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Improve Critical Thinking Through Questioning

Created by: Dr. Felecia Nace, Office of Family and Community Relations

Families hope that their children are being challenged at school with rigorous coursework, which will prepare them for college and help them to compete globally for future jobs.  Critical thinking is important to any learner as it helps them to analyze and transfer knowledge from the classroom to real-life situations, and make connections between various topics and subject areas.  Good critical thinking skills also help children make good decisions, and help them as they enter into college and careers.  Here are some tips for improving critical thinking skills at home:

  • Ask open-ended questions
    What is an open-ended question?  An open-ended question is designed to encourage a full, meaningful answer using the reader’s own knowledge and/or feelings.  It is the opposite of a closed-ended question, which encourages a short or single-word answer like “yes” or “no.”  Open-ended questions are designed to make people think more deeply about their answers.
      Examples of open-ended questions:  What do you think about the main character’s decision?  What is another way the character could have handled the situation?  How would you have handled the situation?  Why?  Tell me what you think will happen next?

  • Clues are very important when trying to solve a problem.  Ask your child to use clues from textbooks to help her/him figure out answers to challenging questions. Looking for clues, helps children make connections, think more deeply about what they are reading, and help them become more independent learners. Also, while helping your child to study, ask your child to use clues from a textbook to try to figure out the meanings of some of the words he/she does not understand. Your child should look at the words immediately before the word they do not know, and look at the words immediately following the word that they do not understand.  This should help your child have an idea of the correct meaning of the word he/she is trying to figure out.

  • Give your child enough “wait time” to respond to a question.  Remember, making connections and thinking through a problem or about the response to a question, can take time.  That time may vary from child to child.

  • As often as possible, help your child make connections between new lessons they are presently learning and lessons they have learned in the past.  This exercise will help your child learn how to use the knowledge they have stored to tackle new problems; helping him/her apply old knowledge to new situations.