Critical Thinking - making it work in your classroom

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

We often hear the words critical thinking questions mentioned when investigating teaching ideas and strategies. Incorporated below are practical ideas of how to incorporate the different categories of questioning into your everyday teaching.

The National Curriculum Statements Gr R - 12 among other things, aims to produce learners that are able to solve problems and make decisions using critical and creative thinking, as well as encouraging learners to collect, analyse, organize and critically evaluate information. In the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) the different subjects use various taxonomies expressing various cognitive classifications or levels which are to be included in the assessment of the subject.

This is a wonderful idea, however if the learners have not been exposed to these types of questions or have not been taught how to answer them, they will find it difficult, even frightening, when confronted with critical thinking questions for the first time in test.

In the CAPS documents various taxonomies with regards to cognitive classifications or levels have been combined and / or used by the different subjects, to be included in the subject's assessment.

All subjects focus on three overall classifications (levels) of cognitive operation or learning:

  • Low order

  • Middle order

  • Higher Order

So where did it begin . . .

Benjamin Bloom, in 1956, categorised and classified thousands of teachers' questions into a taxonomy. He expressed the thought that the higher up the taxonomy one moved with the type of questions being asked and answered, the deeper the learning:

  • The lowest level was knowledge (recall of information)

  • Comprehension was next (understanding meaning)

  • Application followed (apply what has been learnt)

  • Analysis, was next (to separate material or concepts into components)

  • Synthesis, followed (create new meaning or structure)

  • Finally, evaluation (to make informed judgements)

Anderson in 2001, adapted Bloom's idea, replacing the wording, such as knowledge was replaced with remembering. While the higher order levels of evaluation and synthesis were inverted, so that evaluating was seen as the second highest and creating (synthesis) were reflected as the highest order of thinking.

Comparison of Bloom's and Anderson's Taxonomies

Anderson, et al's Changes To Bloom's Taxonomy (Wilson, 2006)

Anderson, Krathwohl, et al. changed Bloom's noun descriptors into verbs. They also interpreted create, as a higher order of thinking, than evaluate.

While a problem-solving taxonomy may be grouped into the areas or classifications of: routine, diagnosis, strategy, interpretation and generation. (Plants, H.L, et al 1980)

Each subject has adapted and interrupted various taxonomies to suit their subject's needs with regard to assessment. (see table below)

Levels of Cognitive Thinking, as portrayed by each CAPS subject

Information adapted from the Basic Education, Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) for each subject

So what should we, as teachers, do . . . .

  • Firstly we need to include the different categories (levels or classifications) of questions in our planning and preparation.

  • Note:The critical thinking questions must be included into the teacher's planning. If thinking questions are asked in an assessment, and learners have never been exposed to these types of questions while teaching, they will find them extremely difficult.

  • Secondly, we must verbally ask the children questions from the different categories, while we are teaching.

  • Thirdly, we should set classwork activities that incorporate the different categories of questions for learners to solve.

  • Only THEN should critical thinking questions be included into assessment tasks.

Anderson's revised taxonomy categories and definitions

Anderson's Taxonomy And Level Descriptors; Adapted From Sun, Y. M. (2007) And Wilson, L. O. (2006)

Begin by including one or two questions from each level in your preparation and planning, these can be used as reminders while you are teaching.

As you begin to ask questions using the different levels of thinking, you will begin to find it easy to incorporate them as your lessons as you go along.

Examples of knowledge questions may include:

  • What is . . . ?

  • Which is true or false?

  • How many . . . ?

Examples of comprehension questions may include: