Critical Thnking Skills and Strategies

Solution to a problem
Screen play
Glogster/Blabberize/Cartoon Strip/Prezi/Video
All 8 Thinking Maps on a topic

Create a lesson & teach peers

Give students a term/item and ask them how they could make it more effective.

S – Substitute (by substituting something)
C – Combine (by combining the item with something, and so on…)
A – Adapt
M – Modify, Magnify, Minify
P – Put to other uses
E – Eliminate
R – Reverse, Reorder, Rearrange

Six Thinking Hats
Give students a topic and have them analyze it using the six hats
White Hat – Information, facts
Yellow Hat – Benefits, possibilities
Green Hat – Creative ideas
Red Hat – Emotions, feelings
Black Hat – Critical Judgment
Blue Hat – Monitors roles, defines goals

Fast Thoughts (List, group, label, subgroups, recycle)
One minute to list… (all the amendments, presidents, pronouns, adjectives, etc.)

Top That!
Have kids compete for the best explanation/justification for a topic. (Why was 9-11 such a horrible tragedy?)

Mr. Know It All!
4-5 players stand in the front of the class and answer questions, one word per person. Students that miss an answer have to sit down. Can also be used to spell words.

Taxi Taxi (need four chairs)
Pick a student to be the Taxi driver. Give him/her a topic and pick up three more passengers. They are to have an improve conversation on the topic for 2-3 minutes. Switch passengers and topics as needed.

Divergent Questions
(Moon Walk, NASA, Houston)
Give the answers, and have students come up with crazy off-the-wall questions.
“What dance did Michael Jackson make famous?”

PNI Chart

Have students list the positive, negative and interesting aspects of a topic, event, book, etc.


I – Identify: Define or shape the problem, and state what your goal is.

F- Facts: Gather data and facts to make a decision.

O – Options: List all possible solutions/strategies to solve the problem.

R – Rank: Rank or rate the options and test your solution.

D – Decide: Make a decision. Implement and evaluate the solution. You may have to go back to the beginning and start over. (cyclical pattern)

Socratic Seminar Rules

  1. Students speak directly to each other, not to you.
  2. Students take turns contributing without necessarily raising their hands (as long as they can handle talking to each other this way).
  3. When students give an answer or offer an idea, they should also give evidence to support their answer. Students should be able to identify their source and where the evidence was located in the text so everyone can find it.
  4. When referring to something another student said before, they should use the person’s name. Students may challenge each other’s statements in nonaggressive ways.
  5. If students don’t seem to be listening, try asking them to summarize what the previous speaker said before making their own statements.


Attribute Listing
Have students make a list of things (for example, Events from the last 100 years)

Shape Poem
Students describe something from its point of view and write it in the shape of the item/topic. (For example, “The Constitution” - I am under glass all day as people visit me…) See the books, Blue Lipstick or Technically, It’s Not My Fault for examples.

“In what ways are water towers like watermelons?”
Bridge maps – challenge the kids to make them as random as possible.
How is John Peter Zenger like Michael Vick?

Your Life in Six Words
Have students write about their life in SIX words.
“Became my mother, please shoot me!”

Sijo Poetry
3 lines
Introduce the idea/topic phrase
Explain/elaborate phrase
Quirky phrase

Demotivational Posters
Have students create their own poster or have them create it to fit a story/character/event, etc. (see for examples.)

Study Skills

Strategies You Need

These study skills may be implemented for any subject and should begin in the upper elementary years before students encounter the more challenging middle and high school curriculums. These strategies will prepare students for the expectation that they will be able to manage time, organize materials and thoughts, and prioritize and plan for the skills they will need to master throughout academic standards and across subject areas.

  • Analogy
  • Metacognition
  • Teaching what we need to learn
  • Discussion
  • Visualization
  • Focused attention practice
  • Study-sleep cycle

An Analogy for Fifth Graders

Taking a test is like baking a cake, putting together a model airplane, learning a video game, playing a sport or getting ready for a performance. There are steps to work through before we reach the final answer, skill or solution. If I am baking a cake, I need to get out the recipe, read over the directions and check to make sure that I have all the ingredients. When I look at the image on the box of the beautiful, delicious cake, I get excited about what I am going to create. Taking a test is no different.

  1. Check to make sure I have all the ingredients.
  2. Measure each ingredient in the right order, and gradually add to the mixing bowl.
  3. Check.
  4. Stir the batter.
  5. Grease the pan.
  6. Oven on? Check.
  7. Check.
  8. Pour the batter into the pan.
  9. Bake.
  10. Check the recipe for how long to bake, and for the next steps.
  11. Pull out of oven, allow time for cooling off, and ice the cake.
  12. Check as I clean up and put ingredients away, asking myself:
    • Did I miss an ingredient?
    • Did I follow the directions?
    • What would work better the next time?

gears showing a test-taking brain
gears showing a test-taking brain
Gearing up for a test
Credit: Lori Desautels

Math Test Preparation

  1. Before you begin to study, check to make sure you have all of your materials.
  2. Free write for three minutes about any concerns, worries or stresses that you feel about the test, or that you have about anything happening in your life.
  3. Take three to five deep breaths through the nose with your eyes closed. Count to five on the inhale and six on the exhale. See your neurons firing behind your eyebrows like a firework show as they make connections. Feel the electrical charge (sizzle crack pop) as you visualize the right answers and solve the problems!
  4. Begin with the first review problem. Talk out loud as you write down the problem, explaining to yourself the important information and the steps you'll need to know.
  5. After solving the problem, move away from it for a few minutes. Take a brain break -- stretch, run or walk for 10 to 15 minutes, get some water and a snack -- but no TV or computer. Return to the problem with a new pen color or different pencil and paper, checking your answer as you talk through each step out loud.
  6. Now is the time to teach your problems to a classmate, a teacher or to your family. After you explain the steps to your new student, create two problems for him or her to solve. You must do these problems, too, and then compare answers.
  7. Set aside 30 minutes before you fall sleep to review your practice problems one more time, talking yourself through the steps. Close your notes, fluff up your pillow, close your eyes and feel the excitement of being prepared for the test. As you fall asleep, relaxed, your brain begins moving and massaging the information throughout the working memory all night long. Our brains are actually able to work harder when we sleep if we study what we need to know before closing our eyes for the night.

After the Test

Questions to Ask Yourself Now (and For Next Time)

  1. Did I make careless mistakes?
  2. Did I forget the steps or order of operations?
  3. Am I forgetting "how" to solve the problem?
  4. What do I need for coming up with the right answer?
  5. Who can help me?
  6. What are my resources? (Friend, teacher, parents, book, worksheets, computer?)
  7. I know that 24 repetitions is the way to learn this 80 percent of the time.

Parent and Teacher Support

When we look at the results of a test, rather than focusing on the final grade with our students, we should ask:

    • Do you understand your mistakes or errors, and have you found a way to correct them?
    • What could you do differently the next time?
    • What can I do to make sure you feel very comfortable with your corrections from the errors you made on the test?

A Word for Students

Remember that mistakes are our greatest learning tools! It is what we do with our mistakes that matters the most. Scientists love mistakes because, with each error, they improve the experiment or invention, and will know much more the next time.

Other Instructional Strategies that WORK!

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