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Teaching to Build Critical Thinking

What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is thinking clearly, objectively, and deeply applying thinking to other concepts.

How to Foster a Critical Thinking Environment:

1. Set the atmosphere – Do students feel safe and like they can explore their opinions? Do they understand that it is okay to be wrong? Professors can model this by expressing opinions of their own that they feel aren’t fully formed yet or by explaining a time they were wrong and used that experience to grow their understanding.

2. Ask “Why” – The recommended number of times for “why” = 5. Asking why makes students expand on what they are thinking and dive deeper into, well, why.

3. Have students debate – Students think critically when they are defending their thoughts, but also, when others are defending their thoughts. Structured debate can be used in class to explore subject content, or debate can be used in smaller segments during class.

4. Encourage students to see the other side – Being able to “see the other side” is an important skill to more fully understand a topic. Questions to prompt students to consider other points of view are: 

  • Was the other side supported as well?
  • How does my view differ?
  • Can both students be right?

5. Ask open-ended questions – With open-ended questions, students will not have answers laid out in front of them as in multiple choice questions. Students must decide what they think or be able to explain what they truly know.

6. Cooperative learning – Students working together leads to a discussion of ideas and how they can solve problems at hand. They can learn from each other.

7. Connect different ideas – Encourage students to think beyond the assignment and beyond the class to connect the content to other ideas or contexts. Question to prompt students to connect different ideas are: 

  • How does this relate to previous knowledge?
  • How does this relate to the real world?
  • How does this relate to other content areas?

Articles for Further Reading

Critical Thinking: A Guide For The Classroom And Beyond. (n.d.). Aristotle’s Café.

Murawski, L. M. (2014). Critical Thinking in the Classroom…and Beyond. Journal of Learning in Higher Education, 10 (1), 25-30.

Paul, R. (2004). The State of Critical Thinking Today. The Foundation for Critical Thinking.