How Best to Teach Critical Thinking?

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  1. analyze the problem.
  2. generate solutions. 
  3. develop the reasoning for each solution.
  4. decide which is the best solution.
  5. use criteria to evaluate one’s thinking.

■ General group had no guidance from the teacher. They watched a videotaped lecture on and then were asked to perform the task.

■ Infusion group had teacher guidance and an explicit explanation of the critical thinking five skills in a specific content domain.

■ Immersion group had teacher guidance, but students received no explanation of the critical thinking skills above.

The Infusion group showed the greatest gains in critical thinking, with the immersion group not far behind.

Although the article doesn’t mention Lev Vygotsky, he would have predicted those outcomes based on his notions of scaffolding, i.e., teachers share new information or demonstrate how to solve a problem as students learn and develop a new concept or skill; and the zone of proximal development (ZPD), which refers to the range of abilities individuals can perform with the guidance of an expert but cannot yet perform on their own. Vygotsky did not specify how scaffolding and ZPD pertained to critical thinking, but his theories dovetail nicely with this study’s conclusion: Guiding students’ thinking while puzzling through an issue leads to the greatest gains in thinking and learning.

It’s worth looking at this interesting article to see how these investigators designed their presentation of critical thinking. It provides some good insights for those of us struggling to teach critical thinking.


Angeli, C. & Valanides, N. (2009). Instructional effects on critical thinking: Performance on ill-defined issues. Learning and Instruction, 19, 322-334.

Published by Nancy Burkhalter

I am in love with words. Trained as a linguist, journalist and researcher, I write, teach writing, and research everything about writing, especially how writing aids critical thinking. I've taught around the world, including three years in Kazakhstan, and a year each in Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Germany.

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