Teaching critical thinking skills is important for students of all ages. Critical thinking skills are an increasingly important element of elementary education, but teaching them can often be a challenge for elementary school teachers. From what critical thinking is to how to incorporate it into everyday lessons, we examine the essentials of this fundamental intellectual skill below.
What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking goes beyond memorization, encouraging students to connect the dots between concepts, solve problems, think creatively, and apply knowledge in new ways.
Despite myths that critical thinking skills are only applicable to subjects like science and math, the reality is that these skills—which are based on the evaluation and application of knowledge—are not only vital for success in all subject areas, but everyday life as well.
Critical thinking exercises for elementary education
1. Ask questions
Asking questions, especially open-ended questions, gives elementary school students a chance to apply what they’ve learned and build on prior knowledge. It also allows them to problem-solve and think on their feet, and boosts self-esteem by providing an opportunity for students to express themselves in front of their peers.
2. Encourage decision-making
Since a large part of teaching critical thinking skills revolves around applying knowledge and evaluating solutions, elementary school teachers should encourage decision-making as much as possible.
This enables students to apply what they’ve learned to different situations, weigh the pros and cons of a variety of solutions, then decide which ideas work best.
3. Work in groups
Group projects and discussions are another excellent way for elementary school teachers to encourage critical thinking skills. Cooperative learning not only exposes students to the thought processes of their classmates, it expands their thinking and worldview by demonstrating that there’s no one right way to approach a problem.
4. Incorporate different points of view
Some of the very best critical thinking exercises for elementary school students involve exploring a concept from multiple perspectives.
This tactic not only establishes that an idea should be assessed from different points of view before an opinion is formed, it gives students a chance to share their own viewpoints while listening to and learning from others.
5. Connect different ideas
Connecting different ideas is key to teaching critical thinking. For example, elementary school teachers can ask students if they know anyone who has to take a bus to work, and if so, why it would be important for that person to also have a train schedule.
Questions like these help children consider different situations (delayed buses, for example) and potential solutions (taking the train instead), helping them apply prior knowledge to new contexts.
6. Inspire creativity
Imagination is key to teaching critical thinking in elementary school. Teachers should seek out new ways for students to use information to create something new. Art projects are an excellent way to do this. Students can also construct inventions, write a story or poem, create a game, sing a song—the sky’s the limit.
Brainstorming, a time-honored tradition in elementary education, is an excellent learning tool. It’s also an excellent critical-thinking exercise, especially when paired with visual elements that bring original thinking and classroom discussions to life.