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Critical thinking questions can be used to teach a particular subject or topic involving educating students about a specific area.

However, teaching students how to think critically about issues enables them to apply this knowledge to any subject matter and evaluate, assess and critique it more effectively.

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First, what is critical thinking?

Critical thinking has been a buzzword in education for quite some time, and there are varying schools of thought regarding what the term means. In its simplest form, critical thinking relates to how a student approaches, understands, and dissects a particular topic – including using meta-cognition to decipher particular subjects.

Evaluating what a topic means, where it derives from, what overarching principles underpin it, and whether external variables impact the issue are all examples of critical thinking. When approaching the topic of bullying, for example, students may raise the following questions when they’re encouraged to think critically:

  • What does the term ‘bullying’ really mean?
  • Are there different types of bullying?
  • Have different forms of bullying evolved alongside societal changes?
  • Who can be the victim of bullying?
  • Why do people bully others?
  • Should bullying be a criminal matter?
  • Are there political arguments that fuel the approach to anti-bullying programs?
  • Do schools address bullying effectively? If not, why not?

One of the benefits of critical thinking is the opportunity for students to take their approach to topics, subjects, and issues. As pupils begin to examine topics critically, their work becomes more original. Two students may determine that a specific term has two differing definitions, for example, or place greater weight on the political impact of the particular issue.

This unique insight allows students to examine topics while grasping core subject principles. Indeed, when students think critically, they typically examine the content in more detail, thus retaining the information more effectively.

How to use critical thinking?

When students think critically, they take on new approaches to the subject. Unwilling to accept a statement at face value, their evaluation and assessment of a subject or hypothesis become more in-depth. In addition, critical thinking allows students to take a broad view of topics and examine them in a real-life context. This takes a subject from a purely theoretical sphere and encourages students to examine how real-world issues inspire and impact certain areas.

Teaching students to think critically is one of the most valuable lessons a teacher can pass on to pupils. Once they have grasped the approach, they can apply this method of thinking to any subject they choose to study. As well as helping them to achieve higher grades, the in-depth analysis provided by critical thinking will enable students to understand concepts in more detail and appropriate contexts.

When teaching students how to think critically, it can be useful to give examples of questions that may prompt critical evaluation or analysis. Creating a cheat sheet or classroom poster with critical thinking questions is a great starting point, as it continually reminds students to apply critical thinking to whatever subject or work they are working on.

To examine an issue in context, students should take various viewpoints. Asking questions about who the topic affects, what affects them, where it is relevant when it becomes pertinent, why it’s an important issue, and how it has developed or can be resolved are ideal starting points for students who are beginning to think critically.

When students are addressing who…?

…is affected by a particular issue. Questions taking this approach may include:

  • Who does this impact?
  • Who is responsible?
  • Who benefits from this?
  • Who suffers because of this?
  • Who can change it?
  • Who is discussing this issue?
  • Who should be recognized concerning this topic?

This type of questioning enables students to determine which groups of people are most affected by specific issues, who is accountable for this, and who, if anyone, benefits from the particular topic in question. This questioning alone gives students great starting points for critical analysis. Examining how an issue may harm one group while another benefit is key to understanding the rationale behind certain societal structures and allows students to examine the issue in a real-life context.

Students should also approach topics from the angle of what…?

… to think critically. Questions taking this approach may include:

  • What are the most important points surrounding this topic?
  • What can be done to resolve relevant issues?
  • What action can be taken now?
  • What is stopping changes from being made?
  • What is another viewpoint?
  • What is a barrier to change?

Another key component of critical thinking is asking where…?

These questions are extremely helpful in terms of putting issues into real-life situations. These types of questions can take various forms, such as:

  • Where is this issue most relevant?
  • Where is this causing the most serious problems?
  • Where is obtaining a benefit from this?
  • Where does change come from?
  • Where are there similar issues arising?

Students should also be encouraged to ask when…?

… to address a specific topic. Questions arising from this angle may include:

  • When did this become relevant?
  • When was change enacted?
  • When is this considered acceptable or unacceptable?
  • When should changes be made?
  • When will modifications be deemed successful?
  • When has this issue been at the forefront of society’s collective mind?

Similarly, asking why…?

…is a major part of critical thinking. Children are always keen to ask why something happens, or things work the way they do, and when they can apply this critical analysis in their work, it can help them achieve the highest grades. Critical thinking questions from this viewpoint may include:

  • Why is this important?
  • Why is it relevant now?
  • Why are we only hearing about it recently?
  • Why should we care?
  • Why hasn’t change happened?
  • Why has this issue gone on for so long?
  • Why is this a challenge?
  • Why do people care about this issue?

Finally, students should ask how…?

…questions when they’re assessing something critically. This range of questions may encourage comparisons, critiques, and contrasts, which are vital to successful critical thinking. These types of questions can take various forms, such as:

  • How do we access information on this?
  • How do we know we can trust the data?
  • How has this evolved?
  • How does it compare to other issues?
  • How does this harm us?
  • How does this benefit us?
  • How do we make changes?
  • How will this develop in the future?

Summary of critical thinking and meta-cognition questions

The above examples provide a basis for critical thinking and give students an idea of what questions will aid them in their analysis and evaluation of topics, issues, and subjects. One of the benefits associated with critical thinking questions is their flexibility. Applicable to any subject, students can use critical thinking questions to examine any topic in detail and to gain a greater understanding.

Furthermore, critical thinking questions can be modified for students of all ages. By teaching children to think critically from a young age, this approach becomes automatic for students as they continue with their education. As well as helping to ensure students achieve high grades in assignments and tests, critical thinking will give students the tools to examine topics in real-life scenarios and to understand the broader issues which underpin them.

As a result, students can develop a more realistic understanding of issues and how they impact people, as opposed to purely academic and theoretical arguments which may arise from a non-critical approach.

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