How an English Course Can Help Critical Thinking

Group projects can help you develop communication skills for critical thinking.
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Educational psychologist Linda Elder encourages critical thinkers to raise vital questions and problems, gather and assess relevant information, review assumptions and implications, and communicate effectively in creating solutions for complex problems. Critical thinking is an organized system of thought and learning that has developed over time but became formally recognized in the 20th century. English courses teach students skills in questioning, evaluating and assessing, eliminating assumptions and bias and effective communication -- all essential critical-thinking skills.

1 Raising Questions

Questioning is a vital part of critical-thinking skills. An English course teaches students how to gain greater comprehension through asking questions before and during reading. Asking why Jonathan Swift's famous essay "A Modest Proposal" suggests that Irish parents should sell their babies for food leads to greater understanding of the tragic poverty in Ireland at the time the essay was written. Asking questions about "A Modest Proposal" also provides insight into the use of satire to shock and provoke.

2 Evaluating Information

All information is not equally valid or important. English courses teach students how to assess and evaluate written and visual information. Students gain skills in determining the purpose and audience of a text, as well as its context. The context of written or visual information includes the time, place and circumstances under which an author is writing. For example, articles about airport safety written before September 11, 2001, are written in a different context from those written after that date.

3 Eliminating Assumptions

No one can completely eliminate prior assumptions and bias about different concepts, people or situations. Assumptions are opinions or patterns of thought that students and writers have not examined in depth, including cultural, racial or gender bias, or underlying perspectives. English courses teach students how to uncover assumptions made by authors, which may be positive and beneficial or negative, hindering communication. An example of a beneficial set of assumptions made by an author is the African-American female perspective on the effects of slavery offered in the novel "Beloved" by Toni Morrison.

4 Communicating Effectively

Effective communication relies upon clearly stated concepts and opinions, good organization and structure, and reliance on reason and clarity. English courses teach students to recognize effective communication used by the authors they study. Students also learn how to adopt effective communication strategies in their own writing. For example, clear, straightforward thesis sentences in essays are strong communication tools. Students also learn to recognize logical fallacies that hinder effective communication, such as ad hominem statements or personal attacks.

Amy Sterling Casil is an award-winning writer with a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chapman University in Orange, Calif. She is a professional author and college writing teacher, and has published 20 nonfiction books for schools and libraries.