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Evaluating Reading, Writing, and Critical Thinking Skills of ESL and EFL Students

Updated on April 28, 2020
Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul has spent many years teaching English as a foreign and second language. He has taught EFL in Taiwan and Thailand, and ESL in the U.S.

Critical Thinking


What Are Critical Thinking Skills?

A few years ago, my school tasked all EFL teachers with evaluating the critical thinking skills of all students in grades one through twelve. There was no guidance from the administration as to how teachers should evaluate students and assign a score for thinking. With this in mind, I started to examine what is involved in thinking and began to devise a vehicle for measuring the thinking skills of all students.

After reflecting on the problem, I concluded that there are six basic critical thinking skills. These critical skills include knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Let's first detail what these six skills mean.

1. Knowledge:

The process of critical thinking begins with knowledge. Knowledge is obtained by personal experience or through books and teachers in school. When you burn your finger by touching fire, this is knowledge or finding out something new through personal experience. Learning the formula to calculate the area of a circle is the kind of knowledge you get in school and through books.

2. Comprehension:

The next process of thinking is understanding what you perceive or know through your senses. It also includes being able to reorganize and sequence facts, and the sequence of steps in doing something. Making inferences is a necessary part of comprehension. When a person makes inferences, he or she "connects the dots" by using knowledge, and by drawing on personal experiences to conclude something that is not stated in black and white. It is in effect reading between the lines.

3. Application:

Application in thinking is using knowledge and comprehension to understand practical worldly things. Making predictions is one kind of application in thinking. When you do this, you are producing knowledge by using the knowledge you already comprehend. Constructing a building based on engineering principles is one example of the application skill in thinking.

4. Analysis:

The fourth step in the critical thinking process is analysis. In an analysis, a person is dividing information into categories and subcategories. You are also clarifying the "who", "what", "when", "where", etc. of what is happening. For example, in the field of chemistry, this is done by using certain principles and steps to determine the elements present in a certain chemical compound.

5. Synthesis:

This is one of the higher-order thinking skills. It involves organizing, constructing, and creating the end product. One does this by formulating questions and devising and testing theories much like a scientist.

6. Evaluation:

Evaluation is the highest thinking order skill. It implies determining what is good or bad about a finished product, as well as thinking of a way to revise what is wrong. When a person presents a critical review of a book he has read, he is giving an evaluation.

The author as an English teacher at Saint Joseph Bangna School in Thailand in 2009.
The author as an English teacher at Saint Joseph Bangna School in Thailand in 2009. | Source

Evaluating Reading, Writing, and Critical Thinking Skills

It would be very useful to devise a rubric in evaluating the reading, writing, and critical thinking skills of ESL and EFL students. This rubric would measure how well students can answer the following types of questions representative of the six thinking skills:

1. Knowledge Type Questions:

For reading, the students would read a passage, and then answer questions related to the "who", "what", "where", and "when" of the article where the answers are easy to find. In answering these questions, the student is simply regurgitating what is in the text. For writing, the students might be asked to write sentences listing the members of their family.

2. Comprehension Type Questions:

This kind of reading comprehension questions would involve answering what the main idea of a passage is, or responding where inferences must be made. For example, the students might read that Ann went to bed at 3:00 A.M. and then didn't go to school the same day. A question based on this would be why Ann didn't go to school. For writing, the students might be asked to write the sequence of steps in making an omelet, given the ingredients and equipment used.

3. Application Type Questions:

For reading, the students could first read a story about a girl who was very diligent and became the best student in her class. A question could then be asked whether the student would be successful in studying in college. For writing, the students could first be asked to read a paragraph describing life in New York, and then write a paragraph describing life in Bangkok.

4. Analysis Type Question:

In reading, the students read a paragraph about two girls, and then they are asked to answer questions that describe what kind of girls they are. The answers to the question are not in black and white in the reading. For writing, the students first read an article about life in Bangkok, and then they write about the advantages and disadvantages of living in Bangkok.

5. Synthesis Type Question:

For reading, the students first read an article about life in the future, and then they answer questions predicting what kinds of food will be eaten in the future. For writing, the students will predict how people will communicate 40 - 50 years from now.

6. Evaluation Type Question:

Finally, for this highest order thinking skill, students might be asked to first read a story, and then answer questions about judgments made of characters in the story. For writing, the students could be asked to write how they felt at the end of the story. They could also be asked to rewrite the ending of the story.

I feel that questions for all of the six critical thinking skills can be asked to all levels of students from grade one through grade twelve. It is the job of the teacher to create the best type of thinking questions based on the backgrounds and interests of his or her students.

Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking Skills

Which is the most important critical thinking skill?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn


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    Post Comment
    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      8 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      Thank you very much for reading and the favorable comment.

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 

      8 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Thanks Paul, a well thought out hub with some good insights based on your own teaching and learning and research. There's just no substitute for personal experience expressed in an objective fashion.

      When I've time I'll look for more.


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