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How and Why Teach Your Child Critical Thinking Strategies--Where to Start

Updated on February 4, 2017
Critical Thinking: Better Students and Better Citizens
Critical Thinking: Better Students and Better Citizens

Critical Thinking: Focusing on Teaching Fact & Opinion

Anne Morrow Lindberg once said, “I think best with a pencil in my hand” (Faucett, 2004, p. xx). The concept of critical thinking, at its most basic element, is the opposite of memorizing and regurgitating information. Students have to memorize some types of information to some extent. For example, most educators agree that students need to memorize multiplication tables and certain grammar rules. However, if students do not learn to think critically, too, then they simply parrot information back to the teacher. For a nation who is supposed to be self-governing, that concept is frightening. Even young children can learn to think critically and to expand their use of critical thinking strategies as they progress from one grade level to the next.

The following discussion focuses on some of the reasons for teaching critical thinking. Next, is a listing of the different types of critical thinking, particularly those relevant to student writing. Finally, this hub focuses on a discussion of fact and opinion and some suggestions for teaching these two critical thinking strategies.

Why Teach Critical Thinking. First of all, a free society that depends on its citizens to vote intelligently, is a society that must teach each generation to think critically. People who make wise choices depend on knowing how to use critical thinking strategies.

A number of research studies in critical thinking and writing indicate that several critical thinking processes are at work when students actively engage in the writing process. However, improvement in writing is only one reason for students to learn critical thinking strategies. There are a number of compelling reasons for teaching these skills. First, though, students need a definition of critical thinking that works for their particular age and grade level.

What exactly is critical thinking. Here are strategies that students master in order to think and write critically. These strategies are actually inherent in the definition of critical thinking and help define it.

1, Determine the difference between fact and opinion

2. States language in objective terms without attempts to sway readers with emotional language

3. Arguments rely on sound reasoning while avoiding fallacy. Presents relevant evidence for claims.

4. Restricts sources to accountable outlets and screens sources for bias and qualifications.

5. Identifies relevant evidence and assesses the quality of supporting evidence bearing on the issue under discussion.

The roots of critical thinking go as far back as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The wording of the definitions of critical thinking can be adapted to be more applicable for today’s students. Critical thinking can involve several levels of thinking, and those listed below are especially relevant to students’ writing.

Fact or Opinion. One of the most basic of the critical thinking skills or strategies is that of determining if a statement is fact or opinion. Generally, an opinion is a statement that someone thinks or believes to be true. For example, “That man standing by the fence is handsome.” Who is to say if that man standing by the fence is handsome? One person might think he is handsome, while another believes the man to be mediocre or even ugly. Therefore, that statement is an opinion.

On the other hand, “That man standing by the fence has brown hair.” Someone or anyone can prove that the man has brown hair. That statement is fact. Most of the time, we consider historical facts to be accepted as facts and they are not usually challenged unless an archeological dig or some other scientific evidence comes along to disprove the statement.

Opinions are not necessarily bad. Students need to be able to tell the difference between fact and opinion so they can think critically and form their own opinions. Effective writers support their opinions with facts whenever possible. For example, student essays and paragraphs are usually opinions and should be backed or supported with supporting details of reasons, facts, examples, or steps. A writer cannot expect the reader to accept his or her opinion without such supporting evidence.

One of the best sources for parents or teachers in teaching fact and opinion is the newspaper. Put simply, the front page of the newspaper is supposed to be news---facts about people or events in the community or the world. News articles are supposed to be unbiased reports of events as they happened. Students can examine these sources and determine if the writer allowed bias or judgment to enter his or her writing. Sometimes the writer’s opinion can filter through the facts and slant the news in one direction or another. Older students can learn to read between the lines or draw conclusions regarding the bias or lack of bias in a news article.

One section of the newspaper that is an excellent source of opinion is the editorial page. This page usually contains articles, essays, or stories that express opinion. Letters to the editor are opinion pieces. In a free society, ordinary citizens have the right to express their opinions regardless of the opinions of others---as long as they are not slandering or harming other people Effective writers support their opinions with facts, reasons, or examples. Some sources, of course, are more believable or credible than others. Teachers can guide students to examine sources and determine the credibility or believability of the source. Knowing how to evaluate the value of a source is a topic for another hub. At this point, the student simply needs practice in differentiating fact from opinion.

I have posted a critical thinking rubric, based on the above four areas of critical thinking. I designed this rubric for use in a developmental college English class, but it can be adapted for use with younger students by using language more easily understood by younger students. Before using any rubric with students, the teacher or parent can explain each component to the student.

Critical Thinking Rubric

The Critical Thinking Rubric

I. Distinguishes fact (whether empirical, analytic, or evaluative) from opinion (self-report).

Absent 0

Emerging 1

Mastering 2

0-States issues as self-reports (I like, I think, in my opinion), or uses self-reports as descriptions (something is terrible, ugly, wonderful, etc.).

1-Mixes self-reports with factual claims.

2-States issues as factual claims, whether empirical (verifiable by observation), analytical (verifiable by language agreement), or evaluative (verifiable by value standards).

II.States arguments in denotative language, eschewing the use of heavy connotative terms to sway with emotion rather than reasons.

Absent 0

Emerging 1

Mastering 2

0-Relies strongly on emotional words and heavy connotative language to convey content.

1-Mixes emotional words with denotative language.

2-States argument in neutral, objective language without using strong connotative terms to sway readers.

III. Avoids fallacious arguments in present claims.

Absent 0

Emerging 1

Mastering 2

0-Relies mostly on propaganda or fallacious argumentation, e.g, bandwagon, faulty generalization, false causality, testimonial, etc.

1-Mixture of sound argumentation and fallacy.

2-Arguments rely on sound reasoning, avoiding fallacy while presenting relevant evidence for claims.

IV. Considers the motives and qualifications of sources.

Absent 0

Emerging 1

Mastering 2

0-Accepts sources uncritically, using sources without accountability, and biased or unqualified authorities.

1-Some screening of sources with some recognition of qualifications and biases.

2-Restricts sources to accountable outlets, and screens sources for qualifications and bias.

V. Identifies relevant evidence, and assesses the quality of supporting data/evidence bearing on the issue.


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    • simondixie profile image

      Nancy McLendon Scott 4 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you! I usually teach critical thinking strategies in college, but since retirement, I'm tutoring and I like to incorporate these strategies into tutoring sessions. I appreciate your comments so much!

    • Beltane73 profile image

      Holly Kline 4 years ago from South Jersey

      Awesome! There just isn't enough of this going around. My middle school had a class in 8th grade that was designed to teach critical thinking skills, and it's one of the most useful I ever took. Upvoted and useful!

    • simondixie profile image

      Nancy McLendon Scott 5 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks! I agree! If you have any suggestions as to how I might make my hubs more practical for students and teachers (including homeschooling parents), let me know. I do appreciate any suggestions you could offer.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      So important to teach children to think beyond the box. Children who learn to this important technique will be among the leaders of the future.