Every teacher knows the importance of critical thinking in education. Strong critical thinkers make better decisions, are more informed, have more career opportunities, and are generally better equipped to navigate the challenges of everyday life.
In the classroom, critical thinking is essential to the growth and betterment of our students. It’s not enough for them to simply memorize that 6 times 6 equals 36; they also need to know the underlying principle behind the equation. And, when put into practice, it can unleash student potential in ways we’ve never dreamed.
Just consider Ann Makosinski (16), a student who created a flashlight that is powered by her own thermal energy. Kelvin Doe (13), of Sierra Leone, built a radio transmitter and generator for his village out of spare parts. Another student, Gitanjali Rao (12), was inspired by the crisis in Flint, Michigan, to build a way to send water-quality information via Bluetooth.
While these are obviously extreme examples, the fact remains that students like that could be in your classroom. What are we doing to ensure that their critical thinking is being forged and allowed to flourish?
ELA and social studies strategies
This all seems straightforward when it comes to math and science, but what about ELA and social studies?
Here are just a few ideas to infuse critical thinking in ELA and social studies instruction:
- Personification: Have students write letters from one inanimate object to another. For example, primary grade students may write a letter from the day of the week Monday to the day of the week Friday. Older students may write a letter from the character in a novel to another character. Or have a historical or literary figure write a critique of a contemporary song, show, or movie. What would Napoleon Bonaparte think of the latest Spiderman movie? How might Beethoven review the latest song from Jay Z? Personification requires students to re-contextualize what they know about the subject(s) and apply their thinking in a novel way.
- Concept Map (Revisited): Create a concept web after a read-aloud or guided reading session, focusing on the reading and comprehension strategies. Then have students investigate related nonfiction content and have them revisit their concept web, adding expository information in a different color.
- Shallow and Deep: A Venn diagram works well when we want students to compare and contrast. However, if you want them to think more deeply, ask them to find shallow (obvious) similarities/differences and then deeper (not so obvious) ones. Take advantage of this graphic organizer: Shallow and Deep. Use it as is or make a copy and customize it to your liking!
- RAFT: Use the RAFT strategy to differentiate instruction and to promote creative thinking. Assign (or have students choose) a Role, an Audience, the Format, and the Topic. For example, you may have students present a Topic that is related to their reading, and students might choose to play the Role of a newscaster, present in the Format of a cartoon, and pretend their Audience are parents. To aid student choice, here’s a list of possibilities for each part of the acronym.
Building lifelong learners
There’s so much more to this topic than we have space to discuss. Consider watching VAI’s latest webinar where we cover these ideas in more detail or use this document to discover more free strategies for your classroom. Using these resources, we can help our students stay genuinely inquisitive, open to new ideas, and willing to revise their views when new data is introduced. These are the hallmarks of a critical thinker, and when our students embrace these qualities, we can be confident that they are on the road to a bright future.
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