3 ways to promote critical thinking by asking questions

Jan-Wolter Smit

Head of Education

There are many active learning strategies that you can implement with your students to promote critical thinking. One of them is asking your students questions that stimulate deeper thinking.

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Questioning

When you ask your students a question, depending on how you do so, they use critical thinking skills such as recognising, analysing, and forming conclusions. J. Mills argued that the thoughtful use of questions may be the quintessential activity of an effective teacher. There are many ways to pose a question, and results differ based on how much thought you put into formulating a question. 

Questions should be designed to trigger evaluation and synthesis of concepts. In fact, higher-level thinking questions often start or end with words such as “explain”, “compare”, “why”, “which is the solution to the problem”, “what”, and “do you agree or disagree with this statement?”. Depending on the wording you decide to use, you challenge students to work at different levels of cognition. 

Another way of asking questions is the Socratic questioning: a type of questioning that deeply dives into the meaning and logical strength of a claim, opinion, or line of reasoning. This method focuses on clarification: a student’s answer to a question can be followed by asking another student to summarise it. Summarising the information allows the students to demonstrate whether they have understood the answer.

3 things to keep in mind while asking questions:

  1. Avoid questions with set answers if you want to stimulate critical thinking. By doing so you allow for different points of view.

  2. If you decide to use provocative questions, stimulate your class by keeping them brief: include only one or two issues at a time.

  3. Wait at least 5 seconds for students to answer. Elliot argued that waiting as long as 10 seconds would be even better, because it allows students enough time to think creatively about different possibilities.

Ask your students questions in a safe digital environment

If you decide to pose questions with the support of our intuitive toolkit for teachers, you could implement one or all of the following:

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1. Open-ended questions

In LessonUp the answers to open-ended questions can be made anonymous. Students work in a safe digital environment, without the pressure of having to put their hands up to answer a question in front of the class. The wait time could be as long as you like. If you decide to limit the amount of time a student has to respond, you can add a timer to your question slide. Possibly, keep your questions as open as you can while being very clear about what you are asking. If you ask your students what they think about something, you could also ask them to specify and explain also 'how' they have come to form such an opinion.

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2. Mind Maps

Students’ answers in LessonUp’s mind map can be made anonymous. Students work in a digital environment: you provide them with the opportunity to express themselves without being in the spotlight. You can define the wait time. Mind mapping is great to establish prior knowledge, or scan awareness or opinions concerning a certain subject or theme. Make sure you inform your students that there are no wrong answers, and whatever they write is accepted and can become part of a conversation. Mind maps are a great way of starting classroom discussions and debates on any kind of topic.

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3. Photo questions 

The answers given in photo questions can be made anonymous. Students work in a digital environment, without the pressure of having to put their hands up to answer a question in front of the class. The wait time could be as long as you like. A visual aid such as an inspiring photo may help students recall knowledge, feel curious, interested and inspired. There are many learning techniques in which a photo is shown several times accompanied by different questions. At first you could ask them what they see, for example, then what they think, and at last what they would like to know more. 👉 See, think, wonder

Interested in more? Check out 3 visual ways to stimulate active classroom discussions