Critical Thinking

To foster critical thinking, it is important to maintain a student-centered classroom. Providing information in the form of lectures or presentations does not require students to think or engage critically with the course material in class on a consistent basis. Encouraging critical thinking requires you to give students numerous opportunities throughout the semester to apply their knowledge, try out new solutions, fail, succeed, and learn from others, including you. It's impossible to gauge your students' ability to think critically without providing them the time and space to think, read, write, and discuss.

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According to J.C. Bean, a student who thinks critically:

  1. Raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely

  2. Gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively

  3. Comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards

  4. Thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences

  5. Communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems

One way to help students reach these goals in class is to ask students to use Think-Pair-Share. To help them better understand a lecture, stop for a moment. Ask students to think about a question or problem that relates to the lecture material, turn to a peer, and explain their answer or solution. This is a great way to apply, reinforce key ideas, and encourage student interaction.

McKeachie offers several suggestions for ways to encourage students to be active in classroom interactions. Create an expectation of participation early in the semester, by defining the various facets of the course and explaining why participation is valuable. Understand that boredom, lack of knowledge, passivity, cultural norms, and above all, fear of being embarrassed, may contribute to keeping a student from not talking in class. To reduce a fear of embarrassment, use small groups and help students get to know each other. Ask questions that have no wrong answers to help students get used to participating. Call students by name. Ask students to take a couple minutes to write out answers to questions. A shy person will be more likely to respond to being asked, "What did you write?" Get to know those students who don't participate in class interactions so you'll find any special knowledge they may have; ask them to contribute it at appropriate times. This strategy will help both yourself and your students use class time well. Encouraging positive classroom interactions is an important precursor to helping students think critically and engage actively with the course material.



  1. Bean, J.C. (2011). Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

  2. McKeachie, W.J. (2002). McKeachie's Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. 11th Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.