Methods to Teach High School Students Critical Thinking

Teachers can use challenging, open-ended debate questions to help their high school students build critical thinking skills.
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Critical thinking skills are not something you can learn by browsing the Internet. In order to reach higher level cognitive thinking, high school students must learn to solve problems of a more abstract, open-ended nature. With the right kind of tutelage, teachers can facilitate this learning for their students. High school students can develop critical thinking skills in various ways.

1 Ask Engaging, Thought-Provoking Questions

One of the best ways to help students develop and practice critical thinking skills is to have them respond to open-ended questions that cannot simply be answered via standard research methods. If you ask your students “What year did Bill Clinton first get into politics,” they can find the answer with a quick Google search; however, if you ask your students the conversation-generating question “Based on his politics and personality, do you think Bill Clinton would perform well as the CEO of Apple,” your students will have to rely entirely on their knowledge and reasoning. Questions that require students to evaluate evidence and consider multiple perspectives will help them to develop their critical thinking skills.

2 Provide Constructive, Actionable Feedback

Teachers can help students refine their critical thinking skills by consistently providing effective feedback on the quality of their students’ arguments, reasoning and thinking. Instead of simply telling students they're wrong, constructive feedback offers specific, helpful suggestions as to ways a student can improve aspects of her reasoning skills. By focusing only on ways students can make their arguments even more effective, constructive feedback helps them learn without damaging their self esteem.

3 Project-based Learning

Project-based learning generally requires students to use critical thinking skills to complete a specific, assigned task. Any class project that calls for students to evaluate alternatives by weighing various points of evidence and then draw on those evaluations to reach the project's main goals will help students develop critical thinking skills -- for example, simple classroom debates in which students are assigned opposing political viewpoints to defend. The process of establishing valid arguments while considering likely rebuttals forces students to think critically.

4 Encourage Objective Disagreement

To help students develop critical thinking skills, they should be encouraged to respectfully question other viewpoints. If done in an appropriate manner, objective disagreement can be a great tool to help students sharpen their thinking skills. Before encouraging debating between their students, teachers should first lay down an important ground rule: no disagreement based on personal bias. Objective disagreement should always be rooted in logic and fact.

Bill Reynolds holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from Rowan University. He has written hundreds of articles for print and online media, drawing inspiration from a wide range of professional experiences. As part of the UCLA Extension Writer's Program, he has been nominated for the James Kirkwood Prize for Creative Writing.