Critical Thinking

Essential to students' success in school and at work is their ability to think critically. Higher order thinking skills like problem solving, application, synthesis, and evaluation are vital to students' intellectual growth. Our expectation should be that students engage in high levels of cognitive work as often as possible. They should have multiple opportunities per class period to complete tasks that are cognitively demanding.


All levels of students can (and should) engage in critical thinking. Language deficiencies and limited knowledge of subject matter should not restrict students from this important work. Critical thinking is a vital component to 21st century skills and the foundation to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In order to ready all student for college and careers, we need to teach them how to think on their own. We need our young learners to be responsible for making meaning. We need to push our students to the highest levels. The information on this page will deepen your understanding of critical thinking and provide practical methods you can use to develop students' higher order thinking skills.

Raise the level of thinking and learning

Critical thinking begins with the teacher. We should incorporate higher-level questions and tasks into our daily plans, and use those "in the moment" unplanned learning opportunities to increase exposure to higher order thinking skills.

Tasks that ask students to read and memorize facts or shift information from one source into another will lead to surface knowledge of concepts at best. Deep knowledge is acquired when the learner has time to think about, process, apply, and evaluate new information. Through this cognitive work, ideas become clearer and connections are made. The result: learning is inspired and students become more confident and motivated.

We should challenge our students as often as possible and believe that they can think critically about the ideas presented in class. Teachers may need to offer support at times or fill in the holes, but most of the cognitive work can be assigned to the students.

Students will not ask for rigorous tasks. They will do what we ask of them and nothing more. We cannot wait for them to request a challenge. We must challenge them every day. If by the end of a task students do not understand or have not reached the learning targets set out for them, we can go back and reteach, or we can use the opportunity to ask a different question or assign another task that will get their brains actively learning.

Teaching critical thinking skills isn't guess work. There are a number of successful methods teachers use to engage students in critical thinking. Consider using some of the methods provided below.

Related Articles

Laura Pappano, 2014, February, 5. "Learning to Think Outside of the Box: Creativity Becomes an Academic Discipline." The New York Times. Retrieved from

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