More than ever, schools are focusing their curricula on fostering critical thinking skills. The movement to the Common Core and other college-and-career ready standards requires students to develop critical thinking, problem solving, and analytical skills. They can no longer rely on memorization; instead they need to implement higher order thinking and explain strategies used to solve a problem.
As students progress through their education and into adulthood, the role of critical thinking reaches its height. Now independent members of society, they will face the challenges of daily life and an unending supply of information. It’s imperative they are able to analyze information and form their own opinions and perspectives. Helping to develop these skills early on is key to later success.
Students with strong critical thinking skills tend to have these characteristics:
- They are deliberate decision makers.
- They are curious and inquisitive.
- They are creative and think outside the box.
- They are open-minded to other opinions and views.
- They are organized and focused.
Here are five ways you can develop critical thinking skills in your students.
1. Answer Questions with a Question
The #1 rule in improv comedy is to always respond with “yes, and…” Consider the same strategy for your students. Instead of giving them an answer to their question and ending the conversation, lead them to the answer. “What ideas do you have?” “What would you do next?” “Why do you think that will work?” Give them the confidence to solve their own problems.
Your class is making pumpkins to celebrate the fall season. So, you provide orange circles and black triangles, right? How about letting kids think outside the box. Maybe their pumpkin is green or blue. Maybe instead of a face, they create something spooky. Letting their minds run free is another way you can help them become critical thinkers.
3. Problem of the Day
Start each morning with a “problem” and ask your students to spend time throughout the day thinking about solutions. As a class, brainstorm ways to solve the problem. Hearing their classmates’ ideas will give children opportunities to view different perspectives, work through their own thought processes, and understand that there is more than one way to solve a problem.
4. Compare and Contrast/Pros and Cons
Give your students a chance to see both sides of the story (no pun intended). Compare and contrast the main characters of a story, talk about similarities and differences between works of art, or list the pros and cons of visiting a new geographic location. Making lists like these sharpen students’ critical thinking skills.
Get their minds churning by taking time to brainstorm each and every day. During language arts, have students look at the cover of a book and brainstorm what the story will be about. Is the main character facing a dilemma? Brainstorm what choices he/she might make. During a science lesson, brainstorm which objects will float and which objects will sink when placed in water. In math, brainstorm items you can measure in ounces, pounds, or tons.