is critical thinking an english class

Critical Thinking in the ELT Classroom

Oxford University Press ELT

The enquiring mind

Critical thinking is innate – it comes from inside us – and as humans we have survived and developed by approaching things critically. Children naturally try to check what they have been told, and are ‘programmed’ to piece together the information they encounter. For example, a six year-old child I know was told that diamonds are the strongest and hardest thing on earth and could cut through other stones and even metal. He then visited a rock on the English Jurassic Coast that had been ‘carved’ into an arch, and after listening to an explanation of how it had happened asked, ‘Which is more powerful, diamonds or the sea?’ This child could not yet read and write, but like other children, he was developing his critical mind.

Critical thinking essentially means having a questioning, challenging, analytical state of mind. A critical mind is comfortable with a degree of scepticism and doubt; it is a mind that is open to reinterpreting and refining its knowledge, and accepting that what we know may change in the light of new knowledge. A critical thinker questions whether something is believable, evaluates how strong is the basis of an assumption, and makes new connections between what they know and learn.

Multiple intelligences are involved in critical thinking. The conductor of an orchestra critically interprets the written score, even if it is as familiar as Beethoven’s Ninth. They aim to add something new, and communicate their interpretation to the musicians through movement. A surgeon has to work out the wider picture from the detail they can see, and act quickly. Someone working in business accesses the information relevant to their sector, assesses its significance, and looks for a new opportunity. These people are all thinking critically. Our students will do jobs like these when they have completed their education.

Critical thinking in the classroom

Part of our job as language teachers – and more broadly as educators – is to develop our students’ critical thinking competence. In reality, different students may have experienced varying degrees of nurture and discouragement at the hands of their parents, previous education, and wider culture. Our students’ level of critical thinking may not be related to their language level.

We can start by introducing tasks which ask students to question what they read and listen to, investigating the deeper – more implicit, meanings in texts – and identify assumptions and weaknesses. We can ask students to respond to statements that emerge from the materials we are already using. For example, my class were shown a slide in a lecture which stated ‘China will soon become the number one English speaking country in the world’. I elicited critical questions which included: ‘When? – How soon is ‘soon’?’; ‘Why not India?’; ‘How do you know? – What are your sources?’; and ‘How well will they speak English?’ We can start by asking the simple question ‘So what?’ Our classes, and all our lives, will be richer for our students’ responses.

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[…] Edward de Chazal, co-author of Oxford EAP, explores the topic of critical thinking and how it should be taught in the ELT classroom. The enquiring mind Critical thinking is innate – it comes from i…  […]

Reblogged this on Larry Paszli's Space.

Rightly said, Edward! Critical thinking is an essential component in process writing approach as well. In fact, language and thinking impinge upon each other. If we focus only on the mechanics of language, we are not teaching language. Language is for communication and expression of ideas. So the activities have to make students react or respond critically to all LSRW activities

most of the comments you mentioned were correct ,but teacher should be creative and smart for having an active class.

[…] Critical Thinking in the ELT Classroom […]

[…] has become popular in ELT. Note this presentation at IATEFL 2011 by Lindsay Clandfield and this article from the OUP Global Teaching Blog. This is a quote from the […]

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is critical thinking an english class

Teaching Critical Thinking Skills in the ESL Classroom

  • Linda D'Argenio
  • December 22, 2022

teaching critical thinking skills in fluency vs accuracy

Critical thinking has become a central concept in today’s educational landscape, regardless of the subject taught. Critical thinking is not a new idea. It has been present since the time of Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Socrates’ famous quote, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel,” underscores the nature of learning (students are not blank slates to be filled with content by their teachers) and the significance of inquisitiveness in a true learning process, both in the ESL classroom and in the wider world of education. Teaching critical thinking skills in the ESL classroom will benefit your students throughout their language-learning journey.

In more recent times, philosopher John Dewey made critical thinking one of the cornerstones of his educational philosophy. Nowadays, educators often quote critical thinking as the most important tool to sort out the barrage of information students are exposed to in our media-dominated world , to analyze situations and elaborate solutions. Teaching critical thinking skills is an integral part of teaching 21st-century skills .

Teaching Adults English

Table of Contents

What is critical thinking?

There are many definitions of critical thinking. They are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary. Some of the main ones are outlined below.

Dewey’s definition

In John Dewey’s educational theory, critical thinking examines the beliefs and preexisting knowledge that individuals use to assess situations and make decisions. If such beliefs and knowledge are faulty or unsupported, they will lead to faulty assessments and decision-making. In essence, Dewey advocated for a scientific mindset in approaching problem-solving .

Goal-directed thinking

Critical thinking is goal-directed. We question the underlying premises of our reflection process to ensure we arrive at the proper conclusions and decisions.

Critical thinking as a metacognitive process

According to Matthew Lipman, in Thinking in Education, “Reflective thinking is thinking that is aware of its own assumptions and implications as well as being conscious of the reasons and evidence that support this or that conclusion. (…) Reflective thinking is prepared to recognize the factors that make for bias, prejudice, and self-deception . It involves thinking about its procedures at the same time as it involves thinking about its subject matter” (Lipman, 2003).

Awareness of context

This is an important aspect of critical thinking. As stated by Diane Halpern in Thought and Knowledge: An Introduction to Critical Thinking , “[The critical] thinker is using skills that are thoughtful and effective for the particular context and type of thinking task” (Halpern, 1996)

What are the elements of critical thinking?

Several elements go into the process of critical thinking.

  • Identifying the problem. If critical thinking is viewed mainly as a goal-oriented activity, the first element is to identify the issue or problem one wants to solve. However, the critical thinking process can be triggered simply by observation of a phenomenon that attracts our attention and warrants an explanation.
  • Researching and gathering of information that is relevant to the object of inquiry. One should gather diverse information and examine contrasting points of view to achieve comprehensive knowledge on the given topic.
  • Evaluation of biases. What biases can we identify in the information that has been gathered in the research phase? But also, what biases do we, as learners, bring to the information-gathering process?
  • Inference. What conclusions can be derived by an examination of the information? Can we use our preexisting knowledge to help us draw conclusions?
  • Assessment of contrasting arguments on an issue. One looks at a wide range of opinions and evaluates their merits.
  • Decision-making. Decisions should be based on the above.

adult ESL students in person classroom

Why is critical thinking important in ESL teaching?

The teaching of critical thinking skills plays a pivotal role in language instruction. Consider the following:

Language is the primary vehicle for the expression of thought, and how we organize our thoughts is closely connected with the structure of our native language. Thus, critical thinking begins with reflecting on language. To help students understand how to effectively structure and express their thinking processes in English, ESL teachers need to incorporate critical thinking in English Language Teaching (ELT) in an inclusive and interesting way .

For ESL students to reach their personal, academic, or career goals, they need to become proficient in English and be able to think critically about issues that are important to them. Acquiring literacy in English goes hand in hand with developing the thinking skills necessary for students to progress in their personal and professional lives. Thus, teachers need to prioritize the teaching of critical thinking skills.

How do ESL students develop critical thinking skills?

IELTS teaching materials

Establishing an effective environment

The first step in assisting the development of critical thinking in language learning is to provide an environment in which students feel supported and willing to take risks. To express one’s thoughts in another language can be a considerable source of anxiety. Students often feel exposed and judged if they are not yet able to communicate effectively in English. Thus, the teacher should strive to minimize the “affective filter.” This concept, first introduced by Stephen Krashen, posits that students’ learning outcomes are strongly influenced by their state of mind. Students who feel nervous or anxious will be less open to learning. They will also be less willing to take the risks involved in actively participating in class activities for fear that this may expose their weaknesses.

One way to create such an environment and facilitate students’ expression is to scaffold language so students can concentrate more on the message/content and less on grammar/accuracy.

Applying context

As mentioned above, an important aspect of critical thinking is context. The information doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is always received and interpreted in a specific situational and cultural environment. Because English learners (ELs) come from diverse cultural and language backgrounds and don’t necessarily share the same background as their classmates and teacher, it is crucial for the teacher to provide a context for the information transmitted. Contextualization helps students to understand the message properly.

Asking questions

One of the best ways to stimulate critical thinking is to ask questions. According to Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy ( Taxonomy of Educational Objectives , 1956), thinking skills are divided into lower-order and higher-order skills. Lower-order skills include knowledge, comprehension, and application; higher-order skills include analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. To stimulate critical thinking in ELT, teachers need to ask questions that address both levels of thinking processes. For additional information, read this article by the TESL Association of Ontario on developing critical thinking skills in the ESL classroom .

Watch the following clip from a BridgeUniverse Expert Series webinar to learn how to set measurable objectives based on Bloom’s Taxonomy ( watch the full webinar – and others! – here ):

How can we implement critical thinking skills in the ESL classroom?

Several activities can be used in the ESL classroom to foster critical thinking skills. Teaching critical thinking examples include:

Activities that scaffold language and facilitate students’ expression

These can be as basic as posting lists of important English function words like conjunctions, personal and demonstrative pronouns, question words, etc., in the classroom. Students can refer to these tables when they need help to express their thoughts in a less simplistic way or make explicit the logical relation between sentences (because… therefore; if… then; although… however, etc.). There are a variety of methods to introduce new vocabulary based on student age, proficiency level, and classroom experience.

Activities that encourage students to make connections between their preexisting knowledge of an issue and the new information presented

One such exercise consists of asking students to make predictions about what will happen in a story, a video, or any other context. Predictions activate the students’ preexisting knowledge and encourage them to link it with the new data, make inferences, and build hypotheses.

Critical thinking is only one of the 21st-century skills English students need to succeed. Explore all of Bridge’s 21st-Century Teaching Skills Micro-credential courses to modernize your classroom!

Change of perspective and contextualization activities.

Asking students to put themselves in someone else’s shoes is a challenging but fruitful practice that encourages them to understand and empathize with other perspectives. It creates a different cultural and emotional context or vantage point from which to consider an issue. It helps assess the merit of contrasting arguments and reach a more balanced conclusion.

One way of accomplishing this is to use a written text and ask students to rewrite it from another person’s perspective. This automatically leads students to adopt a different point of view and reflect on the context of the communication. Another is to use roleplay . This is possibly an even more effective activity. In role-play, actors tend to identify more intimately with their characters than in a written piece. There are other elements that go into acting, like body language, voice inflection, etc., and they all need to reflect the perspective of the other.

Collaborative activities

Activities that require students to collaborate also allow them to share and contrast their opinions with their peers and cooperate in problem-solving (which, after all, is one of the goals of critical thinking). Think/write-pair-share is one such activity. Students are asked to work out a problem by themselves and then share their conclusions with their peers. A collaborative approach to learning engages a variety of language skill sets, including conversational skills, problem-solving, and conflict resolution, as well as critical thinking.

In today’s educational and societal context, critical thinking has become an important tool for sorting out information, making decisions, and solving problems. Critical thinking in language learning and the ESL classroom helps students to structure and express their thoughts effectively. It is an essential skill to ensure students’ personal and professional success.

Take an in-depth look at incorporating critical thinking skills into the ESL classroom with the Bridge Micro-credential course in Promoting Critical Thinking Skills.

is critical thinking an english class

Linda D'Argenio

Linda D'Argenio is a native of Naples, Italy. She is a world language teacher (English, Italian, and Mandarin Chinese,) translator, and writer. She has studied and worked in Italy, Germany, China, and the U.S. In 2003, Linda earned her doctoral degree in Classical Chinese Literature from Columbia University. She has taught students at both the school and college levels. Linda lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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Language Point

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  • May 20, 2022

4 ways to increase critical thinking in the English language classroom

Language Point Trinity CertTESOL. 4 ways to increase critical thinking in the English language classroom

Much of what we do in the language classroom is focused on fluency and accuracy. Most teachers aim for students to use vocabulary and grammar accurately, and be able to read and listen with enough understanding to answer comprehension questions. However, language learning is different from other academic subjects, many of which are based around retention of knowledge.

Learning a second language involves a lot more than simply remembering the right words to use. The more that students activate their critical thinking brains, and employ Higher-Order Thinking Skills (HOTS), the more they will develop flexibility, confidence and the ability to self-evaluate in the work that they do, making them better language users in any situation where they have to use the language they learn.

Critical thinking includes a range of HOTS which can be useful to language learning, enabling students to develop learning strategies which can help them to work independently and develop in their own ways beyond the classroom and the set curriculum that you teach . Fostering a critical / analytical environment takes students further than simply supplying correct answers to pass tests, or repeating memorised chunks of language which may not apply to their real lives. Here are some simple ways of facilitating critical thinking in your classroom:

Ask for more than just information

The vast majority of questions asked by teachers in the language classroom are designed for students to answer based on something they have just been told, or that they need to remember from previous classes. In most cases, the teacher already knows the answer to the questions, which have been designed for teaching rather than actual sharing of information. Questions where the answer is already known are called ‘display’ questions, and are a useful teaching tool. However, the level of thinking required to answer them is not highly cognitive. Often, students either know the answer or they don’t - there is little room for calculation, deduction or other higher types of reasoning.

Rather than simply asking students for the answers to the questions they are studying, or for the information in the texts they read, push them to tell you more about aspects of the text which are not explicitly mentioned in the writing. This type of ‘referential’ question leads to much more authentic, spontaneous and personal information sharing, and requires more reflective and critical thought. Examples of higher-order referential questions (here, for a reading or listening exercise) might be:

Why does the writer use the word ‘_______’ in this sentence?

Why do you think the writer starts the article in this way?

Do you agree with the writer when she says ‘________’? Why?

Do you think the writer feels positive / negative / happy / sad / worried… by the topic? Why?

What does the word/sentence ‘__________’ make you think of?

Some of these questions are quite high-level in terms of the language needed to respond, but questions about simple tone or feeling, or emotional response questions, can be used with lower-level learners to help them reflect on their reaction (and the author’s feeling) about the writing. This takes the student out of the traditional understanding / comprehending / answering factual questions from the text that may restrict their thinking as they read.

Get students deducing meaning from context

Another area of language where critical thinking can be used is in vocabulary study. Traditionally, teachers focus very strongly on accuracy of meaning when teaching new words, then find ways of helping students to remember the words effectively. However, the majority of new words that a student meets, both in and out of the classroom, will not be the focus of specific teaching stages with a teacher going through pronunciation, meaning and use .

More critical/analytical approaches to vocabulary can help students to develop independent strategies for dealing with new words without constant support. The skill of deducing meaning based on language clues is an invaluable skill for anyone using a second language, and a skills which can be developed in the classroom. All that is needed are some ways of spotting the clues in a new word, sentence or paragraph, which can reveal different aspects of meaning:

At word level, a lot of meaning can be deduced from prefixes, suffixes and stems. By getting students to identify the stem meaning of a word, then applying prefixes and suffixes, they will be surprised at how they can decode new meanings more easily, as in:

Undeniable = prefix: un- + stem: -deny- + suffix: -able

If a student knows the word ‘deny’, they can build the meaning of

un- (not) + -deny- (refuse) + -able (be able to)

This kind of inductive work leads to activities with word families, where one stem word can be explored for all its related forms: deny, denial, deniable, undeniable, etc., building several words form a single, known root.

In sentence examples, clues to meaning (contextual clues) can be designed and added in to help students deduce new meanings, as in:

Janine was happy, but Bob was miserable

The key clue here comes from the contrast marker ‘but’ - if students know the meaning of happy, and they know that ‘but’ is followed by a contrasting idea, then they can deduce that ‘miserable’ means ‘unhappy’, even if they have never seen the word before.

Presenting vocabulary in a sentence context like this takes students beyond the level of single word meanings, and gets them using other information around a new word to think critically and engage with meaning in different ways. By teaching your students the skill of deducing meaning, you can save a lot of time teaching new words one by one, and get them working with different examples on their own, or working with a partner.

Use project-based activities

Another way of developing higher-order skills is by focusing students on the processes that they follow when they learn. A great way of doing this is to get them working on projects rather than individual language tasks. Projects are different toothed types of activity because they involve collaboration and allocation of work between different members of a group to get the job done. The process of planning, delegating and taking responsibility for different aspects of a project can involve some high-level critical thinking and reflection (if it is planned into the project by the teacher).

Projects usually result in more complex outcomes than single activities, so require more different skills than just language use. The discussion, role-setting, preparation and creative processes all require different types of interaction and communication, all of which are more authentic than general language-focused pair-work.

Working together to create a poster presentation, a board game or a labelled model involves different language and social skills, leadership, compromise and strategy-setting, which can be performed in English if the students’ level is high enough, or in the students’ first language (in a specific planning stage) if it isn’t. By following the procedure below, you can incorporate HOTS, language and other skills to produce an effective project outcome:

inform students of the goal of the project - what product are they working towards?

Students break the project into parts and assign roles to each group member (in first language with lower-level groups)

Students produce a plan for creation of the project, step by step to get everything done in good order and within the time limit (again, in first language if necessary)

Students each work on their role for the project, keeping in communication with each other at each step

Group members check each others’ work for accuracy of language, quality and how well it fits the project brief from 1)

In larger classes, further critical thinking can be developed by having each group present their work to another group for feedback - what do the other group(s) think of their work? Each group writes action points to improve their product and goes back to make any changes they think are necessary.

Each group presents their project to the class, either in a show-and-tell style, or by moving from project to project to view each others’ work.

Develop students’ reflective skills

Self-reflection is one of the highest of the HOTS. Without stopping to evaluate any task that we have done, it is much more difficult to develop better ways of doing a good job in future. This applies to language learning as much as it does to any other kind of activity.

A simple way of bringing self-reflection into he classroom is to include a short stage at the end of each activity that you do, or at the end of each class, which focuses on how students performed. Some simple questions that can prompt self-reflection after a period of class activity are:

How do you feel after completing this activity?

Did you find it easy or difficult? Why?

What did you find most useful in that activity?

How did you complete the activity? What did you do first, then what did you do?

If you did it again, what would you do differently?

You don’t need to ask all of these questions after every activity, but questions like these can prompt a little bit of thought about how students are working, not just whether they succeeded in a task or not. This can raise awareness about learning strategies, thought processes and how different students approach different types of activity . They can also inform you about how your students work, and therefore how they might benefit from different types of support from your teaching.

As we have seen, critical, analytical and higher-order work can be incorporated into the language classroom without too much disturbance of your planned work. A few small additions here and there, and some rethinking of tasks and activities, can raise the level of thinking that goes on, and help students to help themselves when they come to perform in English in situations outside the classroom. Start by including some small critical or reflective questions in your classes, and see how your students respond. You (and they) might be surprised at the results!

Tom Garside is Director of Language Point Teacher Education. Language Point delivers the internationally recognised RQF level 5 Trinity CertTESOL in a totally online mode of study , and the RQF level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers , a contextually-informed teacher development qualification with specific courses which focus on online language education or online methodology.

If you are interested to know more about these qualifications, or you want take your teaching to a new level with our teacher education courses, contact us or see our course dates and fees for details.

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Eight Instructional Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking

is critical thinking an english class

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(This is the first post in a three-part series.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What is critical thinking and how can we integrate it into the classroom?

This three-part series will explore what critical thinking is, if it can be specifically taught and, if so, how can teachers do so in their classrooms.

Today’s guests are Dara Laws Savage, Patrick Brown, Meg Riordan, Ph.D., and Dr. PJ Caposey. Dara, Patrick, and Meg were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show . You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

You might also be interested in The Best Resources On Teaching & Learning Critical Thinking In The Classroom .

Current Events

Dara Laws Savage is an English teacher at the Early College High School at Delaware State University, where she serves as a teacher and instructional coach and lead mentor. Dara has been teaching for 25 years (career preparation, English, photography, yearbook, newspaper, and graphic design) and has presented nationally on project-based learning and technology integration:

There is so much going on right now and there is an overload of information for us to process. Did you ever stop to think how our students are processing current events? They see news feeds, hear news reports, and scan photos and posts, but are they truly thinking about what they are hearing and seeing?

I tell my students that my job is not to give them answers but to teach them how to think about what they read and hear. So what is critical thinking and how can we integrate it into the classroom? There are just as many definitions of critical thinking as there are people trying to define it. However, the Critical Think Consortium focuses on the tools to create a thinking-based classroom rather than a definition: “Shape the climate to support thinking, create opportunities for thinking, build capacity to think, provide guidance to inform thinking.” Using these four criteria and pairing them with current events, teachers easily create learning spaces that thrive on thinking and keep students engaged.

One successful technique I use is the FIRE Write. Students are given a quote, a paragraph, an excerpt, or a photo from the headlines. Students are asked to F ocus and respond to the selection for three minutes. Next, students are asked to I dentify a phrase or section of the photo and write for two minutes. Third, students are asked to R eframe their response around a specific word, phrase, or section within their previous selection. Finally, students E xchange their thoughts with a classmate. Within the exchange, students also talk about how the selection connects to what we are covering in class.

There was a controversial Pepsi ad in 2017 involving Kylie Jenner and a protest with a police presence. The imagery in the photo was strikingly similar to a photo that went viral with a young lady standing opposite a police line. Using that image from a current event engaged my students and gave them the opportunity to critically think about events of the time.

Here are the two photos and a student response:

F - Focus on both photos and respond for three minutes

In the first picture, you see a strong and courageous black female, bravely standing in front of two officers in protest. She is risking her life to do so. Iesha Evans is simply proving to the world she does NOT mean less because she is black … and yet officers are there to stop her. She did not step down. In the picture below, you see Kendall Jenner handing a police officer a Pepsi. Maybe this wouldn’t be a big deal, except this was Pepsi’s weak, pathetic, and outrageous excuse of a commercial that belittles the whole movement of people fighting for their lives.

I - Identify a word or phrase, underline it, then write about it for two minutes

A white, privileged female in place of a fighting black woman was asking for trouble. A struggle we are continuously fighting every day, and they make a mockery of it. “I know what will work! Here Mr. Police Officer! Drink some Pepsi!” As if. Pepsi made a fool of themselves, and now their already dwindling fan base continues to ever shrink smaller.

R - Reframe your thoughts by choosing a different word, then write about that for one minute

You don’t know privilege until it’s gone. You don’t know privilege while it’s there—but you can and will be made accountable and aware. Don’t use it for evil. You are not stupid. Use it to do something. Kendall could’ve NOT done the commercial. Kendall could’ve released another commercial standing behind a black woman. Anything!

Exchange - Remember to discuss how this connects to our school song project and our previous discussions?

This connects two ways - 1) We want to convey a strong message. Be powerful. Show who we are. And Pepsi definitely tried. … Which leads to the second connection. 2) Not mess up and offend anyone, as had the one alma mater had been linked to black minstrels. We want to be amazing, but we have to be smart and careful and make sure we include everyone who goes to our school and everyone who may go to our school.

As a final step, students read and annotate the full article and compare it to their initial response.

Using current events and critical-thinking strategies like FIRE writing helps create a learning space where thinking is the goal rather than a score on a multiple-choice assessment. Critical-thinking skills can cross over to any of students’ other courses and into life outside the classroom. After all, we as teachers want to help the whole student be successful, and critical thinking is an important part of navigating life after they leave our classrooms.



Patrick Brown is the executive director of STEM and CTE for the Fort Zumwalt school district in Missouri and an experienced educator and author :

Planning for critical thinking focuses on teaching the most crucial science concepts, practices, and logical-thinking skills as well as the best use of instructional time. One way to ensure that lessons maintain a focus on critical thinking is to focus on the instructional sequence used to teach.

Explore-before-explain teaching is all about promoting critical thinking for learners to better prepare students for the reality of their world. What having an explore-before-explain mindset means is that in our planning, we prioritize giving students firsthand experiences with data, allow students to construct evidence-based claims that focus on conceptual understanding, and challenge students to discuss and think about the why behind phenomena.

Just think of the critical thinking that has to occur for students to construct a scientific claim. 1) They need the opportunity to collect data, analyze it, and determine how to make sense of what the data may mean. 2) With data in hand, students can begin thinking about the validity and reliability of their experience and information collected. 3) They can consider what differences, if any, they might have if they completed the investigation again. 4) They can scrutinize outlying data points for they may be an artifact of a true difference that merits further exploration of a misstep in the procedure, measuring device, or measurement. All of these intellectual activities help them form more robust understanding and are evidence of their critical thinking.

In explore-before-explain teaching, all of these hard critical-thinking tasks come before teacher explanations of content. Whether we use discovery experiences, problem-based learning, and or inquiry-based activities, strategies that are geared toward helping students construct understanding promote critical thinking because students learn content by doing the practices valued in the field to generate knowledge.


An Issue of Equity

Meg Riordan, Ph.D., is the chief learning officer at The Possible Project, an out-of-school program that collaborates with youth to build entrepreneurial skills and mindsets and provides pathways to careers and long-term economic prosperity. She has been in the field of education for over 25 years as a middle and high school teacher, school coach, college professor, regional director of N.Y.C. Outward Bound Schools, and director of external research with EL Education:

Although critical thinking often defies straightforward definition, most in the education field agree it consists of several components: reasoning, problem-solving, and decisionmaking, plus analysis and evaluation of information, such that multiple sides of an issue can be explored. It also includes dispositions and “the willingness to apply critical-thinking principles, rather than fall back on existing unexamined beliefs, or simply believe what you’re told by authority figures.”

Despite variation in definitions, critical thinking is nonetheless promoted as an essential outcome of students’ learning—we want to see students and adults demonstrate it across all fields, professions, and in their personal lives. Yet there is simultaneously a rationing of opportunities in schools for students of color, students from under-resourced communities, and other historically marginalized groups to deeply learn and practice critical thinking.

For example, many of our most underserved students often spend class time filling out worksheets, promoting high compliance but low engagement, inquiry, critical thinking, or creation of new ideas. At a time in our world when college and careers are critical for participation in society and the global, knowledge-based economy, far too many students struggle within classrooms and schools that reinforce low-expectations and inequity.

If educators aim to prepare all students for an ever-evolving marketplace and develop skills that will be valued no matter what tomorrow’s jobs are, then we must move critical thinking to the forefront of classroom experiences. And educators must design learning to cultivate it.

So, what does that really look like?

Unpack and define critical thinking

To understand critical thinking, educators need to first unpack and define its components. What exactly are we looking for when we speak about reasoning or exploring multiple perspectives on an issue? How does problem-solving show up in English, math, science, art, or other disciplines—and how is it assessed? At Two Rivers, an EL Education school, the faculty identified five constructs of critical thinking, defined each, and created rubrics to generate a shared picture of quality for teachers and students. The rubrics were then adapted across grade levels to indicate students’ learning progressions.

At Avenues World School, critical thinking is one of the Avenues World Elements and is an enduring outcome embedded in students’ early experiences through 12th grade. For instance, a kindergarten student may be expected to “identify cause and effect in familiar contexts,” while an 8th grader should demonstrate the ability to “seek out sufficient evidence before accepting a claim as true,” “identify bias in claims and evidence,” and “reconsider strongly held points of view in light of new evidence.”

When faculty and students embrace a common vision of what critical thinking looks and sounds like and how it is assessed, educators can then explicitly design learning experiences that call for students to employ critical-thinking skills. This kind of work must occur across all schools and programs, especially those serving large numbers of students of color. As Linda Darling-Hammond asserts , “Schools that serve large numbers of students of color are least likely to offer the kind of curriculum needed to ... help students attain the [critical-thinking] skills needed in a knowledge work economy. ”

So, what can it look like to create those kinds of learning experiences?

Designing experiences for critical thinking

After defining a shared understanding of “what” critical thinking is and “how” it shows up across multiple disciplines and grade levels, it is essential to create learning experiences that impel students to cultivate, practice, and apply these skills. There are several levers that offer pathways for teachers to promote critical thinking in lessons:

1.Choose Compelling Topics: Keep it relevant

A key Common Core State Standard asks for students to “write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.” That might not sound exciting or culturally relevant. But a learning experience designed for a 12th grade humanities class engaged learners in a compelling topic— policing in America —to analyze and evaluate multiple texts (including primary sources) and share the reasoning for their perspectives through discussion and writing. Students grappled with ideas and their beliefs and employed deep critical-thinking skills to develop arguments for their claims. Embedding critical-thinking skills in curriculum that students care about and connect with can ignite powerful learning experiences.

2. Make Local Connections: Keep it real

At The Possible Project , an out-of-school-time program designed to promote entrepreneurial skills and mindsets, students in a recent summer online program (modified from in-person due to COVID-19) explored the impact of COVID-19 on their communities and local BIPOC-owned businesses. They learned interviewing skills through a partnership with Everyday Boston , conducted virtual interviews with entrepreneurs, evaluated information from their interviews and local data, and examined their previously held beliefs. They created blog posts and videos to reflect on their learning and consider how their mindsets had changed as a result of the experience. In this way, we can design powerful community-based learning and invite students into productive struggle with multiple perspectives.

3. Create Authentic Projects: Keep it rigorous

At Big Picture Learning schools, students engage in internship-based learning experiences as a central part of their schooling. Their school-based adviser and internship-based mentor support them in developing real-world projects that promote deeper learning and critical-thinking skills. Such authentic experiences teach “young people to be thinkers, to be curious, to get from curiosity to creation … and it helps students design a learning experience that answers their questions, [providing an] opportunity to communicate it to a larger audience—a major indicator of postsecondary success.” Even in a remote environment, we can design projects that ask more of students than rote memorization and that spark critical thinking.

Our call to action is this: As educators, we need to make opportunities for critical thinking available not only to the affluent or those fortunate enough to be placed in advanced courses. The tools are available, let’s use them. Let’s interrogate our current curriculum and design learning experiences that engage all students in real, relevant, and rigorous experiences that require critical thinking and prepare them for promising postsecondary pathways.


Critical Thinking & Student Engagement

Dr. PJ Caposey is an award-winning educator, keynote speaker, consultant, and author of seven books who currently serves as the superintendent of schools for the award-winning Meridian CUSD 223 in northwest Illinois. You can find PJ on most social-media platforms as MCUSDSupe:

When I start my keynote on student engagement, I invite two people up on stage and give them each five paper balls to shoot at a garbage can also conveniently placed on stage. Contestant One shoots their shot, and the audience gives approval. Four out of 5 is a heckuva score. Then just before Contestant Two shoots, I blindfold them and start moving the garbage can back and forth. I usually try to ensure that they can at least make one of their shots. Nobody is successful in this unfair environment.

I thank them and send them back to their seats and then explain that this little activity was akin to student engagement. While we all know we want student engagement, we are shooting at different targets. More importantly, for teachers, it is near impossible for them to hit a target that is moving and that they cannot see.

Within the world of education and particularly as educational leaders, we have failed to simplify what student engagement looks like, and it is impossible to define or articulate what student engagement looks like if we cannot clearly articulate what critical thinking is and looks like in a classroom. Because, simply, without critical thought, there is no engagement.

The good news here is that critical thought has been defined and placed into taxonomies for decades already. This is not something new and not something that needs to be redefined. I am a Bloom’s person, but there is nothing wrong with DOK or some of the other taxonomies, either. To be precise, I am a huge fan of Daggett’s Rigor and Relevance Framework. I have used that as a core element of my practice for years, and it has shaped who I am as an instructional leader.

So, in order to explain critical thought, a teacher or a leader must familiarize themselves with these tried and true taxonomies. Easy, right? Yes, sort of. The issue is not understanding what critical thought is; it is the ability to integrate it into the classrooms. In order to do so, there are a four key steps every educator must take.

  • Integrating critical thought/rigor into a lesson does not happen by chance, it happens by design. Planning for critical thought and engagement is much different from planning for a traditional lesson. In order to plan for kids to think critically, you have to provide a base of knowledge and excellent prompts to allow them to explore their own thinking in order to analyze, evaluate, or synthesize information.
  • SIDE NOTE – Bloom’s verbs are a great way to start when writing objectives, but true planning will take you deeper than this.


  • If the questions and prompts given in a classroom have correct answers or if the teacher ends up answering their own questions, the lesson will lack critical thought and rigor.
  • Script five questions forcing higher-order thought prior to every lesson. Experienced teachers may not feel they need this, but it helps to create an effective habit.
  • If lessons are rigorous and assessments are not, students will do well on their assessments, and that may not be an accurate representation of the knowledge and skills they have mastered. If lessons are easy and assessments are rigorous, the exact opposite will happen. When deciding to increase critical thought, it must happen in all three phases of the game: planning, instruction, and assessment.


  • To increase rigor, the teacher must DO LESS. This feels counterintuitive but is accurate. Rigorous lessons involving tons of critical thought must allow for students to work on their own, collaborate with peers, and connect their ideas. This cannot happen in a silent room except for the teacher talking. In order to increase rigor, decrease talk time and become comfortable with less control. Asking questions and giving prompts that lead to no true correct answer also means less control. This is a tough ask for some teachers. Explained differently, if you assign one assignment and get 30 very similar products, you have most likely assigned a low-rigor recipe. If you assign one assignment and get multiple varied products, then the students have had a chance to think deeply, and you have successfully integrated critical thought into your classroom.


Thanks to Dara, Patrick, Meg, and PJ for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected] . When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo .

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Effective and practical critical thinking-enhanced EFL instruction

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Ya-Ting C. Yang, Jeffrey Gamble, Effective and practical critical thinking-enhanced EFL instruction, ELT Journal , Volume 67, Issue 4, October 2013, Pages 398–412,

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With globalization and the spread of English, EFL instruction is ever more important. In addition to a new language, learners are also exposed to different cultures and ways of thinking. Thus, EFL classrooms provide ideal contexts for exploring important critical thinking (CT) skills. Based on a literature review, theory-based learning activities were designed for targeting language learning, CT development, and academic achievement. An experimental design was used with participants from two freshman EFL classes. While Experimental group learners engaged in CT-enhanced activities such as debates and peer critiques, Control group learners engaged in non-CT-enhanced EFL activities such as group presentations and process writing, effective but without an emphasis on CT. Experimental group learners demonstrated a significant improvement in English proficiency in comparison to the Control group. Furthermore, superior CT and academic achievement were observed for the Experimental group in a content-based exam. Implications for designing CT-enhanced EFL activities that boost English proficiency and CT are discussed.

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is critical thinking an english class

Critical Thinking and English Language Teaching Pt. 1

  • By Anthony Schmidt

Critical Thinking And English Language Teaching Pt. 1

Critical thinking has been a buzzword for some time now. In fact, judging by the research, it has been a buzzword for over a decade. The problem with buzz words is that, over time, they lose a lot of their original meaning and begin to stand for almost anything new or progressive. In addition, it has become an empty rallying cry (“We must teach critical thinking in English language teaching!”) devoid of the very thinking it purports to support .

Why does hearing the cry above make people cringe? Why does reference to Bloom’s taxonomy often cause negative reactions? One reason is because these terms are overused. But is there something more? Are people (rightly) skeptical of these concepts?

There is no doubt that “critical thinking” is buzzworthy. And, if it’s buzzworthy, it must have some importance. So, what exactly is critical thinking and why is it important? I believe the answer to these questions can be framed through the arguments of those who are critical of critical thinking. This article will briefly consider the research on critical thinking and argue that critical thinking should play a central and explicit role in English language teaching.

Can Critical Thinking Be Defined?

There are those who feel that critical thinking can only be defined in broad, subjective terms that are too various to unify. How do you teach something if you can’t even define it? The literature on critical thinking – coming from psychology, education, and philosophy, agrees somewhat with this point. It seems that critical thinking is not readily reducible. It is, rather, multidimensional, or, polysemous. Nevertheless, while the idea of critical thinking may be expressed in various ways, Moore found that these are typically well-articulated and clearly conveyed to students. Moore claims that the variety of meanings may be discipline-based, meaning that psychology prefers certain aspects of critical thinking more so than history, which prefers others. Still, Moore was able to identify some common features which can define the concept more clearly.

According to Moore’s research, critical thinking is:

  • A judgement of whether something is good, bad, valid, or true
  • rational, or, reason-based
  • skeptical thinking
  • productive thinking – not only challenging ideas but producing them – coming to conclusions about issues
  • carefully reading beyond a text’s literal meaning
  • awareness of the entire process
  • ethical or activist – in other words, not neutral

Although Moore is not the sole and final authority on what is means to be a critical thinker, it’s clear that critical thinking can be somewhat defined as a concept, though we must accept that its meaning – like many other concepts – “is its use in the language” (Wittgenstein, cited in Moore, p. 508).

Can Critical Thinking Be Taught?

If critical thinking can be defined (as Moore and others have done), then can it be taught? Certainly, it’s important to think critically. No one is arguing it is not. However, many claim that it must be organically developed, or it is a skill that can be encouraged but not learned. The literature, however, shows the opposite. Not only can critical thinking be taught, it can be practiced and refined!

First, we have to understand that critical thinking is hard. Experimental research by Kuhn (1991) shows that a majority of people cannot demonstrate critical reasoning skills. That is, they cannot often justify their beliefs and opinions with evidence.

Van Gelder and Mulnix, mulling over the question of how to teach critical thinking, found some practical advice, much of which is based in cognitive science.

  • Examples of critical thinking are not enough – students need to engage in critical thinking.
  • There needs to be deliberate practice to master the skill. This includes full concentration, exercises aimed at improving the skills, engaging in increasingly difficult exercises as easier ones are mastered, and guidance and feedback.
  • The practice must be repetitive throughout a course.
  • Students must practice transferring critical thinking skills to other contexts.
  • Students must eventually become aware of the actual idea of critical thinking, including its terminology.

Empirical research on critical thinking shows that it not only can be taught but must be taught. As teachers, we should develop exercises, strategies, and assessments that seek to improve this skill. Mulnix concludes rather poignantly, “To do any less is not only to let our students down, but it is to fail at that very skill we are trying to teach”.

One exercise that has been shown to be effective is argument mapping, in which arguments (including claims, warrants, evidence, etc.) are visually displayed in a diagram. This makes it easy to understand, analyze, and evaluate arguments. Argument maps start with a central premise (i.e. thesis) at the top and include below it evidence or reasons, co-premises (co-reasons), counterarguments and rebuttals, with lines and arrows to show the connections between the ideas.

As a classroom activity, argument maps can first be given as templates that students fill in. Once familiar with argument mapping, they can then begin to construct their own based on analyzing textual sources (readings or lectures) or for forming their own logical conclusions (for discussions, debates, and presentations). By analyzing the arguments written, students can then begin evaluating reasons, evidence, and counterarguments. They can begin questioning the validity of these arguments and suggest their own conclusions or justification. In this way, they are deliberately engaging in critical thinking practice, which, as shown above, is key for developing good critical thinking skills.

Argument map examples:

Critical Thinking And English Language Teaching Pt. 1

Wait! What About Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Bloom’s taxonomy is perhaps the most well-known example of critical thinking. It is an orderly, visually-pleasing representation of, as we have seen, quite a large concept – and this is perhaps one reason why it has held educational weight since the late 50s. However, it has come under much scrutiny both for the way it has been organized and the way it has been employed. There is poor empirical basis for the organization of the hierarchy and its implications for task sequencing. “Lower order skills” are not necessarily easier than “higher order skills” and vice-versa. In addition, these “lower” skills are often used in conjunction or even after using the “higher order skills”.

Nevertheless, Bloom’s (revised) taxonomy is still quite common in the scientific literature. A search for “bloom’s taxonomy” on Google Scholar reveals a great deal of peer-reviewed research which utilized Bloom’s taxonomy. So, why the persistence? While the hierarchy may have its weaknesses and its organization may not always represent reality, the levels of the taxonomy do include most conceptions of what critical thinking is, and there is evidence from neuroscience that supports the taxonomy itself. In the video, “ What can Neuroscience Research Teach Us about Teaching? ”, neuroscientist Daniel Kaufer points to Bloom’s taxonomy as an example of active learning in which, as one moves up the hierarchy, more and more areas of the brain become dynamically activated. In other words, when more areas of the brain “fire together” they typically “wire together” . So, working on higher order skills may not be more difficult than lower order skills, but it may lead to stronger reinforcement of learning.

One of the alternatives to the taxonomy Case proposes is very much aligned with what we have read above about the pedagogical ideas behind teaching critical thinking:

“Understand that inviting students to offer reasoned judgments is a more fruitful way of framing learning tasks than is the use of verbs clustered around levels of thinking that are removed from evaluative judgments”. [jbox title=”Reference List”]

Atkinson, D. (1997). A critical approach to critical thinking in TESOL.  TESOL quarterly ,  31 (1), 71-94.

Case, R. (2013). The Unfortuate Consequences of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Social Education ,  77 (4), 196-200.

Dalton, D. F. (2011, December). An investigation of an approach to teaching critical reading to native Arabic-speaking students. Arab World English Journal, 2 (4),58-87.

Davidson, B. W. (1998). Comments on Dwight Atkinson’s” A Critical Approach to Critical Thinking in TESOL”: A case for critical thinking in the English language classroom.  TESOL quarterly ,  32 (1), 119-123.

Hernandez, M. L., & Rodríguez, L. F. G. (2015). Transactional Reading in EFL Learning: A Path to Promote Critical Thinking through Urban Legends. Colombian Applied Linguistics Journal ,  17 (2), 229-245.

Halpern, D. F. (1998). Teaching critical thinking for transfer across domains: Disposition, skills, structure training, and metacognitive monitoring. American Psychologist ,  53 (4).

Moore, T. (2013). Critical thinking: seven definitions in search of a concept. Studies in Higher Education ,  38 (4), 506-522.

Mulnix, J. W. (2012). Thinking critically about critical thinking.  Educational Philosophy and Theory ,  44 (5), 464-479.

Nezami, S. R. A. (2012). A critical study of comprehension strategies and general problems in reading faced by Arab EFL learners with special reference to Najran University in Saudi Arabia. International Journal of Social Sciences and  Education, 2 (3), 306-317.

Parrish, B., & Johnson, K. (2010, April). Promoting learner transitions to post-secondary education and work: Developing academic readiness from the beginning. CAELA

Network Briefs. Retrieved June 1, 2015 from

Ramanathan, V., & Kaplan, R. B. (1996). Some problematic” channels” in the teaching of critical thinking in current LI composition textbooks: Implications for L2 student-writers.  Issues in Applied Linguistics ,  7 (2).

van Gelder, T. (2005). Teaching critical thinking: Some lessons from cognitive science.  College teaching ,  53 (1), 41-48.

Wong, B. L. (2016). Using Critical-Thinking Strategies To Develop Academic Reading Skills Among Saudi Iep Students.

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6 Responses

is critical thinking an english class

Thanks for this really well researched and written article, Anthony. I particularly liked your suggestion of 'argument mapping'. I think it could be a great way for students to plan their academic assignments. I'd like to discuss some possible computer tools which may be useful for students to use when argument mapping. One could be the Microsoft Word SmartArt function. Another could be this mindmapping website: I'd love to hear about any other suggestions. Sam

is critical thinking an english class

Thanks Sam. I think argument mapping has a lot of uses, and it is a technique that has not been utilized much in ELT. This is likely because few of us have little experience or knowledge of it. Thanks for sharing the mindmap website. It's really cool and I can see a lot of uses well beyond argument maps. Vocabulary lists were the first thing to pop into my mind. Again, really cool! Thanks again.

is critical thinking an english class

Karl Millsom

Eagerly awaiting part 2. Indeed, buzzwords pick up debris as they popularise, and too often eventually they get cast out entirely, the core and sound principles included. This article does a good job of extracting the baby from the bathwater. The argument mapping is something I use a lot here in Indonesia when teaching how to write essays to post graduates who have often not encountered the concept of structured academic writing at all in all their years of schooling. Your examples are very well presented.

is critical thinking an english class

Thank you for sharing this primer defining, questioning, and contextualizing "critical thinking" in ELT. While many English majors usually choose the essay as the place to teach argument and critical thinking, our EFL and ESL classrooms provide many other opportunities too. Argument mapping is an excellent, flexible technique. In teaching adult education, community college, university, and graduate students, it's also often helpful to deploy problem-solution assignments to develop critical thinking. It can be personal challenge and crucial life skill (staying healthy, choosing a major) or a common social problem (affordable housing, reducing pollution). You can also scale up the vocabulary to fit the situation with risks/benefits, trade offs, and stakeholders. Likewise, asking students to write consumer reviews often works. Consumer reviews provide students with a chance to present facts, express opinions, and provide supporting evidence. Students can also share movie reviews, product reviews, and restaurant reviews online with authentic English-speaking audiences. I've found many ESL and EFL students far more receptive to critical teacher feedback when they plan to share their consumers with the "public" at large, and rewrite class assignments to reach higher standards. Amazon, Yelp, and other review sites have opened up exceptional possibilities and new audiences for student writing. Unfortunately, as the declining level of political discourse in several elections around the democratic world show, critical thinking remains in short supply. Sometimes a powerful slogan - Make America Great Again - can seduce many voters. Would it be helpful for the word "great" to be defined? Would it be useful to know, in some detail, what proposals were being advocated to reach that objective? How will the proposal be implemented? What are the probable costs? What are the likely benefits? What's the timeline? Critical thinking at some level asks students to go from vague generalizations to accurate, detailed suggestions. Numbers add precision. Sources provide credibility. Example illuminate. From my perspective, teaching critical thinking also often requires teaching students to go from the language of false certainty to possibility and probability. Deploying frequency adverbs and hedging language often helps. Thank you, again, for sharing your experiences and research with EFL Magazine readers.

Thanks for the reply Eric. You raise many interesting points, all of which I agree with. I find that finding ways of making the audience authentic - not an easy task - paired with critical thinking makes for excellent assignments and student practice. I really like what you said here: " Numbers add precision. Sources provide credibility. Example illuminate." It's a good way to put it and can easily be explained to students in this manner.

I'm finding argument mapping to be more and more useful. I have not actually used it for outlining but have used it for breaking down readings, and using the information in the map to inform new writings.

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Critical Thinking in the Classroom: A Guide for Teachers

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, teaching students the skill of critical thinking has become a priority. This powerful tool empowers students to evaluate information, make reasoned judgments, and approach problems from a fresh perspective. In this article, we’ll explore the significance of critical thinking and provide effective strategies to nurture this skill in your students.

Why is Fostering Critical Thinking Important?

Strategies to cultivate critical thinking, real-world example, concluding thoughts.

Critical thinking is a key skill that goes far beyond the four walls of a classroom. It equips students to better understand and interact with the world around them. Here are some reasons why fostering critical thinking is important:

  • Making Informed Decisions:  Critical thinking enables students to evaluate the pros and cons of a situation, helping them make informed and rational decisions.
  • Developing Analytical Skills:  Critical thinking involves analyzing information from different angles, which enhances analytical skills.
  • Promoting Independence:  Critical thinking fosters independence by encouraging students to form their own opinions based on their analysis, rather than relying on others.

is critical thinking an english class

Creating an environment that encourages critical thinking can be accomplished in various ways. Here are some effective strategies:

  • Socratic Questioning:  This method involves asking thought-provoking questions that encourage students to think deeply about a topic. For example, instead of asking, “What is the capital of France?” you might ask, “Why do you think Paris became the capital of France?”
  • Debates and Discussions:  Debates and open-ended discussions allow students to explore different viewpoints and challenge their own beliefs. For example, a debate on a current event can engage students in critical analysis of the situation.
  • Teaching Metacognition:  Teaching students to think about their own thinking can enhance their critical thinking skills. This can be achieved through activities such as reflective writing or journaling.
  • Problem-Solving Activities:  As with developing problem-solving skills , activities that require students to find solutions to complex problems can also foster critical thinking.

As a school leader, I’ve seen the transformative power of critical thinking. During a school competition, I observed a team of students tasked with proposing a solution to reduce our school’s environmental impact. Instead of jumping to obvious solutions, they critically evaluated multiple options, considering the feasibility, cost, and potential impact of each. They ultimately proposed a comprehensive plan that involved water conservation, waste reduction, and energy efficiency measures. This demonstrated their ability to critically analyze a problem and develop an effective solution.

Critical thinking is an essential skill for students in the 21st century. It equips them to understand and navigate the world in a thoughtful and informed manner. As a teacher, incorporating strategies to foster critical thinking in your classroom can make a lasting impact on your students’ educational journey and life beyond school.

1. What is critical thinking? Critical thinking is the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment.

2. Why is critical thinking important for students? Critical thinking helps students make informed decisions, develop analytical skills, and promotes independence.

3. What are some strategies to cultivate critical thinking in students? Strategies can include Socratic questioning, debates and discussions, teaching metacognition, and problem-solving activities.

4. How can I assess my students’ critical thinking skills? You can assess critical thinking skills through essays, presentations, discussions, and problem-solving tasks that require thoughtful analysis.

5. Can critical thinking be taught? Yes, critical thinking can be taught and nurtured through specific teaching strategies and a supportive learning environment.

is critical thinking an english class

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Module 1: Success Skills

Critical thinking, learning objectives.

  • Explore the concept of critical thinking

As a college student, you are tasked with engaging and expanding your thinking skills. One of the most important of these skills is critical thinking. Critical thinking relates to nearly all tasks, situations, topics, careers, environments, challenges, and opportunities—it’s not restricted to a particular subject area.

Critical thinking is clear, reasonable, reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do. It means asking probing questions like, “How do we know?” or “Is this true in every case or just in this instance?” It involves being skeptical and challenging assumptions, rather than simply memorizing facts or blindly accepting what you hear or read.

Imagine, for example, that you’re reading a history textbook. You wonder who wrote it and why, because you detect certain assumptions in the writing. You find that the author has a limited scope of research focused only on a particular group within a population. In this case, your critical thinking reveals that there are “other sides to the story.”

Who are critical thinkers, and what characteristics do they have in common? Critical thinkers are usually curious and reflective people. They like to explore and probe new areas and seek knowledge, clarification, and new solutions. They ask pertinent questions, evaluate statements and arguments, and they distinguish between facts and opinion. They do not rely on quick, first-order level thinking, but instead use second-level or higher-order thinking skills that require them to think more deeply before jumping to conclusions. They can evaluate their own opinion and judge whether ideas are their own. They are also willing to examine their own beliefs, possessing a manner of humility that allows them to admit a lack of knowledge or understanding when needed. They are fair-minded and open to changing their mind. Perhaps most of all, they actively enjoy learning, and seeking new knowledge is a lifelong pursuit.

Sharpen Your Critical Thinking

Critical thinking skills are perhaps the most fundamental skills involved in making judgments and solving problems. You use them every day, and you can continue improving them.

The ability to think critically about a matter—to analyze a question, situation, or problem down to its most basic parts—is what helps us evaluate the accuracy and truthfulness of statements, claims, and information we read and hear. It is the sharp knife that, when honed, separates fact from fiction, honesty from lies, and the accurate from the misleading. We all use this skill to one degree or another almost every day.

For example, we use critical thinking every day as we consider the latest consumer products and why one particular product is the best among its peers. Is it a quality product because a celebrity endorses it? Because a lot of other people may have used it? Because it is made by one company versus another? Or perhaps because it is made in one country or another? These are questions representative of critical thinking.

The academic setting demands more of us in terms of critical thinking than everyday life. It demands that we evaluate information and analyze a myriad of issues. It is an environment where our critical thinking skills can be the difference between success and failure. In this environment, we must consider information in an analytical, critical manner. We must ask questions—What is the source of this information? Is this source an expert one and what makes it so? Are there multiple perspectives to consider on an issue? Do multiple sources agree or disagree on an issue? Does quality research substantiate information or opinion? Do I have any personal biases that may affect my consideration of this information?

It is only through purposeful, frequent, intentional questioning such as this that we can sharpen our critical thinking skills and improve as students, learners, and researchers.

—Dr. Andrew Robert Baker,  Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom

No matter where you are on the road to being a critical thinker, you can always more fully develop your skills. Doing so will help you develop more balanced arguments, express yourself clearly, read critically, and absorb important information efficiently. Critical thinking skills will help you in any profession or any circumstance of life, from science to art to business to teaching.

Critical Thinking IS Critical Thinking is NOT
Skepticism Memorizing
Examining assumptions Going along with the group
Challenging reasoning Blind acceptance of authority
Uncovering biases Believing everything you read

You can view the transcript for “Why Critical Thinking (Study Skills)” here (opens in new window) .

Critical thinking is fundamentally a process of questioning. You may question the information you read in a textbook, or you may question what a politician or a professor or a classmate says. You can also question a commonly-held belief or a new idea. With critical thinking, anything and everything is subject to question and examination.

An Example of Critical Thinking

Let’s use a simple example of applying logic to a critical-thinking situation. In this hypothetical scenario, Professor Brown has a PhD in political science, and he works as a professor at a local college. His wife works at the college, too. They have three young children in the local school system, and their family is well known in the community.

Professor Brown is now running for political office. Are his credentials and experience sufficient for entering public office? Will he be effective in the political office? Some voters might believe that his personal life and current job, on the surface, suggest he will do well in the position, and they will vote for him.

In truth, Brown’s characteristics as described above don’t guarantee that he will do a good job. What else might you want to know? How about whether Brown has already held a political office? If so, was he effective? How about Brown’s reputation for personal integrity? Just because he works as a professor does not mean he has experience or skill with the ethical issues of public office. Does he have the leadership skills required to be an effective public leader? Just because he teaches college students does not mean Brown has effective leadership skills. In this case, we want to ask, “How much information is adequate in order to make a decision based on logic instead of assumptions?”

The following questions, presented in Figure 1, below, are ones you may apply to formulate a logical, reasoned perspective in the above scenario or any other situation:

  • What’s happening? Gather the basic information and begin to think of questions.
  • Why is it important? Ask yourself why it’s significant and whether or not you agree.
  • What don’t I see? Is there anything important missing?
  • How do I know? Ask yourself where the information came from and how it was constructed.
  • Who is saying it? What’s the position of the speaker and what is influencing them?
  • What else? What if? What other ideas exist and are there other possibilities?

Infographic titled "Questions a Critical Thinker Asks."

Figure 1 . Critical thinkers ask questions to understand the full context of a situation.

Problem-Solving With Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is not just an academic exercise. For most people, a typical day is filled with critical thinking. We use critical thinking to solve problems all the time. For example, consider the following situation. Gisella is doing well in college, and most of her college and living expenses are covered, but there are some gaps between what she wants and what she feels she can afford. She uses critical thinking to analyze her income, savings, and budget to better calculate what she will need to stay in college and maintain her desired level of spending.

Remember, when you apply the skills of a good critical thinker to your academic work or to the problems in your life, your challenge will be less of a hurdle. If you are curious, reflective, knowledge-seeking, open to change, probing, organized, and ethical, you’ll be in a good position to find intelligent solutions.

critical thinking : clear, reasonable, reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do

  • Foundations of Academic Success. Authored by : Thomas C. Priester, editor. Provided by : Open SUNY Textbooks. Located at : . License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • Critical Thinking. Provided by : Critical and Creative Thinking Program. Located at : . License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Critical Thinking Skills. Authored by : Linda Bruce. Provided by : Lumen Learning. Project : License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Why Critical Thinking. Provided by : Careers and Skills. Located at : . License : All Rights Reserved . License Terms : Standard YouTube License

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10 Minute Critical Thinking Activities for English Classes

Hannah wahlig.

Reach beyond the textbook to stimulate thinking in English classes.

Critical thinking activities engage students' logic, rationality and judgment in problem-solving inquiries. English classes benefit from critical thinking activities because the activities activate students' prior knowledge, encourage creative thinking and stress the importance of evidence-based problem solving. Ten-minute critical thinking lessons serve as engaging and thought-provoking opening assignments that tune students in to the day's lessons.

Explore this article

  • Logic Puzzles
  • Judge and Jury
  • Character Critique

1 Logic Puzzles

Simple logic puzzles require application of logic, reason and creativity to identify the correct answer. Riddles, brain teasers and logic games activate students' creative and critical minds and prepare them for a day of critical inquiry. Write a few brain teasers on the board; students immediately sit and begin to write down their answers. Sample brain teasers might include, "Do they have a Fourth of July in England?", "What is boiled then cooled before being sweetened and soured?" or "How many books can you put in an empty bag?" Include more difficult brain teasers for older students and simpler puzzles for younger students. Invite students to share and debate their answers before revealing the correct answer. See Resource 1 for a comprehensive list of brain teasers and logic puzzles.

2 Judge and Jury

Evaluation, analysis and judgment are all critical thinking skills that are particularly useful in an English classroom that requires close reading and analytical writing. Invite students to introduce to the class perceived injustices occurring in their school. Students may feel angry over a new dress code, a shortened lunch period or a new discipline policy. The student gives a one-minute summary of the problem and then has two minutes to prepare his best arguments against the infraction. Another student serves as a challenger and has two minutes to prepare her best arguments in support of the policy. The students each have one minute to present arguments. The class then votes on which student presented the best argument. If time permits, allow students to discuss why one set of arguments was more appealing than the other. The student debater who wins the class over receives a prize, such as extra points on an assignment.

3 Character Critique

Draw from the material used in the classroom to craft opening assignments that stimulate critical thinking. Select a character from the current text and ask students a series of analytical or self-reflective questions about the character. You might ask, "If this character were a student in our classroom, would you want to sit near her? Why or why not?" or "Would this character make a good friend? Partner? Parent? Why or why not?" Questions should require students to evaluate the characteristics of the character and apply them to real-life situations or contexts beyond the context of the book. Students share and debate their responses with the class.

About the Author

Hannah Wahlig began writing and editing professionally in 2001. Her experience includes copy for newspapers, journals and magazines, as well as book editing. She is also a certified lactation counselor. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mount Holyoke College, and Master's degrees in education and community psychology from the University of Massachusetts.

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  • What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

Published on May 30, 2022 by Eoghan Ryan . Revised on May 31, 2023.

Critical thinking is the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment .

To think critically, you must be aware of your own biases and assumptions when encountering information, and apply consistent standards when evaluating sources .

Critical thinking skills help you to:

  • Identify credible sources
  • Evaluate and respond to arguments
  • Assess alternative viewpoints
  • Test hypotheses against relevant criteria

Table of contents

Why is critical thinking important, critical thinking examples, how to think critically, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about critical thinking.

Critical thinking is important for making judgments about sources of information and forming your own arguments. It emphasizes a rational, objective, and self-aware approach that can help you to identify credible sources and strengthen your conclusions.

Critical thinking is important in all disciplines and throughout all stages of the research process . The types of evidence used in the sciences and in the humanities may differ, but critical thinking skills are relevant to both.

In academic writing , critical thinking can help you to determine whether a source:

  • Is free from research bias
  • Provides evidence to support its research findings
  • Considers alternative viewpoints

Outside of academia, critical thinking goes hand in hand with information literacy to help you form opinions rationally and engage independently and critically with popular media.

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Critical thinking can help you to identify reliable sources of information that you can cite in your research paper . It can also guide your own research methods and inform your own arguments.

Outside of academia, critical thinking can help you to be aware of both your own and others’ biases and assumptions.

Academic examples

However, when you compare the findings of the study with other current research, you determine that the results seem improbable. You analyze the paper again, consulting the sources it cites.

You notice that the research was funded by the pharmaceutical company that created the treatment. Because of this, you view its results skeptically and determine that more independent research is necessary to confirm or refute them. Example: Poor critical thinking in an academic context You’re researching a paper on the impact wireless technology has had on developing countries that previously did not have large-scale communications infrastructure. You read an article that seems to confirm your hypothesis: the impact is mainly positive. Rather than evaluating the research methodology, you accept the findings uncritically.

Nonacademic examples

However, you decide to compare this review article with consumer reviews on a different site. You find that these reviews are not as positive. Some customers have had problems installing the alarm, and some have noted that it activates for no apparent reason.

You revisit the original review article. You notice that the words “sponsored content” appear in small print under the article title. Based on this, you conclude that the review is advertising and is therefore not an unbiased source. Example: Poor critical thinking in a nonacademic context You support a candidate in an upcoming election. You visit an online news site affiliated with their political party and read an article that criticizes their opponent. The article claims that the opponent is inexperienced in politics. You accept this without evidence, because it fits your preconceptions about the opponent.

There is no single way to think critically. How you engage with information will depend on the type of source you’re using and the information you need.

However, you can engage with sources in a systematic and critical way by asking certain questions when you encounter information. Like the CRAAP test , these questions focus on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

When encountering information, ask:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert in their field?
  • What do they say? Is their argument clear? Can you summarize it?
  • When did they say this? Is the source current?
  • Where is the information published? Is it an academic article? Is it peer-reviewed ?
  • Why did the author publish it? What is their motivation?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence? Does it rely on opinion, speculation, or appeals to emotion ? Do they address alternative arguments?

Critical thinking also involves being aware of your own biases, not only those of others. When you make an argument or draw your own conclusions, you can ask similar questions about your own writing:

  • Am I only considering evidence that supports my preconceptions?
  • Is my argument expressed clearly and backed up with credible sources?
  • Would I be convinced by this argument coming from someone else?

If you want to know more about ChatGPT, AI tools , citation , and plagiarism , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • ChatGPT vs human editor
  • ChatGPT citations
  • Is ChatGPT trustworthy?
  • Using ChatGPT for your studies
  • What is ChatGPT?
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  • Types of plagiarism
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Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.

Like information literacy , it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.

Critical thinking skills include the ability to:

You can assess information and arguments critically by asking certain questions about the source. You can use the CRAAP test , focusing on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

Ask questions such as:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence?

A credible source should pass the CRAAP test  and follow these guidelines:

  • The information should be up to date and current.
  • The author and publication should be a trusted authority on the subject you are researching.
  • The sources the author cited should be easy to find, clear, and unbiased.
  • For a web source, the URL and layout should signify that it is trustworthy.

Information literacy refers to a broad range of skills, including the ability to find, evaluate, and use sources of information effectively.

Being information literate means that you:

  • Know how to find credible sources
  • Use relevant sources to inform your research
  • Understand what constitutes plagiarism
  • Know how to cite your sources correctly

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search, interpret, and recall information in a way that aligns with our pre-existing values, opinions, or beliefs. It refers to the ability to recollect information best when it amplifies what we already believe. Relatedly, we tend to forget information that contradicts our opinions.

Although selective recall is a component of confirmation bias, it should not be confused with recall bias.

On the other hand, recall bias refers to the differences in the ability between study participants to recall past events when self-reporting is used. This difference in accuracy or completeness of recollection is not related to beliefs or opinions. Rather, recall bias relates to other factors, such as the length of the recall period, age, and the characteristics of the disease under investigation.

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Teaching, Learning and Assessing Creative and Critical Thinking Skills

Creativity and critical thinking prepare students for innovative economies and improve wellbeing. However, educators often lack guidance on how to equip students with creativity and critical thinking within subject teaching. Education systems have likewise rarely established ways to systematically assess students’ acquisition of creativity and critical thinking.

is critical thinking an english class

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The project explores new approaches to equip people with the skills required for innovation and to support radical innovation and continuous improvement in education systems.

Creativity and critical thinking are key skills for the complex and globalized economies and societies of the 21st century. There is a growing consensus that education systems and institutions should cultivate these skills with their students. However, too little is known about what this means for everyday teaching and assessment practices.

This project at the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) aims to support education institutions to innovate in their teaching and nurture students’ creative and critical thinking.

The project builds an international community of practice around teaching, learning and assessing creativity and critical thinking. It seeks to identify the key contextual factors and effective approaches to foster these skills in education settings, develop and implement example instructional practices and assess the effects of innovative pedagogies on students and educators

.The project works across primary, secondary and higher education. It includes a strong focus on initial teacher education and continuing professional learning. 

Networks of institutions and educators experience professional learning and change their teaching to more explicitly develop students’ creativity and critical thinking along with disciplinary content and skills.

This redesign of teaching relies on a shared definition of creativity and critical thinking made visible through a common international rubric. Beyond this common goal, institutions and educators preserve full pedagogical freedom.

The OECD developed a monitoring system to assess the impact of re-designed teaching using both quantitative and qualitative data. Questionnaires were designed to measure the progression of related skills, beliefs and attitudes.

Questionnaires are also administered to control groups for comparison and to better evaluate the outcomes of the pedagogical changes. Qualitative data collection based on interviews, focus groups and observations, complements the quantitative data to provide comprehensive evidence of the effects of the different pedagogies tested.

Participating countries and institutions

Countries (primary and secondary education).

  • The Netherlands
  • Slovak Republic
  • United States
  • United Kingdom (Wales)

Institutions (Higher Education)

  • Monash University  - Australia                            
  • Ontario Tech University  - Canada
  • McGill University  - Canada
  • University College Copenhagen  - Denmark
  • Aalto University  - Finland
  • NISE (University of Limerick + Mary Immaculate College)  - Ireland
  • Politecnico di Torino  - Italy
  • Sophia University  - Japan
  • International Christian University  - Japan
  • KEDI  (national coordinator) - Korea
  • Universidad de Guadalajara  - Mexico
  • Universidad Pedagogica Nacional  - Mexico
  • Shanghai Normal University  - People's Republic of China
  • Northeast Normal University  - People's Republic of China
  • Central China Normal University  - People's Republic of China
  • Escola Superior de Saude de Santa Maria  - Portugal
  • Instituto Politécnico de Viana do Castelo  - Portugal 
  • Tecnico Lisboa  (Lisbon University) - Portugal
  • Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologias  - Portugal
  • University of Porto  - Portugal
  • Universidade de Aveiro  - Portugal
  • Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro  - Portugal
  • Politecnico de Leiria  - Portugal 
  • Universidad Camilo Jose Cela  - Spain
  • University of Winchester  - United Kingdom

Project outputs

Conceptual rubrics.

  • Comprehensive domain general rubric Comprehensive domain general rubric Learn more
  • Class friendly domain general rubric Class friendly domain general rubric Learn more
  • Blank rubric template Blank rubric template Learn more
  • Class friendly science rubric Class friendly science rubric Learn more
  • Class friendly maths rubric Class friendly maths rubric Learn more
  • Class friendly music rubric Class friendly music rubric Learn more
  • Class friendly visual arts rubric Class friendly visual arts rubric Learn more
  • Class friendly language arts rubric Class friendly language arts rubric Learn more


Class friendly assessment rubric creativity (available in spanish/español )

Class friendly assessment rubric critical-thinking (available in spanish/español )

Design criteria

Lesson plans, interdiciplinary.

  • My region past and future
  • The Vinland Map
  • Smart clothes
  • Digging for Stories 
  • Telling the world what we are learning
  • The bicycle
  • Mapping the future 
  • Journey into space
  • The interdisciplinary world
  • Healthy eating and suspended vegetable garden
  • The garbage 
  • Worms: How is a worm like a first grader?

Language and literacy

  • The 50 word mini epic
  • Do you believe in dragons?
  • The debate that multiplies
  • Alternative books
  • Musical poetry  (version with adaptatation for online teaching)
  • Create a movie Score
  • Haiku composition
  • Discover the sounds of your school SECONDARY
  • Discover the sounds of your school PRIMARY
  • Folk song with word chains
  • Scotland's burning song revision
  • Making music without instruments: sounds from water
  • Body percussion
  • Shoes as musical inspiration  (version with adaptatation for online teaching)
  • Harry Potter Ostinato

Visual Arts

  • Symbolic Self Portrait
  • The Duke of Lancaster: a graffiti case-study
  • Graffiti art Styles, iconography and message
  • Graffiti Perceptions and historical connections
  • Integrity in art
  • Curate your own exhibition
  • The world through the eyes of colour
  • How can everyday objects and living beings become art
  • Attachment and junk challenge
  • Painting with tape
  • Hybrid creatures of the subconscious
  • Memory maps
  • Perspective in drawing and beyond
  • Useless object redesign
  • Glow in the dark: design a multi-functional product
  • Building buildings
  • Revitalizing the school environment with Modern Art
  • The Mystery of the Disappearing Water
  • Should we replace our power station
  • Rivers full of Water
  • When is a Mammal not a Mammal
  • Ant Communication
  • Molecules-workshop
  • Forces and Motion
  • What Controls My Health  (version with adaptatation for online teaching)
  • Evaporative-Cooling  (version with adaptatation for online teaching)
  • Dynamic Earth: How is this place on Earth going to change over 10, 100, 1 000, 10 000, and 1 000 000 years?
  • How can we help the birds near our school grow up and thrive?
  • Why do I see so many squirrels but I can’t find any stegosauruses?
  • How to classify an alien
  • 3D printing
  • Cells on t-shirts
  • Negative climatic events
  • Building ecosystems
  • Animal cell creation
  • Prepare for a natural disaster
  • How is human activity and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere changing our oceans?
  • How we can prevent a chocolate bar from melting in the sun?
  • Does Rubbish disappear?
  • If fire is a hazard, why do some plants and animals depend on fire?
  • What makes a good environment for fungi? How do fungi make a good environment for us? 
  • How do farmed animals affect our world?
  • When are rain events a problem for people, and what can we do about them?
  • London Bridge is Falling Down
  • Mathematics for a new Taj Mahal  (version with adaptatation for online teaching)
  • How happy are we  (version with adaptatation for online teaching)
  • Create a lesson for the year above
  • How much will the school trip cost
  • The math-mystery of the Egyptian Pyramids
  • A world of limited resources
  • The probability games
  • The pie of life
  • How can I use mathematics for painting?
  • Paper airplanes
  • Geometrical architecture and artwork
  • Improving sport performance with maths
  • Cutting and enlarging art
  • Refresher bomb
  • Should this be in the Guinness book of records?
  • The great cookie bake
  • Crime scene investigation
  • Area of a dream place

Professional learning resources

Teaching, learning and assessing creative and critical thinking skills: a draft professional learning frameworkfor teachers and leaders.

This professional learning framework offers professional learning activities to help teachers, institutional leaders and policy-makers consider what planning, teaching, assessment and school practices can support students to develop creativity and critical thinking as part of subject learning. It provides a flexible framework, with separate modules on creativity and critical thinking, which can be adapted and implemented to address the needs of local contexts, participants, disciplines, and education levels according to the time and resources available.

The OECD CERI creativity and critical thinking app

The app brings together the pedagogical resources developed in the primary and secondary phase of the project with the aim of supporting changes in teaching and learning.

Please register as a teacher to ensure you have access to all resources (whatever your status).

Main publications

is critical thinking an english class

All publications

Primary and secondary education, fostering students' creativity and critical thinking: what it means in schools.

What are the key elements of creativity and critical thinking? What pedagogical strategies and approaches can teachers adopt to foster them? How can school leaders support teachers' professional learning? To what extent did teachers participating in the project change their teaching methods? How can we know whether it works and for whom? These are some of the questions addressed in this book, which reports on the outputs and lessons of this international project.

Skills for Life: Fostering Creativity

In an age of innovation and digitalization, creativity has become one of the most valued skills in the labor market. This brief shows how policymakers and teachers can empower students to innovate and improve their education by developing students creativity.

by Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin

Skills for Life: Fostering Critical Thinking

Critical thinking has become key to the skill set that people should develop not only to have better prospects in the labor market, but also a better personal and civic life. This brief shows how policymakers and teachers can help students develop their critical thinking skills. First, this brief defines critical thinking skills. Then, the brief shows how the concept can be translated into teacher-friendly rubrics to support them to design or redesign better lessons but also to assess their students.

How do girls and boys feel when developing creativity and critical thinking?

Do girls and boys report different feelings during teaching and learning for creativity and critical thinking? This document highlights differences between the emotions reported by male and female secondary students in a project about fostering creativity and critical thinking run by the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation at the OECD.

Progression in Student Creativity in School

The paper suggests a theoretical underpinning for defining and assessing creativity along with a number of practical suggestions as to how creativity can be developed and tracked in schools. 

by Bill Lucas, Guy Claxton and Ellen Spencer

Intervention and research protocol for OECD project on assessing progression in creative and critical thinking skills in education

This paper presents the research protocol of the project of school-based assessment of creative and critical thinking skills of the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI). 

Higher Education

Fostering higher-order thinking skills online in higher education: a scoping review.

This scoping review examines the effectiveness of online and blended learning in fostering higher-order thinking skills in higher education, focussing on creativity and critical thinking. The paper finds that whilst there is a growing body of research in this area, its scope and generalisability remain limited. Current evidence suggests that, for most students and contexts, in-person learning yields better or equivalent outcomes for higher-order thinking skills than fully online learning. However, blended and flipped learning show promise. In some cases, they may be more effective than in-person learning to develop higher-order skills. 

by Cassie Hague

The assessment of students’ creative and critical thinking skills in higher education across OECD countries. A review of policies and related practices

This paper reviews existing policies and practices relating to the assessment of students’ creativity and critical thinking skills in higher education across OECD countries. Creativity and critical thinking are largely emphasised in policy orientations and qualification standards governing higher education in many countries. In contrast, these skills are sparsely integrated into the dimensions of centralised assessments administered at the level of systems. 

by Mathias Bouckaert

Fostering creativity and critical thinking in university teaching and learning. Considerations for academics and their professional learning

This paper focuses on ways in which students’ creativity and critical thinking can be fostered in higher education by contextualising such efforts within the broader framework of academics’ professional learning.

by Alenoush Saroyan

Does Higher Education Teach Students to Think Critically?

There is a discernible and growing gap between the qualifications that a university degree certifies and the actual generic, 21st-century skills with which students graduate from higher education. By generic skills, it is meant literacy and critical thinking skills encompassing problem solving, analytic reasoning and communications competency. As automation takes over non- and lower-cognitive tasks in today’s workplace, these generic skills are especially valued but a tertiary degree is a poor indicator of skills level.

Conferences and session replays

Creativity in education summit 2023 (paris, 23-24 november 2023).

The 2023 Creativity in Education Summit will be the stage for the launch of the OECD’s Professional Learning framework for fostering and assessing creativity and critical thinking, an initiative that seeks to enhance the teaching of creative and critical thinking skills in schools internationally. The professional learning framework arises from the OECD’s “Fostering and Assessing Creativity and Critical Thinking” project.

You can watch the recordings of the sessions following  this link . 

All the presentations shared during the Summit are available here below:

  • 23 November 2023 -   all sessions
  • 24 November 2023 -  morning sessions
  • 24 November 2023 -  afternoon sessions

Read the   brochure   about the conference and its highlights.

CREATIVITY EDUCATION SUMMIT 2022 (London, 17 October 2022 and Paris, 18 October 2022)

The theme of this year’s event will be “Creative Thinking in Schools: from global policy to local action, from individual subjects to interdisciplinary learning”.

Download the  agenda   and the  brochure .


Download the  agenda .


The conference took place at the innovation foundation  nesta  and it brought together policy makers, experts and practitioners to discuss the importance of creativity and critical thinking in OECD economies and societies – and how students can acquire these skills in school.

Rewatch the videos and the interviews at this link .

Check the agenda , the bios of the speakers and the presentations .

Videos and Webinars


The Creative Classroom: Rethinking Teacher Education for Innovation

Evaluating ideas: navigating an uncertain world with critical thinking 

Playing with ideas: Cultivating student creativity, innovation and learning in schools

Embedding creativity in education: Ireland’s whole-of-government approach


Teaching, learning and assessing 21st century skills in education: Thailand’s experience

Empowering students to innovate:India's journey towards a competency-based curriculum

Why and how schools should nurture students' creativity

Engaging boys and girls in learning: Creative approaches to closing gender gaps

More facts, key findings and policy recommendations

is critical thinking an english class

Create customised data profiles and compare countries

is critical thinking an english class

Illustrations by Grant Snider for OECD/CERI

No adaptations of the original Art are permitted.

Comics Grant Snider Critical Thinking English

Download the high resolution version of the Comics in  English ,  French ,  Danish ,  Dutch ,  German ,  Hebrew , 

Hindi ,  Hungarian ,  Italian ,  Japanese ,  Mandarin , 

Portuguese ,  Russian ,  Spanish ,  Thai ,  Welsh .

Comics Grant Snider Creativity English

For any information about the project, you can contact via email Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin (Project lead) and Cassie Hague (Analyst).


  1. Critical Thinking Skills

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  2. Critical Thinking / Academic English UK

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  3. 7 Methods to Develop Creative Thinking Skills for Students

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  4. Critical Thinking in English Classrooms / 978-3-659-50469-3

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  5. Critical Thinking Archives

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  6. 16 Characteristics of a Critical Thinking Classroom

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  1. How to Improve Your Critical Thinking

  2. Critical Reasoning Questions

  3. [Eps 6] English Reading Critical Thinking Skills In Focus Student Book 1 #readingskills #critical

  4. Teacher gives ‘masterclass’ in critical thinking after student calls JK Rowling 'bigoted'

  5. Lat test series 1 lecture 6



  1. Integrating Critical Thinking into your English classroom

    Critical Thinking may seem like a tough topic to tackle, but most of the time we are analysing our every decision without even realising it! In this blog post, we discuss some aspects of Critical Thinking you can teach in your class. There are also three lesson plans for you to try. Critical thinking is a key skill needed for everyday life.

  2. Teaching Critical Thinking In The Language Classroom

    Why critical thinking is important for our English students. ... Another possibility is to flip the class - have students do research before class, and bring their findings to be applied to a topic proposed and have an informed discussion about it. ... For more on critical thinking, read How you can encourage critical thinking in the era of ...

  3. Critical Thinking in the ELT Classroom

    Adults / Young Adults English for Specific Purposes Skills. Edward de Chazal, co-author of Oxford EAP, explores the topic of critical thinking and how it should be taught in the ELT classroom. The enquiring mind. Critical thinking is innate - it comes from inside us - and as humans we have survived and developed by approaching things ...

  4. Teaching Critical Thinking Skills in the ESL Classroom

    According to Benjamin Bloom's taxonomy ( Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, 1956), thinking skills are divided into lower-order and higher-order skills. Lower-order skills include knowledge, comprehension, and application; higher-order skills include analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. To stimulate critical thinking in ELT, teachers need to ...

  5. What critical thinking is and how it's taught

    In schools, critical thinking is mostly treated as a general skill that can be taught in a generic way. The academic load sure makes adding the teaching of critical thinking a challenge, let alone teaching the specific skills for each subject and area of knowledge. However, there is evidence that it's very difficult for students to transfer ...

  6. 4 ways to increase critical thinking in the English language classroom

    Here are some simple ways of facilitating critical thinking in your classroom: Ask for more than just information. The vast majority of questions asked by teachers in the language classroom are designed for students to answer based on something they have just been told, or that they need to remember from previous classes. In most cases, the ...

  7. Developing Critical Thinking in English Language Arts

    Critical thinking is an essential skill for academic success, and it's particularly important in the world of ELA. Common Core Curriculum standards expect students to employ critical thinking in all related areas, from reading to writing, speaking, listening, and ELA college readiness goals. However, the importance of critical thinking goes far beyond English class.

  8. Eight Instructional Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking

    Students grappled with ideas and their beliefs and employed deep critical-thinking skills to develop arguments for their claims. Embedding critical-thinking skills in curriculum that students care ...

  9. Effective and practical critical thinking-enhanced EFL instruction

    With globalization and the spread of English, EFL instruction is ever more important. In addition to a new language, learners are also exposed to different cultures and ways of thinking. Thus, EFL classrooms provide ideal contexts for exploring important critical thinking (CT) skills. Based on a literature review, theory-based learning ...

  10. Teaching Critical Thinking in English Class With Short Documentary

    Teaching Critical Thinking in English Class With Short Documentary Films. Welcome to a new year of Great Ideas From Readers, a long-running feature that highlights the work of teachers, parents ...

  11. Critical Thinking in the English Class

    Critical Thinking in the English Class THOMAS G. DEVINE Rhode Island College, Providence The teaching of critical thinking has been in- and out-of-vogue for several decades. Through the years, many English teachers have accepted instruction in critical thinking as a legitimate component of the English program; they have attempted-by a variety ...

  12. Critical Thinking And English Language Teaching Pt. 1

    According to Moore's research, critical thinking is: A judgement of whether something is good, bad, valid, or true. rational, or, reason-based. skeptical thinking. productive thinking - not only challenging ideas but producing them - coming to conclusions about issues. carefully reading beyond a text's literal meaning.

  13. PDF Critical and Creative Thinking in the English Language Classroom

    Keywords: critical thinking skills, creative thinking, English language 1. What is critical thinking? A review of the pedagogical literature reveals that a growing number of studies focus on critical thinking, on what critical thinking skills can and should be taught, and on the most effective and appropriate framework for fostering it.

  14. Fostering critical thinking in English-as-a-second-language classrooms

    Kuhn's framework was adopted because it is compatible with the definition of critical thinking in the Hong Kong English Language Curriculum Guide, ... Because the focus of this article is students' in-class critical-thinking performance, as well as for reasons of space, only the findings of the group discussion audio-recordings are reported ...

  15. Critical Thinking in the Classroom: A Guide for Teachers

    Critical thinking is a key skill that goes far beyond the four walls of a classroom. It equips students to better understand and interact with the world around them. Here are some reasons why fostering critical thinking is important: Making Informed Decisions: Critical thinking enables students to evaluate the pros and cons of a situation ...

  16. Critical thinking

    Critical thinking. Our latest tip looks at 'Critical thinking'. Watch Alister using the map of the world with his young learner class to encourage greater critical thinking in language learning. If this video is not available for viewing in your location, please click here.

  17. A systematic review of critical thinking instructional pedagogies in

    This article critically reviews 23 empirical studies on how to teach critical thinking (CT) in English as a foreign language (EFL) writing class from 2013 to 2022. ... Constructing an emancipatory learning environment in Iranian English classes through dialogue journal writing as an educational tool. Education 3-13, 49 (5) (2020), pp. 618-634 ...

  18. Critical Thinking

    Critical thinking is fundamentally a process of questioning. You may question the information you read in a textbook, or you may question what a politician or a professor or a classmate says. You can also question a commonly-held belief or a new idea. With critical thinking, anything and everything is subject to question and examination.

  19. PDF Critical thinking in EAP: a brief guide for teachers

    skills, and a disposition towards critical thinking.• Critical thinking in EAP is realised in two ways: thinking about the language (analysing how English is used to express ideas); and thinking through the language (participating actively in using the. anguage to explore and present ideas and arguments).• Although the genres used to ...

  20. Learn Essential Critical Thinking Skills

    Critical thinking skills allow you to make reasonable decisions in the moment, especially when you or others around you are under stress. You can solve problems better when you put critical thinking into practice. Critical thinking also helps you to make decisions without resorting to emotions or selfishness.

  21. 10 Minute Critical Thinking Activities for English Classes

    Critical thinking activities engage students' logic, rationality and judgment in problem-solving inquiries. English classes benefit from critical thinking activities because the activities activate students' prior knowledge, encourage creative thinking and stress the importance of evidence-based problem ...

  22. What Is Critical Thinking?

    Critical thinking is the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment. To think critically, you must be aware of your own biases and assumptions when encountering information, and apply consistent standards when evaluating sources. Critical thinking skills help you to: Identify credible sources. Evaluate and respond to arguments.

  23. Student essay: Critical thinking class should be open to more teens

    Sherman Hutcherson, who has taught the class for many years, describes it as "a class that forces students to think about their own thinking." IB students across the world take the two ...

  24. Teaching, Learning and Assessing Creative and Critical Thinking ...

    Creativity and critical thinking prepare students for innovative economies and improve wellbeing. However, educators often lack guidance on how to equip students with creativity and critical thinking within subject teaching. Education systems have likewise rarely established ways to systematically assess students' acquisition of creativity and critical thinking.