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How to Teach Children Critical Thinking Skills

By David Carnes ; Updated June 13, 2017

Critical thinking is the ability to solve problems through the use of reasoning, and the ability to identify flaws in an argument. You use critical thinking every time you budget your income, choose from among more than one option or evaluate an advertising claim for credibility. Since critical thinking is a habit that should be learned and practiced early in life, it is important to teach children how to do it.

  1. Ask your child to read a passage in which the author is arguing a point of view regarding an issue with which your child is familiar. Your child should read this passage at least twice.

  2. Test your child's comprehension of the passage by asking simple questions designed to test his knowledge of the facts contained in the passage. Ask her about specific events that occurred and why she thinks they happened. Ask things such as, "Why do you think he or she did what she did?". Ask her to compare the characters in the story, telling you how they are alike and how they are different from one another.

  3. Ask your child to summarize the passage in her own words. The summary should be much shorter than the original passage. This will test her understanding of the main ideas in the passage, rather than simply the facts presented. In order to summarize, she will have to generalize, which is a critical thinking skill known as synthetic thinking, according to Elizabeth Shaunessy, assistant professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of South Florida.

  4. Quiz your child on the passage, asking questions that are not directly answered by the text. Your child will need to make inferences and generate a conclusion in order to answer. A good way to do this would be to ask your child to predict the author's position on a related topic and give reasons. Making inferences and reaching conclusions are also synthetic thinking skills, says Shaunessy.

  5. Have your child read a response to the original passage written by an author who opposes the first author's point of view. Ask him to decide which point of view he agrees with and give reasons why. Then ask him to argue in favor of the point of view he disagrees with. These exercises will develop his ability to evaluate and make judgments.

  6. Give your child math word problems to solve. In order to make them interesting, create problems she may actually face in everyday life--how to buy as many discounted items as possible with a certain amount of money when each item is discounted differently, for example. This exercise will develop your child's analytical thinking skills.

  7. Play the game of Socratic dialogue with your child. One player takes a position on a controversial issue, and the other player acts as a cross-examining attorney by asking a series of questions designed to trap the other player in a contradiction by revealing weaknesses in his reasoning. Then the two players switch roles. Socratic dialogue has been shown to increase student involvement and get them excited about learning, according to educational philosopher Richard Garlikov.

  8. Warnings

    Teaching your child critical thinking skills will make him less likely to accept the reply "Because I said so, that's why." Nevertheless, a bit of reasoned back-talk might be the price you have to pay for instilling critical thinking in your child.

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