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Like me, I imagine many of you try to foster the development of critically thinking in your students.

As professors, we are far removed (it took me 8 years to earn my PhD!) from the early developmental stages of learning how to think critically. We may have long forgotten how we actually learned to think critically ourselves.

We want our students to develop critical thinking skills, but how do we teach the acquisition and habituation of such skills?

Here is a list of questions that can get this process started. Students should ask themselves about the assigned reading that will help them think critically and be ready to engage in more vibrant classroom discussion. It is one tool of many that can help us actually teach critical thinking and not just hope it spontaneously emerges in our students or is something that is contagious.

Not all of these questions will apply to every reading and many will need some slight adaptation, but they should get students’ brains revved up and ready to think critically and make a contribution to class discussion.

  • Why did your professor assign this reading?
    • How does it relate to other topics in the course?
      • Is it situated in a particular set of literature? Hint: this would be evident in the literature review.
    • Do the conclusions align with or contradict other readings in the class?
    • How is the argument similar or different to other things you have read?
  • What is the primary question(s) the article addresses? The author wrote this for a reason. Probably to answer a question or a puzzle. What is that question that inspired the article/chapter?
    • Why is this question important to ask?
      • …from a policy standpoint?
      • …from a theoretical standpoint?
      • …for society?
    • What is the hypothesis being tested? Hint: A hypothesis is usually an “if/then” statement proposing a relationship between variables that can be or is tested.
  • Does the article/chapter disagree with some other existing theory?
  • What evidence/data, if any, is used to make the point?
    • Is there evidence/data that you think would be more convincing?
    • Are there variables that you think should have been included that were not?
    • Is there a weakness in the methods that make you question the results?
    • Are there examples from your own life experience that contradict or reinforce the conclusions?
    • If this is an older article, has society changed in important ways that should make us reconsider the conclusions?
    • Are there examples in the headlines today that relate to the conclusions of the piece?
    • Did the author draw accurate conclusions from the data/outcomes?
  • What are some of the underlying assumptions that the author(s) make(s)?
  • Do you agree with the way the key concepts of the piece are defined?
    • Did the author exclude a category, concept, or variable that you think is essential to include?
  • How might another discipline (political science, economics, biology, psychology, etc.) examine and explain the same question or topic?
  • If we accept the author’s conclusions, what questions arise that still need explanation?
    • What additional research does this inspire?
  • How might the conclusions of the article/chapter apply to any different but related topic?
    • What else might this research explain?
  • How is this issue presented in the mass media?


Teach well, it matters.