who does not consider all of the injury options when performing an assessment or an ATC who fails to consider using any new rehabilitation techniques because the ones used for years have worked. Envision ATCs who are unable to react calmly during an emergency because, although they designed the emergency action plan, they never practiced it or mentally prepared for an emergency. These are all examples of situations in which ATCs must think critically.

Presently, athletic training educators are teaching many competencies and proficiencies to entry-level athletic training students. As Davies 1 pointed out, CT is needed in clinical decision making because of the many changes occurring in education, technology, and health care reform. Yet little information exists in the athletic training literature regarding CT and methods to promote thought. Fuller, 2 using the Bloom taxonomy, classified learning objectives, written assignments, and examinations as CT and nonCT. Athletic training educators fostered more CT in their learning objectives and written assignments than in examinations. The disposition of athletic training students to think critically exists but is weak. Leaver-Dunn et al 3 concluded that teaching methods that promote the various components of CT should be used. My purpose is to provide a brief introduction to the definition and disposition to think critically along with active learning strategies to promote CT.

DEFINITION OF CRITICAL THINKING

Four commonly referenced definitions of critical thinking are provided in Table ​ Table1. 1 . All of these definitions describe an individual who is actively engaged in the thought process. Not only is this person evaluating, analyzing, and interpreting the information, he or she is also analyzing inferences and assumptions made regarding that information. The use of CT skills such as analysis of inferences and assumptions shows involvement in the CT process. These cognitive skills are employed to form a judgment. Reflective thinking, defined by Dewey 8 as the type of thinking that consists of turning a subject over in the mind and giving it serious and consecutive consideration, can be used to evaluate the quality of judgment(s) made. 9 Unfortunately, not everyone uses CT when solving problems. Therefore, in order to think critically, there must be a certain amount of self-awareness and other characteristics present to enable a person to explain the analysis and interpretation and to evaluate any inferences made.

Various Definitions of Critical Thinking

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DISPOSITION TO THINK CRITICALLY

Recently researchers have begun to investigate the relationship between the disposition to think critically and CT skills. Many believe that in order to develop CT skills, the disposition to think critically must be nurtured as well. 4 , 10 – 12 Although research related to the disposition to think critically has recently increased, as far back as 1933 Dewey 8 argued that possession of knowledge is no guarantee for the ability to think well but that an individual must desire to think. Open mindedness, wholeheartedness, and responsibility were 3 of the attitudes he felt were important traits of character to develop the habit of thinking. 8

More recently, the American Philosophical Association Delphi report on critical thinking 7 was released in 1990. This report resulted from a questionnaire regarding CT completed by a cross-disciplinary panel of experts from the United States and Canada. Findings included continued support for the theory that to develop CT, an individual must possess and use certain dispositional characteristics. Based upon the dispositional phrases, the California Critical Thinking Dispositional Inventory 13 was developed. Seven dispositions (Table ​ (Table2) 2 ) were derived from the original 19 published in the Delphi report. 12 It is important to note that these are attitudes or affects, which are sought after in an individual, and not thinking skills. Facione et al 9 purported that a person who thinks critically uses these 7 dispositions to form and make judgments. For example, if an individual is not truth seeking, he or she may not consider other opinions or theories regarding an issue or problem before forming an opinion. A student may possess the knowledge to think critically about an issue, but if these dispositional affects do not work in concert, the student may fail to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize the information to think critically. More research is needed to determine the relationship between CT and the disposition to think critically.

Dispositions to Think Critically 12

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METHODS TO PROMOTE CRITICAL THOUGHT

Educators can use various instructional methods to promote CT and problem solving. Although educators value a student who thinks critically about concepts, the spirit or disposition to think critically is, unfortunately, not always present in all students. Many college faculty expect their students to think critically. 14 Some nursing-specific common assumptions made by university nursing teaching faculty are provided 15 (Table ​ (Table3) 3 ) because no similar research exists in athletic training. Espeland and Shanta 16 argued that faculty who select lecture formats as a large part of their teaching strategy may be enabling students. When lecturing, the instructor organizes and presents essential information without student input. This practice eliminates the opportunity for students to decide for themselves what information is important to know. For example, instead of telling our students via lecture what medications could be given to athletes with an upper respiratory infection, they could be assigned to investigate medications and decide which one is appropriate.

Common Assumptions of Nursing Faculty 15

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Students need to be exposed to diverse teaching methods that promote CT in order to nurture the CT process. 14 , 17 – 19 As pointed out by Kloss, 20 sometimes students are stuck and unable to understand that various answers exist for one problem. Each ATC has a different method of taping a sprained ankle, performing special tests, and obtaining medical information. Kloss 20 stated that students must be exposed to ambiguity and multiple interpretations and perspectives of a situation or problem in order to stimulate growth. As students move through their clinical experiences, they witness the various methods for taping ankles, performing special tests, and obtaining a thorough history from an injured athlete. Paul and Elder 21 stated that many professors may try to encourage students to learn a body of knowledge by stating that body of knowledge in a sequence of lectures and then asking students to internalize knowledge outside of class on their own time. Not all students possess the thinking skills to analyze and synthesize information without practice. The following 3 sections present information and examples of different teaching techniques to promote CT.

Questioning

An assortment of questioning tactics exists to promote CT. Depending on how a question is asked, the student may use various CT skills such as interpretation, analysis, and recognition of assumptions to form a conclusion. Mills 22 suggested that the thoughtful use of questions may be the quintessential activity of an effective teacher. Questions are only as good as the thought put into them and should go beyond knowledge-level recall. 22 Researchers 23 , 24 have found that often clinical teachers asked significantly more lower-level cognitive questions than higher-level questions. Questions should be designed to promote evaluation and synthesis of facts and concepts. Asking a student to evaluate when proprioception exercises should be included in a rehabilitation program is more challenging than asking a student to define proprioception. Higher-level thinking questions should start or end with words or phrases such as, “explain,” “compare,” “why,” “which is a solution to the problem,” “what is the best and why,” and “do you agree or disagree with this statement?” For example, a student could be asked to compare the use of parachlorophenylalanine versus serotonin for control of posttreatment soreness. Examples of words that can be used to begin questions to challenge at the different levels of the Bloom Taxonomy 25 are given in Table ​ Table4. 4 . The Bloom Taxonomy 25 is a hierarchy of thinking skills that ranges from simple skills, such as knowledge, to complex thinking, such as evaluation. Depending on the initial words used in the question, students can be challenged at different levels of cognition.

Examples of Questions 23

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Another type of questioning technique is Socratic questioning. Socratic questioning is defined as a type of questioning that deeply probes or explores the meaning, justification, or logical strength of a claim, position, or line of reasoning. 4 , 26 Questions are asked that investigate assumptions, viewpoints, consequences, and evidence. Questioning methods, such as calling on students who do not have their hands up, can enhance learning by engaging students to think. The Socratic method focuses on clarification. A student's answer to a question can be followed by asking a fellow student to summarize the previous answer. Summarizing the information allows the student to demonstrate whether he or she was listening, had digested the information, and understood it enough to put it into his or her own words. Avoiding questions with one set answer allows for different viewpoints and encourages students to compare problems and approaches. Asking students to explain how the high school and the collegiate or university field experiences are similar and different is an example. There is no right or wrong answer because the answers depend upon the individual student's experiences. 19 Regardless of the answer, the student must think critically about the topic to form a conclusion of how the field experiences are different and similar.

In addition to using these questioning techniques, it is equally important to orient the students to this type of classroom interaction. Mills 22 suggested that provocative questions should be brief and contain only one or two issues at a time for class reflection. It is also important to provide deliberate silence, or “wait” time, for students upon asking questions. 22 , 27 Waiting at least 5 seconds allows the students to think and encourages thought. Elliot 18 argued that waiting even as long as 10 seconds allows the students time to think about possibilities. If a thought question is asked, time must be given for the students to think about the answer.

Classroom Discussion and Debates

Classroom discussion and debates can promote critical thinking. Various techniques are available. Bernstein 28 developed a negotiation model in which students were confronted with credible but antagonistic arguments. Students were challenged to deal with the tension between the two arguments. This tension is believed to be one component driving critical thought. Controversial issues in psychology, such as animal rights and pornography, were presented and discussed. Students responded favorably and, as the class progressed over time, they reported being more comfortable arguing both sides of an issue. In athletic training education, a negotiation model could be employed to discuss certain topics, such as the use of heat versus ice or the use of ultrasound versus electric stimulation in the treatment of an injury. Students could be assigned to defend the use of a certain treatment. Another strategy to promote students to seek both sides of an issue is pro and con grids. 29 Students create grids with the pros and cons or advantages or disadvantages of an issue or treatment. Debate was used to promote CT in second-year medical students. 30 After debating, students reported improvements in literature searching, weighing risks and benefits of treatments, and making evidence-based decisions. Regardless of the teaching methods used, students should be exposed to analyzing the costs and benefits of issues, problems, and treatments to help prepare them for real-life decision making.

Observing the reasoning skills of another person was used by Galotti 31 to promote CT. Students were paired, and 4 reasoning tasks were administered. As the tasks were administered, students were told to talk aloud through the reasoning process of their decisions. Students who were observing were to write down key phrases and statements. This same process can be used in an injury-evaluation class. One student performs an evaluation while the others in the class observe. Classroom discussion can then follow. Another alternative is to divide students into pairs. One student performs an evaluation while the other observes. After the evaluation is completed, the students discuss with each other the evaluation (Table ​ (Table5 5 presents examples). Another option is to have athletic training students observe a student peer or ATC during a field evaluation of an athlete. While observing, the student can write down any questions or topics to discuss after the evaluation, providing the student an opportunity to ask why certain evaluation methods were and were not used.

Postevaluation Questions

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Daily newspaper clippings directly related to current classroom content also allow an instructor to incorporate discussion into the classroom. 32 For example, an athlete who has been reported to have died as a result of heat illness could provide subject matter for classroom discussion or various written assignments. Such news also affords the instructor an opportunity to discuss the affective components involved. Students could be asked to step into the role of the ATC and think about the reported implications of this death from different perspectives. They could also list any assumptions made by the article or follow-up questions they would ask if they could interview the persons involved. This provides a forum to enlighten students to think for themselves and realize that not each person in the room perceives the article the same way. Whatever the approach taken, investigators and educators agree that assignments and arguments are useful to promote thought among students.

Written Assignments

In-class and out-of-class assignments can also serve as powerful vehicles to allow students to expand their thinking processes. Emig 33 believed that involving students in writing serves their learning uniquely because writing, as process and product, possesses a cluster of attributes that correspond uniquely to certain powerful learning strategies. As a general rule, assignments for the purpose of promoting thought should be short (not long term papers) and focus on the aspect of thinking. 19 Research or 1-topic papers may or may not be a student's own thoughts, and Meyers 32 argued that term papers often prove to be exercises in recapitulating the thoughts of others.

Allegretti and Frederick 34 used a variety of cases from a book to promote CT regarding different ethical issues. Countless case-study situations can be created to allow students to practice managing situations and assess clinical decision making. For example, after reading the National Athletic Trainers' Association position statement on lightning, a student can be asked to address the following scenario: “Explain how you would handle a situation in which a coach has kept athletes outside practicing unsafely. What information would you use from this statement to explain your concerns? Explain why you picked the specific concerns.” These questions can be answered individually or in small groups and then discussed in class. The students will pick different concerns based on their thinking. This variety in answers is not only one way to show that no answer is right or wrong but also allows students to defend their answers to peers. Questions posed on listservs are excellent avenues to enrich a student's education. Using these real-life questions, students read about real issues and concerns of ATCs. These topics present excellent opportunities to pose questions to senior-level athletic training students to examine how they would handle the situation. This provides the students a safe place to analyze the problem and form a decision. Once the students make a decision, additional factors, assumptions, and inferences can be discussed by having all students share the solution they chose.

Lantz and Meyers 35 used personification and assigned students to assume the character of a drug. Students were to relate themselves to the drug, in the belief that drugs exhibit many unique characteristics, such as belonging to a family, interaction problems, adverse reactions, and so forth. The development of analogies comes from experience and comparing one theory or scenario to another with strong similarities.

Fopma-Loy and Ulrich 36 identified various CT classroom exercises educators can implement to promote higher-order thought (Table ​ (Table6). 6 ). Many incorporate a personal reaction from the student and allow the student to link that learning to his or her feelings. This personal reaction of feelings to cognitive information is important to show the relevance of material.

Exercises to Promote Critical Thought 36

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Last, poems are another avenue that can be used to promote CT. 20 Although poems are widely thought of as an assignment in an English class, athletic training students may benefit from this creative writing activity. The focus of this type of homework activity should be on reviewing content creatively. The lines of the poem need not rhyme as long as appropriate content is explained in the poem. For example, a poem on the knee could be required to include signs, symptoms, and anatomical content of one injury or various injuries. A poem on head injuries could focus on the different types of history questions that should be asked. Students should understand that the focus of the assignment is a creative review of the material and not a test of their poetic qualities. The instructor should complete a poem as well. To break the ice, the instructor's poem can be read first, followed by a student volunteering to read his or her poem.

CONCLUSIONS

Regardless of the methods used to promote CT, care must be taken to consider the many factors that may inhibit a student from thinking critically. The student's disposition to think critically is a major factor, and if a deficit in a disposition is noticed, this should be nurtured. Students should be encouraged to be inquisitive, ask questions, and not believe and accept everything they are told. As pointed out by Loving and Wilson 14 and Oermann, 19 thought develops with practice and evaluation over time using multiple strategies. Additionally, faculty should be aware of their course goals and learning objectives. If these goals and objectives are stated as higher-order thought outcomes, then activities that promote CT should be included in classroom activities and assignments. 14 Finally, it is important that CT skills be encouraged and reinforced in all classes by teaching faculty, not only at the college level but at every level of education. Although huge gains in CT may not be reflected in all college students, we can still plant the seed and encourage students to use their thinking abilities in the hope these will grow over time.

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  1. Eight Instructional Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking

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  2. Integrating Critical Thinking Into the Classroom (Opinion)

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  3. 9 Critical Thinking Strategies for Elementary Students to Succed

    6. Brainstorming. Brainstorming different ideas, answers, and solutions can also help develop critical thinking skills. Students will need to come up with different approaches and ideas and think outside the box. 7. Using Creativity. Providing students with time for creativity is also important.

  4. A Critical Thinking Framework for Elementary School

    Maskot Images / Shutterstock. Critical thinking is using analysis and evaluation to make a judgment. Analysis, evaluation, and judgment are not discrete skills; rather, they emerge from the accumulation of knowledge. The accumulation of knowledge does not mean students sit at desks mindlessly reciting memorized information, like in 19th century ...

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    Critical thinking is a key skill that goes far beyond the four walls of a classroom. It equips students to better understand and interact with the world around them. Here are some reasons why fostering critical thinking is important: Making Informed Decisions: Critical thinking enables students to evaluate the pros and cons of a situation ...

  7. 7 Ways to Teach Critical Thinking in Elementary Education

    Inspire creativity. Imagination is key to teaching critical thinking in elementary school. Teachers should seek out new ways for students to use information to create something new. Art projects are an excellent way to do this. Students can also construct inventions, write a story or poem, create a game, sing a song—the sky's the limit.

  8. Promoting Critical Thinking in the Classroom: Strategies and Activities

    By promoting critical thinking in the classroom, educators can foster intellectual curiosity, enhance problem-solving abilities, and prepare students for success in an ever-evolving world. This article explores effective strategies and engaging activities to promote critical thinking among students. 1. Ask Thought-Provoking Questions.

  9. How To Promote Critical Thinking In Your Classroom

    Modeling of critical thinking skills by instructors is crucial for teaching critical thinking successfully. By making your own thought processes explicit in class - explaining your reasoning, evaluating evidence for a claim, probing the credibility of a source, or even describing what has puzzled or confused you - you provide a powerful example to students

  10. Boosting Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum

    See, Think, Wonder can be leveraged as a thinking routine to launch engagement and inquiry in daily lessons by introducing an interesting object (graphic, artifact, etc.). The idea is for students to think carefully about why the object looks or is a certain way. Teachers introduce the following question prompts to guide students' thinking:

  11. 20 Critical Thinking Activities for Elementary Classrooms

    Here are 20 critical thinking activities that can be easily incorporated into any elementary classroom setting. 1. Think-Pair-Share. This simple activity encourages students to think about a question or problem individually first and then discuss with a partner before sharing their thoughts with the entire class. 2.

  12. 10 Awesome Tips for Teaching Critical Thinking Skills

    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.

  13. PDF Critical Thinking in the Elementary Classroom: Engaging Young Minds

    and strategies presented in Critical Thinking in the Elementary Classroom: Engaging Young Minds with Meaningful Content, an ASCD book by Erin Shadowens, published in October 2023. You can use the study guide before or after you have read the book or as you finish each chapter.

  14. Teaching Strategies to Promote Critical Thinking

    Critical thinking requires consistency and commitment. This means that to make the above teaching strategies effective, they must be used consistently throughout the year. Encourage students to question everything and verify all information and resources. Activate student curiosity by using the inquiry-based learning model.

  15. 11 Activities That Promote Critical Thinking In The Class

    Read our article: 10 Innovative Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking in the Classroom. 5. Save the Egg. Make groups of three or four in the class. Ask them to drop an egg from a certain height and think of creative ideas to save the egg from breaking.

  16. Promoting Critical Thinking in the Early Elementary Grades

    4 Strategies for Sparking Critical Thinking in Young Students. Fostering investigative conversation in grades K-2 isn't easy, but it can be a great vehicle to promote critical thinking. By Paige Tutt. May 12, 2023. In the middle of class, a kindergartner spotted an ant and asked the teacher, "Why do ants come into the classroom?" Fairly ...

  17. 10 Innovative Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking in the Classroom

    Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking in the Classroom. These strategies are designed to promote active learning, inquiry-based learning, and Bloom's Taxonomy levels of analysis, evaluation, and interpretation. Here they are: 1. Collaborative Learning. Collaborative learning is an effective way to promote critical thinking skills in your ...

  18. Fostering Critical Thinking in the Classroom: Strategies for

    This article explores practical strategies to enhance critical thinking skills, leveraging the power of inquiry-based learning and open-ended questioning. Asking open-ended questions is a cornerstone of promoting critical thinking. By challenging students with questions that require more than a yes or no answer, educators can stimulate deeper ...

  19. Critical Thinking Activities That Get Students Moving

    Check out these critical thinking activities, adapted from Critical Thinking in the Classroom , a book with over 100 practical tools and strategies for teaching critical thinking in K-12 classrooms. Four Corners. In this activity, students move to a corner of the classroom based on their responses to a question with four answer choices.

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    The development of critical thinking has been the topic of many educational articles recently. Numerous instructional methods exist to promote thought and active learning in the classroom, including case studies, discussion methods, written exercises, questioning techniques, and debates. Three methods—questioning, written exercises, and ...

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