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8 August 2022

5 ways to incorporate critical thinking into your teaching

Katherine Woollett

Campaigns Marketing Manager, Digital Theatre+

Students sitting at desks in a classroom

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In a recent blog post, we discussed the five biggest reasons why students need good critical thinking skills. Critical thinking is important – there’s no question about that – but finding the time to focus on this specific skill when you already have so little time is one of the biggest challenges for teachers. 

But it doesn’t have to be! We’ve put together five simple ways to easily incorporate critical thinking into your busy teaching schedule.

1. Make critical thinking a focus of your professional development

Professional development can support teachers to renew existing skills, gain knowledge of industry insights, and provide students with better learning outcomes – but for all its benefits, the fundamental truth is that, in many schools, it is required of teachers. Seeking professional development that also supports you in enhancing your teaching of critical thinking skills can help you tick two large boxes. 

If you need some inspiration, we have a free Professional Learning Experience on using performance to teach critical thinking available, which includes recorded teaching demonstrations, an expert panel discussion, and a free resource to help you teach the demonstrated lesson in your own classroom. You can even request a certificate to prove you have attended this on-demand learning experience.

Critical thinking

2. Let characters do the work

One thing that expert panelist Vicky Heath, an educational psychologist and CEO of Critical Thinkers, suggested in the Professional Learning Experience is to use the characters you are teaching as a starting point for teaching critical thinking.

“You already have these mini-worlds for students to analyze, all these different characters … with different perceptions and different views … so as a teacher you have the safety net of the pretend world to start building all your lesson plans around critical thinking from a character/external point of view and then … what would be brilliant is that you are doing that and you are actually developing their own worldview once they’re comfortable developing their ideas about the worldview of the characters.”

3. Ask lots of questions

Taking your existing lesson and simply asking more questions is a really effective way of enhancing your students' critical thinking skills, without steering away from what you are already trying to teach. Try asking questions such as: 

  • What does that imply?
  • Why do you think that?
  • Why do you think someone else would feel differently?

There is a whole host of open-ended questions that could encourage students to consider other views and explanations and to critically assess their own thinking. No answer is incorrect here, as long as students can explain why they answered what they did and what their thinking is. 

4. Use ready-to-go resources to save you time

Planning lessons is no easy task, let alone lessons that are designed to improve students’ critical thinking skills. Using ready-to-go resources designed with your curriculum in mind is a fantastic way to support your students, whilst also saving you time.

One example of this is a Compare and Contrast Choices Guide, which you can download for free as part of our Critical Thinking Professional Learning Experience. This guide is packed full of questions and tasks to help you guide your students as they compare and contrast multiple versions of the same scene or speech. 

Which leads us to the final point…

5. Use multiple versions of the same scene or speech to challenge thinking

Watching multiple versions of the same scene or speech is a great way to effortlessly combine your existing learning objectives and teach critical thinking skills. What are the changes between them? Why do you think these differences occur? Why do you think the director chose to make this change? 

Macbeth The WitchesMacbeth | Liverpool Everyman © Helen Warner | Macbeth © Tara Arts

Looking at the contrast between different versions of the same text adaption will not only help students with their understanding of the scene, language, theme, and speech (or whatever your objective is) but thinking about those differences will also help with their critical thinking. Have a look at the Compare and Contrast video resources on Digital Theatre+ to get started with this; you can pause at any moment to allow your students to really stop, think and rethink. 

We know that you have plenty to focus on and that critical thinking is just a part of this. With these five simple tips, you can save time and enhance your students’ critical thinking skills, whilst simultaneously achieving your existing objectives.