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Teaching Strategies for Critical Thinking Skills

Janelle Cox

In the past few years, there’s been quite a shift toward getting our students to do more cognitively than just memorize information. With the Common Core State Standards emphasizing critical thinking skills, teachers are now required to elevate their students’ thinking beyond the traditional teaching strategies they’ve once used. This is a skill that all students will need throughout their lives, so it’s no wonder why the education system has been pushing it much harder. In fact, with all of this talk about getting our students to use their higher-order thinking skills while learning, experts are now agreeing with this, because of all of the technological advances. Having the ability to critically think will make students be able to obtain, understand, and analyze information they are learning. There are a number of teaching strategies that can help students learn critical thinking skills, starting as early as in kindergarten. Here are five teaching strategies you can use to effectively teach critical thinking skills in your classroom.

Teaching Strategies that Encourage Students to Think for Themselves

One of the best things that you can do to promote critical thinking skills is to not jump in and help every time a student asks you. While it may be the easiest solution for the child, when you jump in to help, you’re actually not helping the child at all. What you’re doing is teaching them that they don’t have to think for themselves, and that they can just ask the teacher. Next time, instead of finding a solution for your students’ question, try responding with, “What do you think?” or “What is the best way to find the answer?” Then, you can assist the student in figuring out the best possible solution.

Help Students to Make Connections

Encouraging students to make connections and look for patterns is a great way to practice their critical thinking skills. Ask students to always be on the look for patterns, and when they find one, to make sure they tell you. By encouraging students to relate whatever you are teaching or doing to a real-life situation, you are essentially helping them use their critical thinking skills. Try and do this for every subject that you teach. The more students learn to make connections, the more they are using their thinking skills.

Activate Students’ Prior Knowledge

Another great way to encourage critically thinking skills is to encourage your students to be creative. When you encourage creativity, you’re helping students activate their prior knowledge. Traditionally, many elementary school teachers prepare every aspect of a project before they give it to their students to complete. The reason they do this is because it saves time, and younger students won’t fight over why one child’s paper flower looks different than the others. The problem with this tradition is that it doesn’t encourage creativity. If all students are getting the same paper flower, then how are they supposed to use their prior knowledge to think of water a flower looks like to them? In order to encourage creativity, don’t always have everything prepared ahead of time. Instead, give students all of the supplies needed to create their project so they can do it on their own. This will allow students to become critical thinkers because they will have to use their prior knowledge to consider what the flower looks like, how big it is, what color it is, etc.

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Place Students Into Groups

The more group work that you do in your classroom, the more exposed your students will be to others thoughts and ideas. Group settings are the perfect way to get your students thinking. When children are around their peers working together, they are being exposed to the thought process of their classmates. They learn how to understand how other people think, why they think that way, and it shows them and it shows them that their way, is not the only way.

Try the Turn-Around Strategy

When I was student teaching, I learned about this amazing technique called the turn-around strategy. The teacher used this strategy with the students when something didn’t go right. For example, one of the students was really upset because she forgot her library books. So the teacher sat her down and asked her, “What is one thing that you can think of that is positive that you can take away from this situation?” The teacher had the student use her critical thinking skills to turn around the situation into something more positive.

Getting students to dig deeper and really use higher-level thinking is a process. This is a process that you should work on each and every day. Try and give students a task with a purpose attached. When you do this, and students can come up with a solution for that purpose, then you’re requiring them to use their critical thinking skills. Once students can understand this valuable skill, then they’ll be capable of having more complex thoughts.

How do you use teaching strategies that promote critical thinking skills in your classroom? Do you have any ideas that can help students learn this important life skill? Please share with us in the comment section below. We would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at

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