Critical thinking questions can be used to teach a particular subject or topic involving educating students about a specific area. Teaching students how to think critically about issues, however, 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 actually 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 actually means, where it derives from, what overarching principles underpin the topic and whether there are external variables which have an impact upon 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 which 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 own individual 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 on the particular issue.

This unique insight allows students the freedom to examine topics in their own way, whilst still grasping the 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 becomes more in-depth. In addition to this, critical thinking allows students to take a broad view of topics and examine them in a real-life context. This takes a subject out of 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 will be able to 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 in appropriate contexts.

When teaching students how to think critically it can be useful to give examples of questions which 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 piece of work they are currently working on.

In order to examine an issue in context, students should take various viewpoints. Asking questions around 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 how it 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 in relation to 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 type of questioning alone gives students great starting points for critical analysis. Examining how one group may be harmed by an issue whilst another benefits 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…?

…in order 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 being made?
  • What is another viewpoint?
  • What is a barrier to change?

Another key component of critical thinking is asking where…?

These type of questions are extremely helpful in terms of putting issues into real-life situations.

These type 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…?

…in order 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 why things work in the way they do and when they can apply this critical analysis in their own work, it can help them to 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 changed 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. These range of questions may encourage comparisons, critiques and contrasts, which are vital to successful critical thinking.

These type 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 type of 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 it.

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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