This week we’ve focused on critical thinking using the model developed by the Foundation for Critical Thinking. By now you’re probably excited about the incredible potential that these tools hold…and a little overwhelmed. Where to start?
1) TELL students that you want them to work on their thinking. You might start this way:
“In this class we will learn to be better thinkers. Good thinkers think about their thinking in order to improve it. They stop often to check in on their thinking by asking themselves questions. What is the purpose of my thinking? What information do I need? Am I being clear? Have I considered a broad range of perspectives? To become better thinkers we will learn to stop often to ask ourselves questions. We will push ourselves to become better thinkers and we will push each other to become better thinkers.”
Students should know that you are interested in their thinking and that improved critical thinking is a goal of your classroom. They should also know that self-questioning is the key to improved thinking!
2) Choose ONE element of thought, intellectual standard, or intellectual trait and teach students what it means. You might start by defining the element or standard you’ve chosen to focus on. Define clarity or depth or fairness in a simple way. Ask students to classify sentences as examples or non-examples of the trait. Would you say this sentence is clear or unclear? Why? Is this idea deep or shallow? Why? Then have them come up with their own examples and non-examples. In other words, teach the element, standard, or trait AS A CONCEPT.
3) Give students something to think about and ask them to practice improving their thinking. You might start with a quote and ask them to put it into their own words, or agree or disagree with it. You might ask a question about the novel you are reading, or math problem you’re trying to solve. Whatever it is, just make sure it requires them to THINK. Then have them practice stopping their thinking to ask themselves questions to refine their thought.
Here are some easy ways to help kids practice:
A and B: Ask students to work in pairs. One student will be partner “A” and one student will be partner “B.” First, partner A responds to your question by thinking out loud. Partner B can ONLY ask questions to push his/her partner’s thinking. This is NOT a discussion or exchange of ideas. This is one student coaching the thinking of another! After 3 minutes have them reverse roles. This list of questions will help:

Image credit: Foundation for Critical Thinking

Telephone: Ask all students to write out answers to your question. Students then pass their writing to their neighbor and the neighbor annotates the writing using the questions above or the following sentence stem: “This is clear because…” (or relevant, or precise, or significant, etc.). They pass the paper again and this time the next student re-writes the answer to improve it based on the annotations. Keep passing papers around until students have their original work — by now it should be perfect!
Make it better: Ask one student to share his or her answer with the class. Call on other students randomly and ask them one of the questions about your target standard or element. Does all this make sense together? What factors make this a difficult problem? How could we check on that? After one student responds, call on another and ask more target questions. At each stage, challenge students to make the thought more clear, precise, accurate, etc. Ask them to make it better! (This works best at a fast pace and keeps students on their toes!)
There are probably a million ways to do this, so get creative. Just follow this general principle and you’ll be fine:
1) Tell them you want them to improve their thinking.
2) Teach students what the traits of good thinking look like.
3) Give them opportunities to practice thinking and to stick with a thought long enough to improve it!