I joined in yesterday in the Macmillan Education online conference and Ed Newbon’s webinar in particular on Critical Thinking Skills really got me, well…thinking.
He argued that our role as teachers is changing, that nowadays it is not enough for students to only speak English, they need to have transferable skills for work, studies etc. Critical thinking is one of the skills that we can incorporate into the ELT classroom which can help students perform in the outside world.
So what is critical thinking?
Newbon gave several examples but in a nutshell, it is seen as higher level thinking: problem solving, making judgements, evaluation and reflection. So as teachers it would mean not just focussing on right/wrong answers from a student, not just going through exercises and asking comprehension questions but getting students involved. Get them to problem solve, evaluate and justify their answers.The process of critical thinking is often linked to Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid.
Do you already incorporate critical thinking into your classes?
Is there time in amongst all the learning outcomes, aims and syllabus requirements to even squeeze this into a lesson? Although critical thinking is important, equipping students with life skills is not something that is paramount to me when planning a lesson. Perhaps I should think about planning for it more as I do think it is a valuable tool for getting the most out of an exercise. Through problem solving, evaluating and justifying students will have the opportunity to use and be exposed to a much wider range of vocabulary and grammatical structures than they would by simply doing a traditional lower level thinking activity. Of course many of us already do critical thinking activities instinctively in speaking exercises but using it in reading, listening and writing tasks is a new concept for a lot of us.
Practical Ideas to use in class
- Whilst doing a reading in class, in addition to the traditional course book T/F factual, comprehension questions (lower level thinking), ask the students to imagine and describe the people talked about in the text, who do they think wrote it, what is the justification for their answers (higher level thinking).
- When using pictures in class, rather than asking a student to describe the picture. Give some context to the picture. In the webinar Newborn used a similar picture to this and asked people to describe it as someone who hated hot weather. This throws up a lot more vocabulary than the standard exercise.
- Lindsay Clandfield suggested taking quotes and deleting the last line. Ask students to predict what the final line would be rather than simply doing a matching activity.
- Another activity would be to give students a list of 4 or 5 words and ask which one does not belong. There is no right or wrong answer, what is important is that they justify their choice.
Do students want this style of teaching in class?
Traditionally students look to the teacher for the ‘correct’ answer. Open ended questions and undefined answers may frustrate some students who want to be tested and given the right answer. Critical thinking skills in class may take time to get used to but I think that taking a moment as teachers to tweak course book activities to involve critical thinking will definitely give more opportunities in class to work with the language. If it helps students to equip themselves with life skills along the way, all the better. As Benjamin Franklin put it ‘Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn‘
Over to you
Think about a few exercises you are going to teach in class this week. How could you incorporate critical thinking into them? Try it out and comment below with your ideas. If you had a great lesson, share it here. If it didn’t work for you, let us know.