Tag Archives: critical thinking

Critical Thinking Strategies

Developing critical thinking is a primary goal in many classrooms. However, it is difficult to actually achieve this goal as critical thinking is an elusive concept to understand. This post will provide practical ways to help students develop critical thinking skills.

Critical Thinking Defined

Critical thinking is the ability to develop support for one’s position on a subject as well as the ability to question the reasons and opinions of another person on a given subject. The ability to support one’s one position is exceedingly difficult as many people are convinced that their feelings can be substituted as evidence for their position.

It is also difficult to question the reasons and opinions of others as it requires the ability to identify weaknesses in the person’s positions while having to think on one’s feet. Again this is why many people stick to their emotions as it requires no thinking and emotions can be felt much faster than thoughts can be processed. Thinking critically involves assessing the strength of another’s thought process through pushing them with challenging questions or counter-arguments.

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

Debates-Debates provide an opportunity for people to both prepare arguments as well as defend in an extemporaneous manner. The experience of preparation as well as on the feet thinking help to develop critical thinking in many ways. In addition, the time limits of debates really force the participants to be highly engaged.

Reciprocal Teaching-Reciprocal teaching involves students taking turns to teach each other. As such, the must take a much closer look at the content when they are aware that they will have to teach it. In addition, Reciprocal teaching encourages discussion and the answering of questions which further supports critical thinking skills development.

Discussion-Discussion through the use of open-ended question is another classic way to develop critical thinking skills. The key is in the open-ended nature of the question. This means that there is no single answer to the question. Instead, the quality of answers are judged on the support the students provide and their reasoning skills.

Open-ended assignments-Often as teachers, we want to give specific detailed instructions on how to complete an assignment. This reduces confusion and gives each student a similar context in which learning takes place.

However, open-ended assignments provide a general end goal but allow the students to determine how they will complete it. This open-ended nature really forces the students to think about what they will do. In addition, this is similar to work in the real world where often the boss wants something done and doesn’t really care how the workers get it done. The lack of direction can cause less critical workers problems as they do not know what to do but those who are trained to deal with ambiguity will be prepared for this.


Critical thinking requires a context in which free thought is allowed but is supported. It is difficult to develop the skills of thinking with activities that stimulate this skill. The activities mentioned here are just some of the choices available to a teacher.


Teaching Reflective Thinking

Reflective thinking is the ability to look at the past and develop understanding and insights about what happened and using this information to develop a deeper understanding or to choose a course of action.  Many may believe that reflective thinking is a natural part of learning.

However, I have always been surprised at how little reflective thinking my students do. They seem to just do things without ever trying to understand how well they did outside of passing the assignment. Without reflective thinking, it is difficult to learn from past mistakes as no thought was made to avoid them.

This post will examine opportunities and aways of reflective thinking.

Opportunities for Reflective Thinking

Generally, reflective thinking can happen when

  1. When you learn something
  2. When you do something

These are similar but different concepts. Learning can happen without doing anything such as listening to a lecture or discussion. You hear a lot of great stuff but you never implement it.

Doing something means the application of knowledge in a particular setting. An example would be teaching or working at a company. With the application of knowledge comes consequences the indicate how well you did. For example, teaching kids and then seeing either look of understanding or confusion on their face

Strategies for Reflective THinking

For situations in which the student learns something without a lot of action a common model for encouraging reflective thinking is the  Connect, Extend, Challenge model. The model is explained below

  • Connect: Link what you have learned to something you already know
  • Extend: Determine how this new knowledge extends your learning
  • Challenge: Decide what you still do not understanding

Connecting is what makes learning relevant for many students and is also derived from constructivism. Extending is a way for a student to see the benefits of the new knowledge. It goes beyond learning because you were told to learn. Lastly, challenging helps the student to determine what they do not know which is another metacognitive strategy.

When a student does something the reflection process is slightly different below is an extremely common model.

  • what went well
  • what went wrong
  • how to fix what went wrong

In this model, the student identifies what they did right, which requires reflective thinking. The student also identifies the things they did wrong during the experience. Lastly, the student must problem solve and develop strategies to overcome the mistakes they made. Often the solutions in this final part are implemented during the next action sequence to see how well they worked out.


Thinking about the past is one of the strongest ways to prepare for the future. Therefore, teachers must provide their students with opportunities to think reflectively. The strategies included here provide a framework for guiding students in this critical process.

Thinking Skills

Everybody thinks, at least we hope everybody thinks. However, few are aware of the various skills that can be used in thinking. In this post, we will look at several different skills that can be used when trying to think and understand something. There are at least four different skills that can be used in thinking and they are…

  • Clarification
  • Basis
  • Inference
  • Evaluation


Clarification, as you can tell from the name, is focused on making things clear so that decisions can be made. Clarification involves developing questions, analysis, and defining terms.

Clarification lays the groundwork for determining the boundaries in which thinking needs to take place. In many ways, clarification deals with the question of what are you trying to think about.


Basis involves categorizing the information that has been gathered to think about. At this stage, a person decides if the information they have is a fact, opinion, or just incorrect information.

Another activity at this level is assessing the credibility of the sources of information. For example, facts from experts are considered more credible than the opinions of just anybody.


Inference involves several different forms of reasoning. These forms of reasoning have been discussed in a previous post. The forms include inductive, deductive, and abductive reasoning.

Whatever form of reasoning is used the overall goal is to develop conclusions based either on principles or examples. As such, the prior forms of thinking are necessary to move to developing inferences. In other words, there must be clarification and basis before inferences.


Evaluation involves developing a criteria upon which to judge the adequacy of whatever decisions have been made. This means assessing the quality of the thought process that has already taken place.

Assessing judgment is near the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy and involves not only having an opinion but basing the opinion on well-developed criteria. This is in no way easy for anybody.

Tips for Developing Thinking Skills

When dealing with students, here are a few suggestions for developing thinking skills.

  • Demonstrate-Providing examples of the thinking process give students something to model.
  • Question-Questioning is an excellent way to develop thinking. Most of the thinking skills above involve extensive questioning.
  • Verbalize thinking-When students are required to think, have them verbalize what they are thinking. This provides insight into what is happening inside their head as well as allows the teacher to analyze what is happening.


Thinking involves questioning. The development of answers to these questions is the fruit of thinking. It is important to determine what one is trying to do in order to allow purposeful thinking to take place.


Reasoning is the process of developing conclusion through the examination of evidence. This post will explain several forms of reasoning as listed below.

  • Inductive
  • Deductive
  • Causal
  • Analogical
  • Abductive

Inductive Reasoning

Inductive reasoning involves looking at several specific instances or facts and developing a conclusion. Below is an example

  • Fact 1: Dad died from smoking
  • Fact 2: Grandpa died from smoking
  • Fact 3: Uncle is dying from smoking
  • Conclusion: Smoking kills

In the example above, there are several instances of the effect of smoking on people. From these examples, the conclusion reach was smoking is deadly.

The danger of this form of reasoning is jumping to conclusions based on a small sample size. Just because three people died or are dying of smoking does not mean that smoking is deadly in general. This is not enough evidence to support this conclusion

Deductive Reasoning 

Deductive reasoning involves the development of a general principle testing a specific example of the principle and moving to a  conclusion. Below is an example.

  • Principle: Everybody is mortal
  • Specific example: Thomas is a man
  • Conclusion: Therefore, Thomas is mortal

This method of reasoning is highly effective in persuasion. However, the principle must be sound in order to impact the audience.

Causal Reasoning

Causal reasoning attempts to establish a relationship between a cause and effect. An example would be as follows.

You slip and break your leg. After breaking your leg you notice that there was a banana on the ground. You therefore reason that you slipped on the banana and broke your leg

The danger of causal reasoning is it is sometimes difficult to prove cause and effect conclusively. In addition, complex events cannot often be explained by a single cause.

Analogical Reasoning

Analogical reasoning involves the comparison of two similar cases making the argument that what is true for the first is true for the second. Below is an example.

  • Fact 1: Thomas is good at playing the trumpet
  • Fact 2: Thomas is good at playing the French Horn
  • Conclusion: Thomas is probably good at playing the trombone

The example above assumes that Thomas can play the trombone because he can play other brass instruments well. It is critical that the comparison made is truly parallel in order to persuade an audience.

Abductive Reasoning

Abductive reasoning involves looking at incomplete information and trying to make sense of this through reasonable guesses. Perhaps the most common experiences people have with abductive reasoning is going to the hospital or mechanic. In both situations, the doctor and mechanic listen to the symptoms and try to make a diagnosis as to exactly what the problem is.

Of course, the doctor and mechanic can be completely wrong which leads to other problems. However, unlike the other forms of reasoning, abductive reasoning is useful for filling in gaps in information that is unavailable.


Reasoning comes in many forms. The examples provided here provide people with different ways these forms of reasoning can be used.