Critical Thinking: Teaching Methods & Strategies
Mark Jon Snyder
CEO, MSA Consulting Group
Adjunct Professor, Elon University


 In Review … Research and Definition
– Requirements of Analyzing and Evaluating
– Why We Don’t Critically Think
– Instructional Design of Critical Thinking
– IDEALS – Six Steps to Critical Thinking
 Goals of Critical Thinking (CT)
 The ABC’s of CT Lesson Plans
 Questioning Techniques
 The CT Classroom Environment


The Research on Faculty Indicates…

 89% Claim Critical Thinking is a Primary Objective
 78% State Students Lack Critical Thinking Skills
 19% Can Clearly Define “Critical Thinking”
 9% Can Describe How to Teach Critical Thinking in their Discipline
 8% Use Critical Thinking Standards in Their Assessment Techniques

Definition of Critical Thinking…

 Informed Decision-Making
 Thinking About Thinking & How to Improve It
 Actively Analyzing, Synthesizing, & Evaluating the Thinking Process
 A Product of Education, Training, & Practice
 Mental Habit & Power

Critical Thinking Requires Analytically Questioning…

 Purpose
 Concepts and Ideas
 Assumptions
 Point of View
 Information
 Inferences and Conclusions

Critical Thinking Requires Evaluating the _____ of Your Thinking

 Clarity
 Accuracy
 Precision
 Relevance
 Depth
 Breadth
 Logic
 Significance

Why Students (and Teachers) Don’t Critically Think…

 Too Many Facts, Too Little Conceptualizing
 Too Much Memorizing, Too Little Thinking
 Lecture & Rote Memorization Does Not Require Critical Thinking
 Students Are Not “Trained” to Think
 Critical Thinking is More Than Simple Engagement
 “Life Comes at You Fast”

Instructional Design of Critical Thinking…

 Knowledge & Understanding is Not Gained from Memorization
 Knowledge is Constructed from Critically Thinking
 Link Critical Thinking Skills to Content
 Intellectual Challenge is Focusing on Thinking Rather Than Facts

“IDEALS” … Six Steps to Effective Thinking and Problem Solving

 I – Identify the Problem
 D – Define the Context
 E – Enumerate the Choices
 A – Analyze the Options
 L – List Reasons Explicitly
 S – Self-Correct


Encourage Students To…

 ASK Questions and LOOK for Answers
– What questions could someone have about this?
– What information answers these questions/concerns?
 APPLY What They Learn to SOLVE Problems
– Based on the material, how would you …?
– Now that you know ___, how do you solve ___?
 LISTEN to Each Other and DEBATE Ideas
– How does John’s comment relate to the text?
– What can you add to his perspective?

Practical Barriers…

 Crowded Curriculum
– Cover Content PLUS Critically Think About It
 Short Class Periods
– Engaged Activities Require Time on Task
 Too Many Students
– Difficult to Get Everyone Involved Every Time

Characteristics of Productive Teaching…

 Challenge Students to Know, Not Memorize
 Question, Examine, Create, Solve, Interpret, Debate
 Active Classes are Purposeful and Well Organized
 Students THINK About What They Learn
 Apply Material to Real Situations (e.g., Case Studies)
 Students Continue to Learn Independently…

The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say,
“The children are now working as if I did not exist.”
~ Maria Montessori, Educator (1870-1952)

Reprinted with permission from The Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking Project
Teaching and Learning Strategies for the Thinking Classroom (
© 2005 Open Society Institute

Anticipating – Lesson Introduction…

 Call up the knowledge students already have
 Informally assess what they already know, including misconceptions
 Set purposes for learning
 Focus attention on the topic
 Provide a context for understanding new ideas

Building Knowledge – Lesson Activity / Discussion…

 Students compare expectations with what is being learned
 Revise expectations or raise new ones
 Identify the main points
 Monitor personal thinking
 Make inferences about the material
 Make personal connections to the lesson
 Question the lesson

Consolidating – Lesson Reflection…

 Students summarize and interpret the main ideas
 Share opinions and make personal responses
 Test out the ideas (apply to assignment, project, etc.)
 Assess learning and ask additional questions


Avoid Low-Level Questions…

 Address Details (facts, figures, etc.)
 Useful for Short-Term Memory Only
 Based on Memorization, Not Understanding
 Examples…
 What are Word’s default margins settings?
 What does B2B stand for?
 Define an asset.
 What is a trademark?

Apply High-Order Questions…

 Ask How or Why Something Happens
 Requires Application of Details to Larger Context
 Go “Beyond Facts” to Constructing a Rationale
 Requires Critical Thinking
 Examples…
 How would you change the margins to accommodate a short letter?
 How do B2B marketing strategies apply to EDI technologies?
 Explain how assets depreciate. How does this impact a balance sheet?
 What are the consequences of improperly using a trademark?

Strategies for Effective Questioning Techniques… (Gibbs, 2001)

 Ask questions that invite more than one plausible answer.
 Provide wait time after asking a question to give less confident students time to think.
 Ask follow-up questions, such as, “What can you add?” or “What is your opinion?”
 Provide feedback that neither confirms nor denies students’ responses to ensure the discussion remains open. Examples are: “Interesting.” or “I hadn’t thought of that.”
 Request a summary. “Who can make the point in different words?”
 Survey the other students: “Who agrees with Max? Who disagrees? Why?”
 Encourage students to direct questions to other students.
 Play devil’s advocate: “How would you feel if…?”

To Teach Critical Thinking…

 Create a Culture of Inquiry by Supporting Students’ Thinking Process
 Model Critical Thinking Skills
 Actively Question Students’ Thinking
 Guide Reflecting on the Thinking Process
 Why do you think that?
 What is your knowledge based upon?
 What does it imply and presuppose?

Selected questions from a list compiled by Richard Paul
Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive in a Rapidly Changing World
Rohnert Park, CA: Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique, © 1990. Used with permission.

Questions for Clarification
 What do you mean by _____?
 What is your main point?
 How does _____ relate to _____?
 Could you put it another way?
 What do you think is the main issue here?
 Let me see if I understand you: you mean ____ or _____?
 Jane, could you summarize in your own words what Richard has said?
 Richard, is that what you meant?
 Could you give me an example?
 Would this be an example: _____?
 Could you explain that further?

Questions about the Initial Question or Issue
 How can we find out?
 What does this question assume?
 Would ____ put the question differently?
 Can we break this question down at all?
 Does this question lead to other questions or issues?

Questions that Probe Assumptions
 What are you assuming?
 What could we assume instead?
 You seem to be assuming _____. Do I understand you correctly?
 How would you justify taking this for granted?
 Is this always the case? Why do you think the assumption holds here?

Questions that Probe Reasons and Evidence
 What would be an example?
 Could you explain your reasons to us?
 Are those reasons adequate?
 Do you have any evidence for that?
 How could we find out if that is true?

Questions that Probe Origin or Source Questions
 Where did you get this idea?
 Have you been influenced by anyone? The media? Your peers?
 What caused you to feel this way?

Questions that Probe Implications and Consequences
 What are you implying by that?
 What effect would that have?
 What is an alternative?
 If this is the case, then what else must be true?

Questions about Viewpoints or Perspectives
 How would other groups of people respond? Why?
 How could you answer the objection that _____ would make?
 Can anyone see this another way?
 What would someone who disagrees say?

(Mathews, 2003)

1. Students share in the responsibility for classroom environment
 cooperative learning techniques
 group or class discussion leaders
 project-based learning

2. Teachers model thinking and support students as they share their thinking strategies
 Demonstrate by …
– Approaching ideas tentatively
– Using questioning techniques
– Promoting respect for different points of view
 Question conclusions and encourage student to do likewise
– Not only … What? Where? When?
– But also … Why? What if? Why not?

3. The classroom has an atmosphere of inquiry and openness
 Students make predictions, gather info, organize it, and question conclusions
 Teachers provide corrective advice rather than criticism and evaluation

4. Students are supported, but also challenged to think independently
 Pay attention to HOW students are thinking
 Encourage students to investigate and communicate as they go

5. The classroom arrangement allows students to work together
 Focus should be on the students, not the teacher
 Arrange desks in horseshoe or grouped clusters


 Practice Critical Thinking
 Model Thinking Behaviors
 Challenge Students
 Use ABC Lesson Plans
 Question Students’ Thinking
 Create a CT Classroom
 See Resources


Learning Information from Text (KWL)

1. Structured Overview – Anticipation (5 minutes)

a. Short discussion about the topic (ask questions and encourage comments)
b. Raise students’ curiosity (relate to current knowledge)
c. Use visual aids (maps, charts, samples, objects, etc.)

2. Paired Reading / Paired Summarizing – Building Knowledge

a. KWL – Know, Want, Learn …
 What do we KNOW about this topic?
 What do we WANT to know about this topic?
 What did we LEARN about this topic?
b. In pairs, students list what they know about the topic – DISCUSS
c. In pairs, students list what they want to know about the topic – DISCUSS
d. Paired groups read prepared material to answer questions
e. Teacher circulates among the pairs to monitor and question their progress
f. If most pairs are struggling, remind the class how to summarize and question

3. Consolidation

a. Students reflect on the activity and apply ideas to discussion questions
b. Students reconsider what they already knew before in light of what they learned
c. Complete the last column … what did we learn about this topic?

TOPIC: How to Teach Critical Thinking Skills

What do we know? What do we want to know? What did we learn?










Discussing New Ideas: The Value Line

STEP 1: The teacher poses a yes/no question on which opinions can vary (e.g., Is the time required to teach critical thinking skills worth the effort when other methods offer quicker results?)

STEP 2: Each student considers the question alone and writes an answer with supportive reasoning.

STEP 3: Two students stand at opposite ends of the room. Each states an extreme position on the issue, and their statements are diametrically opposed to each other.

STEP 4: The students are asked to take their place along an imaginary line between the two extreme positions, according to which pole of the argument they agree with more.

STEP 5: Students are asked to discuss with other students in the line their responses to the question to make sure they are standing among people who share their position.

STEP 6: If students are clustered, have one representative from each group summarize their position on the issue. Students can change positions after hearing the statements.

Reflection: The value line is enjoyable for students because they like moving around in the class and sharing their opinions with others. It is interesting to demonstrate for the physically what is meant by “having a position” and changing one’s position” on an issue.


NOTE: This activity can be modified using true/false or multiple choice questions for pre-assessments (what do you know) or reviews for tests:

True/False – Assign one side of the room as the “True” side and the other as the “False” side. As the teacher reads a true/false statement, students move to the correct side of the room. Students who are unsure about the answer remain in the middle of the room. Representatives from each side are asked to explain their choice.

Multiple Choice – Same as above, but each corner of the room is assigned a letter (e.g,. A, B, C, D) where students move to answer the question. Representatives from each corner explain their groups’ positions.

Quick-Write Activity

 Informal essay, reflective free-writing
 One to five minutes; goal: to capture thoughts and ideas
 Use prompts (e.g., This is important because…, Something that now makes sense is…)
 Collect and informally assess … What did you mean by…? How does this relate to…?

What? So What? Now What?

 “From every important idea, some action should follow” ~ Paolo Freire
 “Praxis” – The link between a compelling idea and social action
 Helps students find the main ideas and connect them to realistic actions
 After “Now What?”, have the class reflect on the process… did we leave anything out?

What? So What? Now What?

Students summarize the most important ideas from the lecture or assigned reading.

Then students are asked to determine what is important about the ideas they just listed. Why do they matter? What difference do they make?

Finally, students brainstorm actions … what can they do about the problem or issue?

3-2-1 Processor

 3 Recalls – List three things you recall from the homework, lecture, or activity
 2 Insights – Brainstorm two insights (ideas, connections, main points) not directly covered
 1 Question – Write one question you have about the material (or a sample quiz question)
 Collect and discuss or have pairs/squares answer the questions

Directed Reading-Thinking Activity

 Prepare the text by marking stopping points where students can think about content
 Student pairs read to each other and answer questions; then the class discusses
 Review prior thought processes at each subsequent stopping point
 Conclude with a reflective discussion
Directed Reading Activity, Continued …

Main Point(s)
Relation to Prior Part
Predict Next Part

After Part 1

After Part 2

After Part 3

After Part 4

Sample Lesson Plan (One Class Session Integrating Several Methods)

 Introductory Discussion of Topic (Anticipation) 5 minutes
 Lecture Segment, Paired Discussion, Square the Pairs 15 minutes
 Class Discussion Using Questioning Techniques 10 minutes
 Quick-Write Activity (Individual Summary and Reflection) 5 minutes
 3-2-1 Processor (Summary) 5 minutes
 Value Line (Reflection) 10 minutes


 Critical Thinking & Problem Solving Skills (Webliography of Sources)

 The National Center for Teaching Thinking – ”All Students Can Be Good Thinkers”

 The Critical Thinking Community

 The Thinking Classroom – A Journal of Reading, Writing and Critical Reflection

 Teaching Critical Thinking – The Dartmouth Writing Program

 An Introduction to Critical Thinking (by Steven D. Schafersman)

Research Support Provided by Lisa E. Gueldenzoph, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Business Education
North Carolina A&T State University