Critical thinking: how do you teach that?

Critical thinking is not inherent in human nature. People tend to look for arguments that support their opinion, and avoid, ignore or minimise counterarguments. However, it is a university’s job to familiarise students with the essential 21st-century ability to learn to think critically. But how do you integrate that into your teaching practice? 

What do you need to know about critical thinking? 

Critical thinking is a high-level skill, a complex activity that integrates many underlying, more basic cognitive skills. A critical thinker supports his or her own reasoning with reliable sources and dares to criticise their reasoning. Learning to think critically is as difficult as learning a second language, and therefore, it takes a lot of time. 

How do you teach students to think critically? 

First of all, students should know the theory of critical thinking and reasoning. Without it, they can’t assess the feedback on their performance. Therefore, they must first master specific terms and concepts. 

But students learn to think critically by targeted practice. Feedback on exercises with an increasing level of difficulty works best. It is not enough to teach students about critical thinking or to give them relevant examples. 

In addition, you have to teach students to transfer the knowledge they’ve gained to other contexts, a process that doesn’t happen as spontaneously as you may think. This is also essential in exercises of critical thinking. First, let your students abstract the situation: ask them what they have done in general. Then encourage them to find situations where they could apply that way of thinking, and let them do that. 

Application in reading tasks 

Critical thinking often takes the form of critical reasoning based on arguments that are typically hierarchically structured. Give students a text and ask them to analyse the argument by designing an argumentation schedule. This allows for a graphical representation of the logical connections and makes it easier to identify the premises and assumptions. In addition, they discover any errors in reasoning. 

Application in speaking tasks 

Use the learning conversation as a teaching method in your lectures. The aim of this methodology is to lead students to particular insights by asking targeted questions. That is an ideal way to encourage students to think critically. 

This video shows how you can easily stimulate critical thinking. The lecturer reacts surprised at a good answer and ignores an incorrect answer. That's how he challenges his students to think more critically. 

Log in with your UGent account on MS Stream to watch the video.

Want to know more? 

Read the source on which this education tip is based: 

  • Van Gelder Tim (2005). Teaching critical thinking. Some lessons from cognitive science. College Teaching, 53 (1), pp. 41-46.

Last modified Feb. 14, 2024, 10:27 a.m.