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Critical thinking can be difficult to teach, but it is a skill students must acquire.

Without critical thinking, students will encounter difficulty as they advance through their academic careers and may fall behind their peers. In many school environments, there is a push toward using test performance as the main marker of achievement. While standardized testing is a part of a student’s academic experience, it is just one part.

Critical thinking helps students develop analytical skills that will be useful throughout their lives. Not only during their educational years. The key to developing this skill is the use of question prompts that help them to, in essence, think for themselves. Too many students fall into the trap of believing that answers are always right or wrong, without any room for nuance or a variety of correct viewpoints.

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15 awesome critical thinking questions you should ask students

Incorporating critical thinking questions can help students think more analytically and prompt them to formulate their ideas. Great questions can be broken out into these different ways:

  • Critical thinking questions start with “where.”
  • Critical thinking questions start with “what.”
  • Critical thinking questions start with “who.”
  • Critical thinking questions start with “how.”
  • Critical thinking questions start with “when.”
  • Critical thinking questions start with “why.”

Take a look at these 15 awesome critical thinking questions that can help students think better:

  1. What else could have changed the whole story?
  2. What questions would you have asked?
  3. What is the character’s motive?
  4. How could the story have ended differently?
  5. How would you solve this problem?
  6. Who is the most important character?
  7. Who would be affected by this?
  8. When did the story change?
  9. When does this become a problem?
  10. Where would you most often find this problem?
  11. Where can you get more information?
  12. Why is this important?
  13. Why is this a problem?
  14. Do you agree with this outcome?
  15. Could this story be interpreted differently?

You will notice that none of the questions could be answered with “yes” or “no”. They are all open-ended and meant to be probing and thought-provoking. Their most effective aspect is that they will force the student to think about their interpretation or reaction rather than giving a “right” answer.

Use these questions throughout your teaching to encourage your students to think for themselves and draw conclusions. When students are only taught to memorize answers and facts, their analytical skills may not develop sufficiently. And without critical thinking skills, it will be more difficult for them to grasp more abstract concepts as they progress through each educational level.

The short story is one of the most effective vehicles for critical thinking questioning. Have the class read the same story and then gather for discussion once everyone has finished reading. Use this time to ask these questions, but allow the students to conclude. If you feel that a student is off base in their assessment, use gentle guiding statements to help steer them in the right direction. Never tell them their wrong answer or discourage them from sharing their thoughts.

The strategy behind this teaching method is to get the students to think independently and in a more grey area than close-ended questions allow. Suppose a student has a contrarian viewpoint to expound upon their idea and further discuss what events in the story caused them to think this way. With patience and guidance, your students will soon grasp the concept of critical thinking and will grow more comfortable discussing their ideas. This can be a very exciting time as a teacher, as it shows how much students are individuals and need to have their thoughts and ideas.