Getting students to dig deeper and answer questions using higher-level thinking can be a challenge. Here are our favorite tips for teaching critical thinking skills, adapted from Mentoring Minds’ Critical Thinking Strategies Guide, that help kids solve problems by going beyond the obvious response.
1. Slow down the pace.
It’s easy to fall into a routine of calling on one of the first kids who raises a hand. But if you wait even just 3 to 5 seconds after asking a question, you’ll probably find the pool of students willing to give an answer grows significantly. Plus, it helps the speedy kids learn that the first answer that pops into their head isn’t always the best. There are times you may even want to wait up to a minute or longer if the question is particularly complex or time-consuming. To avoid an awkward pause, you can let kids know that they have 10 seconds to think before answering the question or that you need to see 10 hands raised from volunteers before you hear a response.
2. Pose a Question of the Day.
Put a new spin on bell ringers by asking a Question of the Day. Use a questioning stem (e.g., create a riddle that uses the mathematics term “multiply” in one of the clues or write a letter to a classmate recommending this book) and put it on the board. Students can write answers in their critical-thinking journals. Then have a class discussion at the end of the day.
3. Make a response box.
Write a random critical-thinking question on the board, (e.g., Is there a better way to work out this problem? Explain your thinking.). Give students a specified amount of time to provide a written response and put it in the response box. Pull out entries one by one and read them aloud to the class. Alternatively, you can give a prize—like a homework pass or free time—to the student with the first appropriate response whose name is drawn from the box or to everyone who submitted appropriate answers.
4. Take a side.
First, read a statement that has two opposing views (e.g., Do you agree or disagree with the author? Why?). Ask kids who agree to stand on one side of the room and those who disagree to stand on the other side. Then have kids talk about why they chose each side. They can switch sides if they change their minds during the discussion.
5. Ask “why?” five times.
When you encounter a problem in class, you can help the class come up with a solution by using the Why? Five Times strategy. Ask the first why question (e.g., Why didn’t the class do well on the spelling test?), and after a response is given, ask why four more times (e.g., Why didn’t students study for the test?, Why didn’t students have time to study for the test?, etc.). The idea is that after the fifth question is asked, the problem will be solved.
Come up with an imaginary scenario and have kids work through the steps to solve a problem as a class. First, identify the problem and write it as a question (e.g., Why didn’t the science experiment work as planned?). Then brainstorm ideas to solve it and choose the best one to write as a solution statement. Finally, create an action plan to carry out the solution.
7. Go “hitchhiking.”
Practice creative thinking by collaborating on a storyboard. Write a problem on an index card and pin it on the top of a bulletin board. Then put different headings on index cards and pin them below the main card. Have kids brainstorm ideas that develop each of the heading cards and let kids pin them on the board. Encourage kids to “go hitchhiking” by building onto their classmates’ ideas.
8. Turn around.
A great way to focus on the positive in not-so-positive situations is the Turn Around thinking strategy. If a student forgets to bring his homework to school, you can ask, “What good can come of this?” The student can answer with ideas like, “I will change my routine before I go to bed.”
9. Put your pocket chart to good use.
Choose six completed questioning stems from different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and put them in a pocket chart. Choose some strips as mandatory and let kids pick two from the higher levels to answer aloud or in a journal.
10. Hold a Q&A session.
One way you can figure out how well kids are grasping critical-thinking skills is by holding question-and-answer sessions. Ask a variety of questions one-on-one or in small groups and take note of the levels of thought individual students use regularly and avoid over time. You can review your notes to help build more higher-order-thinking questions into your lessons.
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50 Questions To Help Students Think About What They Think
contributed by Lisa Chesser
Using the right questions creates powerful, sometimes multiple answers and discussions. Aristotle said that he asked questions in response to other people’s views, while Socrates focused on disciplined questioning to get to the truth of the matter.
Ultimately questions spark imagination, conjure emotions, and create more questions. The questions asked by a teacher or professor are sometimes more glaringly valuable than the information transferred to the students. Those questions spark a thought, which leads to a fiercely independent search for information.
If students are the ones gathering that information then they’re the ones learning it and student-driven learning cements lessons into the students’ minds making any lesson more powerful with this strategy. Even though the following list of questions are broken into Mathematics, Literature and Science and Social Science, it’s really just a set of philosophically challenging questions that should be applied to any learning environment.
The questions are unrestricted and open the mind up to unfettered thought, perfect for innovation and understanding. The sections begin with Mathematical Questions because for the purpose of this list they’re the most general and therefore the most useful.
See also our 28 Critical Thinking Question Stems For Classroom Use ($4.50)
Within the realm of mathematics, there are certain types of questions that build up to those aha moments or topple barriers. Those are the questions that change a learner forever. They change a person because finally, the answers can only be found within.
The addition of philosophical questioning to mathematics enhances critical thinking in every learner. Basic principles of understanding help create solid ground, but questions build powerful architecture with which structures tower over one another.
Reflection & Collaboration
1. What do you think about what was said?
2. How would you agree or disagree with this?
3. Are there any other similar answers you can think of with alternative routes?
4. Does anyone in this class want to add something to the solution?
5. How might you convince us that your way is the best way?
6. How did you determine this to be true?
7. Why didn’t you consider a different route to the problem?
8. Why does that answer make sense to you?
9. (in response to an answer):…what if I said that’s not true?
10. Is there any way to show exactly what you mean by that?
11. Why do you think this works? Does it always? why?
12. How do you think this is true?
13. Show how you might prove that?
14. Why assume this?
15. How might you argue against this?
16. How might you show the differences and similarities?
17. What patterns might lead you to an alternative answer?
18. How many possibilities can you think of and why?
19. Predict any number of results?
20. How does this relate daily occurrences?
21. Which ideas make the most sense and why?
22. Which problems feel familiar? Why?
23. How does this relate to current events?
24. What kinds of examples make this problem workable?
25. What other problems fit this style or example?
Buried in every story lives a student’s own life. Anyone can relate to at least one character or dive into at least one plot twist. But, the more foreign a story, the more important the questions should be.
Students may resist the idea that they can relate to certain characters depending on their ethnicity or economic background, but deep, concentrated questions show students the story really isn’t that foreign at all and also guide students to deeper meanings.
The following questions could be applied to any story, no matter how long or short, difficult or easy. Vary them and add to them depending on how the discussion flows.
26. How did any of the characters or events remind you of yourself? Why?
27. How did the character’s actions affect you? Explain.
28. If you were this character, how would the story change?
29. What surprised or confused you about the characters or events? Explain.
30. Why do you think the author wrote from this character’s view?
31. What do you think the author is trying to accomplish?
32. How is the author thinking about the world?
33. How would the story change from another character’s view?
34. Why do you think this story could actually happen, or not?
35. How can this story teach us something about our lives?
36. How do you think the characters resolved the major conflict in the story?
37. How would you have resolved it?
38. How would you change the end of the story and why?
Science and Social Questions
Within the idea of the Scientific Method, the hypothesis stands as the ultimate question. But, there are so many more questions a scientist must ask in order to answer that one question.
The challenging questions, however, make this a universal process streaming into other subject matter and delving into deeper waters. Here are some questions to sink into and use across curriculum as well as within science itself.
39. What’s the purpose for this experiment or argument?
40. Would you elaborate on the purpose of this?
41. What issues or problems do you see here?
42. What evidence or data are given that help make this worthwhile?
43. What are some of the complexities we should consider?
44. What concepts help organize this data, these experiences?
45. How can you justify this information?
46. How can we verify or test that data?
47. What details can you add to make this information feel more complete?
48. Which set of data or information is most relevant or important?
49. How is all of this consistent or inconsistent?
50. How am I seeing or viewing this information? Objectively or subjectively? Should I then change my view?
A former Publications Specialist at Florida International University where she also received a bachelor’s degree in English, Lisa Chesser left the publishing field to pursue a career in education. In her first three years of teaching Language Arts, she won an Excellence in Teaching Award for helping students achieve 50 percent learning gains. Because she’s also a writer, an editor, and an artist by trade, students often take more interest in their learning environment because she teaches them the value of it in the workplace; metacognition
This post was first published on openncolleges.edu.au; image attribution flickr user nationalassemblyforwales; 50 Questions To Help Students Think About What They Think