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8 Great Strategies for Teaching Your Students to Think Critically

Teaching students to think critically can be quite challenging at times.  Some days getting them to think at all can tax our patience.  It's not insurmountable, though if you have the right tools in your box.  Below are listed a few best practices for teaching critical thinking.

1. Don’t be so quick to help

This is one of the hardest things for teachers because we are natural helpers. Students many times do not read what you give them. Instead they immediately ask you to come over and help them solve the problem before them. You find yourself re-explaining how to do something that you’ve already explained during the mini-lesson not to mention the fact that the directions on the page tell students exactly what they should be doing and how. The answer is simple. Don’t explain. The best way to help students sometimes is to ask them to re-read the directions and try to figure it out on their own. Then, give them time to do this. You will find many times they will begin work. Of course you don’t want them to get to the point of frustration that they give up. Encourage them to keep trying, and provide praise when they do in fact figure out the problem.

2. Inquiry

Prompt the student with open-ended questions that provide the learner with the opportunity to think. Costas Levels of Thinking™ provides an excellent source of questions for the different levels of thinking. I have Costas questions posted in my classroom, and every student has a copy to refer to.

3. Use graphic organizers

From the simple Venn diagram to the students building a web provides learners with the opportunity to flush out harder concepts. Comparing and contrasting two short stories, characters, point of view and other story elements using a Venn diagram is an excellent way for students to think deeper about the way they perceive the text. Making a T-chart where students ask a question on the left and provide textual evidence to support the question on the right makes students do the work instead of the teacher. Have students make a concept map of a difficult lesson. Concept mapping provides one of the best avenues for basic understanding.

4. Close Reading

I make my students annotate the text they are reading. I give them many different ideas to use to do this. For example, students are to make a connection to what they are reading by annotating something in their background that comes to mind as they are reading. In addition, students can question the text, define difficult vocabulary words, and react to what they are reading. Further, what are the big ideas or theme of the text they are reading? How can this text help them in their daily life? Where can they use this information to further add to what they already know? Go here for more detailed information on annotating: http://www.teacher1stop.com/top-7-procedures-for-annotating-close-reading/

5. Summarize and Synthesize

Synthesis is a hard concept for younger students. I find that middle school is where this concept starts to have meaning. Before that, students always seem to want to only summarize what they read. Providing a forum where students read parts of many different wholes and they have to bring all this together is critical thinking at its best. This is a where students have to really dig in deep to figure out their own thinking about the concepts presented to them.

6. Re-creation

Read a passage to students and have them take notes quickly, making note of the main ideas they hear, then ask them to Rewrite it in their own words, just from memory and the notes they took. They will complain at first, but have them get down everything they heard. Then, re-read the passage again asking them to add to their existing notes, then go to the passage they wrote and give them time to add to their writing. Do this as many times as necessary until students finally feel comfortable that they got the basic concepts down. You can use this approach in almost any subject.

7. Build your lessons around critical thinking strategies.

As you make your lessons, ask yourself, does this provide for critical thinking, or are my students just doing busy work. You will see a pattern emerge with your lessons and eventually with your students. They will be learning to think for themselves and have a lot less questions for you.

8. Silence and yes boredom spurs Creativity and Critical Thinking

In today’s teaching society of collaboration, students are easily over-stimulated. Something they just need quiet so they can concentrate. Teachers need to have days where it’s all about the student and their need to be silent and think. Numerous studies show that when a student is bored, it’s not just pointless. It provides time for their brains to really think. When their minds start to wander, they become more creative. Haven’t you heard the old adage that bored kids seem to get into trouble a lot? Well, they actually start thinking of things that will alleviate their boredom and come up with creative ways to do so. I’m not saying make your students sit silently with nothing to do, what I’m saying is that sometimes kids need simple, rote tasks to get their creative juices flowing. Creativity and critical thinking run hand-in-hand. When students create, they are using their critical thinking skills to do so.

The best way to get students to think critically in your classroom, is to focus on your lessons surrounding this concept. You’ll see an increase in their comprehension and other skills. Instead of you the teacher always doing the “dog-and-pony show”, instead use these strategies to promote a positive, critical thinking classroom.

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