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Why Promote Critical Thinking?

Learn more about promoting critical thinking in classroom.

In traditional education systems, the teacher was seen as the only knowledge source. Learners could not access knowledge without the teacher and were not encouraged to do so. Learning happened in class, and learners learnt what the teacher taught. They were not encouraged to question this knowledge, but instead to accept it and memorise it.

Critical thinking means helping learners to find answers for themselves, questioning facts rather than simply accepting them, considering different sources of information and asking ‘Why?’ Taking such critical approaches to learning helps learners to:

  • be more independent and analytical
  • formulate and test hypotheses
  • consider other points of view
  • justify and explain their own ideas.

In language teaching, critical thinking might take different forms. Below are some examples:

  • Asking learners to justify their ideas. This doesn’t mean challenging learners, but instead asking how they came to a certain conclusion. It could simply be a case of saying ‘Yes, that’s right. Why is it right?’
  • Asking learners to work out patterns of language usage, for example highlighting examples of conditional clauses in a text and discussing different meanings (this is sometimes referred to as taking an inductive approach. This might also involve contrasting English use with the learners’ own language (L1).
  • Encouraging learners to notice exceptions to ‘rules’.
  • Encouraging learners to notice patterns in language, for example circling ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’ in a text and then discussing why they are used.
  • Being open to questions from learners about language.
  • Evaluating sources of knowledge – who wrote/said it? Why did they write/say this? How reliable and accurate is it? etc. For example sources of knowledge of and about language: coursebooks, grammar books, language learning websites, Facebook, news stories and so on.
  • Encouraging learners to do their own research about language. For example, asking them to research when the past simple and present perfect are used in English, by looking at grammar websites as well as instances of real language use on TV, the internet, in texts etc.

As teachers, we can also incorporate critical thinking into our professional practice. Thinking critically about why we do what we do, and approaching new activities and methods with a critical mind is part of reflective practice.

Over to you

  • How do you promote critical thinking among your learners?
  • How can critical thinking skills benefit learners (and teachers) outside the classroom?
© British Council
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The Classroom and the World

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