Skip to content

Critical Thinking


What is critical thinking and how do we teach it in the disciplines?


  1. Why Teach for Critical Thinking
  2. What is Critical Thinking?
  3. Encountering Barriers to Critical Thinking
  4. Methods for Encouraging Critical Thinking

Why Teach for Critical Thinking?

Academically Adrift (Arum & Roska, 2010) argues that students rarely enter college with significant critical thinking skills  and many leave without developing those skills. An AACU (American Association of Colleges and Universities) employer survey indicated that critical thinking is more important than the major, so employers want colleges /universities to focus more on developing students’ critical thinking skills.

What is Critical Thinking?

hand holding up a key

Critical thinking: the key to higher education

“Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way.” (Linda Elder, 2007)

See also:

Encountering Barriers to Critical Thinking

“One brain scan imageof the curiosities of human cognition – the fact that it seems riddled with biases – may be a functional feature of mechanisms for making judgments and decisions” (Haselton & Nettle, 2006, p. 47

How would you remove the barriers represented in these quotes:

  1. “Critical thinking has been floating around the world of education for years… [but] has been an add-on to the curriculum rather a core aspect of learning.”  (Ferlazzo, 2011)
  2. “We judge students continually based on what they say, how they behave, [and] the way they respond.” (Wilson, 2011)

Now, consider this:

“It can be hard to let go of the reins… but when [instructors] give students the responsibility to be the thinkers and drive the content, they may take it in unexpected directions that are more relevant to them and thus more likely to stick.” (Nobori, 2014).

Methods for Encouraging Critical Thinking

  • Activity: Stand & Declare

Read each statement describing a stance [these can be quotes, for example], and consider each (such as the statements above describe stances). Then, decide and indicate whether you:
DISAGREEoutline of person talking
Hold up a card. Be prepared to stand and explain your position.
Give each student three cards representing each statement–these can be three colors or each have the words printed on them representing the three choices. 

  • Try Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats as a way to get students past the identified barriers by forcing them to think in a particular vein.  It moves them beyond their own assumptions and biases etc. by assigning a “role” representing positivism, negativity, creativity, facts, feelings, control.
  • Help students practice the “seven aspects” of collaborative communication in a classroom dialogue (visit this page for descriptions).


Workshop: the PDF files of the Power Point for your reference.

Ferlazzo, L. (2011, Nov. 8). Response: Several ways to teach critical thinking skills. Education Week. Retrieved from: classroom_qa_with_larry_ferlazzo/2011/11/response_several_ways_to_teach_critical_thinking_skills.html

they respond.”
Wilson, M.B. (2011, Dec. 28). Questioning your assumptions. Responsive Classroom. Retrieved from:

Nobori, M. (2014). Ten takeaway tips for teaching critical thinking. Edutopia. Retrieved from:



The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.