Critical Thinking

A teacher wrote to me: “I know that critical thinking is an important skill that students need but how do I teach this skill? Please advise.”

Answer: “Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. It includes the ability to think deeply and independently. The best way to teach critical thinking is to have a class discussion where the teacher raises controversial questions and have students discuss among themselves and try to answer. I often divide the class into several teams, each team is about three to five students. After one team gives the answer, I challenge other teams to counter their answer with their own view.

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To facilitate the critical thinking discussion, the teacher must ask challenging questions that demand students to think deeply and analyze them carefully, before answering. For example: “What is your view of this event? What are your reasons for favoring this over that? What is your evidence? Is there another facts or data? What are the implications of each view? What additional information would help you to draw a conclusion based on your analyses?

These are just a few examples of the kinds of questions that require the students to think critically. After giving an answer, students must describe how they come up with the answer (i.e., How they analyze the question, how do they get additional data and evidence and how they discuss among team members). By letting other teams to challenge them, they get better feedback on their answer and either correct or refine their thinking accordingly.

In my experience, class discussion and debate are the best ways to teach critical thinking. I am sure there are other effective methods. All of these methods can challenge students’ curiosity, stimulate their thinking, and help them to analyze and justify their answer with facts, data, and evidence.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University