21 Jan 2015
January 21, 2015

Building Critical-Thinking Skills at Home

A child’s first classroom is the home, where early learning experiences are shaped by curiosity. This curiosity is expressed in such ways as observing, exploring, listening, and modeling the behavior of others. Parents can build upon their children’s natural desire to learn essential thinking skills in fun-filled and creative ways.

Critical-thinking skills are fundamental to all learning and are the most valuable skills children are taught. However, critical-thinking skills cannot be developed in isolation; these skills need to be fostered. Supporting your child’s development of critical-thinking skills will help him or her acquire the problem-solving and reasoning abilities necessary in the classroom and later in the workplace.

The use of a technique called “questioning” is a simple, yet effective, way to develop these skills at home. The techniques described below can be used while doing almost any activity together—reading, shopping, preparing meals, playing, and so on. The key is to engage your child in a way that is enjoyable and rewarding for you both.

Questioning Techniques and Blooms Taxonomy

Different kinds of questions require the use of different thinking and reasoning skills. Bloom’s Taxonomy—learning objectives that may sound complex but are relatively easy to apply—breaks down thinking skills into six main categories, as shown in the pyramid below.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy, Revised

  • The first set of thinking skills on the pyramid are: remembering, understanding, and applying. These thinking skills are concrete. Concrete thinking skills relate to what is visible or that which can be interpreted through the senses. Concrete ideas can be seen, felt, touched, heard, or even smelled. Concrete thinking skills are based on facts.
  • The second set of thinking skills on the pyramid are: analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

These thinking skills are abstract. Abstract thinking skills relate to what is invisible, or that which cannot be interpreted using the senses. Abstract ideas cannot be seen, felt, touched, and so on. Abstract thinking skills are based on ideas.

Using Bloom’s taxonomy, you can experiment with questioning techniques to foster your child’s critical-thinking skills in all six categories.

1.   Remembering is the ability to recall information that has been previously learned.

Ask questions that encourage your child to tell about who, what, where, when, why, and how. Questions such as these draw upon your child’s prior knowledge, as well as the ability to remember information already learned.

Sample questions:

  • Who is …?
  • What does … look like?
  • Where did … take place?
  • When did … happen?
  • Why did … happen?
  • How many … ?

2.   Understanding is the ability to comprehend and explain ideas and concepts, whether clearly stated or implied.

Ask questions that encourage your child to describe, explain, estimate, predict, compare and contrast. Questions such as these encourage your child to interpret meaning and understand ideas, and then build on those skills to make predictions and draw conclusions.

Sample questions:

  • Explain what is meant by …
  • Tell how to solve/create/design a …
  • How would you explain … ?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • Compare these ideas/things.
  • Is … the same as … ?
  • Give an example of …

3.   Applying is the ability to use previously learned information and apply it to new situations.

Ask questions that encourage your child to show, solve, explain, demonstrate, and categorize. Questions such as these build your child’s ability to apply what he or she knows to new or unfamiliar situations.

Sample questions:

  • Can you show me how to … ?
  • Explain what would happen if …
  • What are the differences between … ?
  • How would you describe … ?
  • Explain why a story/movie/TV character behaved in a certain way.
  • Can you group animals/shapes/objects by these characteristics… ?
  • How could these steps/ideas/instructions have been explained more clearly?

4.   Analyzing
 is the ability to break down information into parts and to also distinguish between the parts.

Ask questions that encourage your child to explain, separate, arrange, and compare differences and likenesses. Questions such as these encourage your child to examine and decode information in new ways.

Sample questions:

  • What is the purpose of … ?
  • Which information is fact? Which is opinion?
  • What is the main idea of the story/movie/TV show?
  • Which details tell more about the main idea?
  • What are some events that could not really happen?
  • If … happened, what might the ending/result have been?
  • What do you see as other possible results/endings/outcomes?
  • How would you arrange these objects? (by size/color/ characteristics, etc.)
  • How does separating animals/objects/shapes into different groups help to identify them?

5.   Evaluating is the ability to make a decision or draw a conclusion based on a set of criteria.

Ask questions that encourage your child to assess, decide, measure, select, explain, conclude, compare, and summarize. Questions such as these foster the ability to make a judgment or conclusion based on a given set of conditions.

Sample questions:

  • Can you find the errors in … ?
  • Is there a better solution to … ?
  • What do you think about … ?
  • How would you have handled … ?
  • What changes to … would you recommend?
  • What are the consequences of … ?
  • What are the pros and cons of… ?
  • Are there any other choices/options for… ?
  • How would a TV character/person from history/fictional person solve this problem?
  • If … never happened, how would things be different?
  • Can you explain what the story/TV show/movie/article is mostly about.

6.   Creating 
is the ability to design something new, as well as to express a personal point of view.

Ask questions that encourage your child to explain, combine ideas, rearrange, substitute, create, invent, and think about “what if.” Questions such as these develop the ability to recognize or establish patterns.

Sample questions:

  • What kind of song/poem/story would you write about … ?
  • Can you see a possible solution to … ?
  • How would you invent/ /design … ?
  • How many ways can you … ?
  • Can you think of new and unusual uses for… ?
  • How would you develop a plan to … ?
  • What is your opinions of … ? Why?

Remember: Have fun working on these skills with your child. Not only will you help foster essential learning skills, you will foster curiosity and a love of learning.