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For educators: How to foster critical thinking skills in students

As an educator, I have always been interested in teaching critical thinking skills to students and believe it is important to teach them HOW to think, not WHAT to think! I have observed students who developed this ability somewhat naturally, whereas, others had to work to develop critical thinking abilities.

Carol Wood

It is important to teach students how to properly understand and evaluate the subject matter they are learning in school, rather than just the rote memorization of information. Additionally, critical thinking is not only about thinking analytically, but also about thinking differently. It is about fully understanding the problem, dissecting it to find ways to get to the root of the issue, and then devising a variety of ways to solve the problem.

How can educators help foster critical thinking skills in students? One way is by encouraging them to intentionally analyze every situation in life and create a habit of analytical and strategic thinking. As teachers, if we can foster in students the habit of analyzing situations and information critically, they will acquire critical thinking abilities. Additionally, teachers can foster this ability in students via class lectures, lab exercises, homework assignments, quantitative exercises, term papers, and cleverly constructed tests.

Lectures – Listening to lectures does not promote critical thinking in students because listening in a passive process. Critical thinking is an active process! So, during lecture presentations, be certain to explain the logical connection between events in a story. Query students during lectures to cause them to think and interject active participation. Question students in ways that require they not only understand the material, but can analyze and apply it to new situations.

Lab Exercises – Incorporate science instruction and lab experiences early in students’ lives. This causes them to learn scientific methods by actually practicing the science. Continue laboratory experiences in math and science classes during middle and high school to further develop their critical thinking skills.

Homework – Assign traditional reading homework questions for review, drill and practice, however, also assign special written problem sets or questions that will foster critical thinking. As one example, have students paraphrase, summarize, and outline all reading assignments in written form. Then, grade this written assignment by giving oral quizzes in class over the reading assignment. Doing so will cause students to prepare carefully in order to avoid becoming embarrassed by not knowing the content of the reading assignment.

Quantitative Exercises – Assign math, chemistry, and physics exercises and word problems that require problem-solving skills which can be used in everyday life situations. Having students solve math problems in a science course causes them to think about nature and reality in quantitative terms, which are key components of critical thinking. You can include assigned term papers in math and science classes because doing so forces students to acquire, synthesize, and logically analyze information. They will then present this information and conclusions in written form. Grade on the content of their responses and based on their spelling, grammar, punctuation and idea development.

Term Papers – One of the best ways to teach critical thinking is to require students to write. Writing forces students to have to organize their thoughts, contemplate their topic, evaluate the information gathered logically, and then present their conclusions in a persuasive way. Excellent writing is the epitome of excellent critical thinking abilities! Exams – Devise on every test at least a few questions that require students to write, or at least think. Short and long-answer essay questions are ideal! Doing so tests students’ ability to analyze information and then draw conclusions. An example science question is, “Contrast the relative advantages and disadvantages of the light and electron microscopes”.

Hopefully, these suggestions will help you foster in your students a greater ability to critically think by teaching them HOW to think and not WHAT to think!

Carol Wood is the Founder & CEO of Total Learning Concepts, Inc. Visit for information about their tutorial and test preparation services. For more information about Total Learning Concepts, Inc., please call 770-381-5958 or visit their website at