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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Building In Critical Thinking

Hi everyone, I'm Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources and I am super excited to be here with you today on Fabulous 4th Grade Froggies!  I love reading Lorraine's posts and I hope you will enjoy what I have for you today as much as what she normally provides for you!

Recently, I was quoted in the TPT newsletter for saying that instead of doing test prep, I felt it was more important to build critical thinkers who could solve any type of problem, whether it was in real life or on a test.  Today, I'm going to talk about some ways to develop critical thinking skills in your students while you are working on skills you would already be working on in your classroom.

One of the easiest ways to build critical thinking into your lessons is to ask that question that all kids dread - Why?  I learned early into my career that if you ask a kid why, they automatically assume that their answer is wrong, and change it.  So, I started asking why every time that a child answered a question.  We started talking about how important it was to not only know the answer, but to be able to explain why that was the answer, and that if you could explain why that was the answer - you were more likely to be right.  In fact, if you are wrong, but you can justify your answer well, I'll normally try to give you some extra credit.  In my class, the motto is: If you don't know why, you don't know the answer!  In fact, I have that as a poster in my classroom, click on the image of that poster, and you can grab a copy for your class free from Google Docs.

Another way to build critical thinking skills, is to add puzzles of all kinds into your classroom.  My kids do puzzles all day - jigsaw puzzles, self-correcting puzzles, tiling puzzles, 9-square puzzles, computer based puzzles - if I can find a curriculum link, I add a puzzle into my day.  If I can't find a puzzle for the curriculum I'm working on - I make it!  In a society so based on TV and video games, I find that my kids don't have a lot of time spent working on puzzles at home, and puzzles do so much to work on critical and visual thinking skills.  One of my favorite types of puzzles is the tiling puzzle.  You give students number tiles with the digits 0-9 and a sheet of problems with one of each of those digits missing.  Then, students use the tiles to fill in the missing digits.  While they are working on their math problems, they are also building critical thinking skills and working on 'trial and error' and 'if this, then that' thinking strategies.  Click on the tiling puzzle above to grab it free from my TPT store.

Project matrices are another way I build critical thinking into my curriculum.  Giving students a choice on how to express their thinking is going to force them to think more critically about their learning.  Also, within each project matrix I use, the projects are specifically designed to make students think outside the box.  Rather than simply making a poster about the person they researched, with facts they looked up in a book, they do things like: pretend they are introducing that person as an important speaker at an assembly, making a biography channel documentary about that person, create a song about the person's accomplishments etc.  Looking at topics in new and interesting ways helps students to build their thinking skills and understand the topics better.  Click on the image of this project matrix to grab a free copy of my Historical Women project matrix from Google Docs.

Building critical thinking in our students will help them this year, next year, and 20 years from now.  Christa McAuliffe said "I teach.  I touch the future."  When we go to our classrooms, we need to remember that we are not just teaching students to think for today or tomorrow, but for the rest of their lives.

Thanks for stopping by to read my guest blog post here for Fabulous 4th Grade Froggies - please feel free to stop by and visit me at my blog Raki's Rad Resources.



  1. Hi! I am your newest follower! Stop by and visit me...


  2. Wow, Lorraine. I like it. You're pushing them to think about the material in a different light, and be creative with it. AND you're giving them super clear directions on how they will be graded. I think that's what I like most about this post. Too often I think, kids don't know what they need to focus on to make a stellar grade.
    Has your grading system shown improved results? Curious.

  3. Thank you for this! I never thought about the "Why" question in that sense. Students absolutely change their response because they expect us to say, "correct or yes!" I have been working with the class on thinking more critically and substantiating their responses (this notion also pairs with the newly implemented CCS). I often post a math message in the morning but I would like to also try your project matrix :) Love that!