The latest issue 110 of English Teaching Professional marks the beginning of a new chapter not only because of the new design of the magazine, but also because I will now be your regular back page feature writer exploring areas in our teaching that go beyond the teaching of linguistic systems like grammar and lexis.

The first of my contributions looks at the importance of fostering critical thinking skills in the classroom so as to improve on our students’ linguistic abilities and the overall ability to think for themselves. But how do we actually incorporate critical thinking into our classroom activities?

A lot of the activities and tasks we set our students in the English language classroom already include elements of critical thinking skills: h

  • When we tell three stories about ourselves and ask students to guess which one is false, we are giving them practice of analysing the stories, inferring from what they already know and examining the facts critically.
  • When we do those ‘what happens next’ prediction tasks before a reading or listening exercise, we are giving them practice of understanding facts and information presented to them and analyse and apply this understanding to their prediction.
  • When we orchestrate a classroom debate, we are giving them practice of weighing up different opinions, thinking a line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, and understanding a different point of view.

It is often by chance that critical thinking skills seem to get worked on in the classroom but as educators, we can integrate such practice in a way that explicitly demonstrates to students the skills that are transferable into their everyday life. And this can perhaps be done with the help of three of the most popular frameworks that facilitate critical thinking: Socratic Questioning, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats.


A. Socratic Questioning

Often considered the foundation of critical thinking, Socratic teaching is the oldest teaching technique that develops critical thinking skills. The teacher here does not provide answers but is instead trained in asking questions: questions that explore, investigate, probe, stimulate and engage.

Students are not just exposed to but also taught the art of Socratic questioning, cultivating a healthy sense of curiosity and openness.

Here are six types of Socratic Questions that both teachers and students can learn to use in classroom activities:

    1. Questions to clarify
      What did you mean by…?
      Can you give me an example?
      Could you explain a bit more?


    1. Questions to challenge assumptions
      Why do you assume that…?
      Is that always the case?
      Why do we include and exclude?


    1. Questions to probe evidence/reasons
      What do you think causes this to happen?
      How do you know this?
      Why do you say that?


    1. Questions to discover other viewpoints/perspectives
      What’s another way to look at this?
      What are the advantages and disadvantages of…?
      Who benefits from this? Who would be affected? What would be their views?
      Why is this the best?


    1. Questions that consider implications and consequences
      What are some possible consequences of this?
      How does ~ affect ~?
      How does this tie in with what we already know?


  1. Questions about questions
    Why did you ask that question?
    What did you mean when you said ~?
    What are you trying to find out with that question?

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers” - Voltaire


B. Bloom’s Taxonomy

Created in 1956 by educational psychologist Dr. Benjamin Bloom, this framework aims to categorise educational goals and promote higher order thinking skills.

The six levels of cognitive learning makes up one of three models in Bloom’s Taxonomy and is now the one that is widely used in classrooms around the world to promote critical thinking skills.

  1. Remembering
    • Have students read or listen to a piece of information and repeat/recall the facts.
    • Have students make a list of events or facts they have learnt.
  2. Understand
    • Have students summarise or translate what they’ve read or listened to.
    • Have students make connections between different facts they’ve accumulated.
    • Have students explain what the information they’ve received.
  3. Apply
      • Have students solve a problem using what they’ve learnt.
      • Have students apply what they’ve learnt to their own experience.
      • Have students interpret what they’ve read/listened to by turning it into a dramatic script and acting it out (Reader’s Theatre).

    NB: You can have your students film their own interpretation of this poem and entering ETp’s short film competition by 20th Sept 2017.  

  4. Analyse
    • Have students read something online and find evidence supporting its claims.
    • Have students design a survey or an experiment to investigate and get information.
    • Have students compare and contrast several cases or scenarios.
  5. Evaluate
    • Have students look at the results of a competition or award e.g. the Oscars, the top ten best countries in the world to live in, the best airports in the world, and students make a list of criteria the award might have been based on.
    • Have students read/listen to an argument and consider why what the speaker is saying might not be true/valid.
    • Have students take part in a debate taking a side that is contrary to their natural point of view.
  6. Create
    • Have students create a new product and design the marketing campaign.
    • Have students write a persuasive speech, arguing to convince the audience of a point of view.
    • Have students creatively solve a problem e.g. the rising costs of property, the lack of iPads/tablets in the classroom, how to ensure everyone comes to class on time.


C. Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats

The inventor of the term Lateral Thinking in the late 1960s, Dr. Edward de Bono was a huge proponent of thinking as a subject in the educational curricula. His Six Thinking Hats is a systematic method that helps students learn to think in six different functions and roles.

Here are some ways of using the Six Thinking Hats in your classroom:

  • Teachers could assign each student with a particular Thinking Hat so as to practice a way of thinking.
  • Working in groups, each group could be assigned with a particular Thinking Hat so as to encourage and exemplify a way of thinking.
  • Working in groups, different members of the group could be assigned with a different Thinking Hat so as to promote productive collaboration.
  • Teachers could get students to change their focus by getting them to put on a different Thinking Hat.

The Six Thinking Hats are as follows:

The White Hat - ‘Facts’
White Hat thinkers collect information and data, remain neutral and objective.

The Red Hat – ‘Emotions’
Red Hat thinkers voice their feelings, hunches and intuitions about things. They do not need to give reasons and are free to change how they feel at any point.

The Yellow Hat – ‘Positivity’
Yellow Hat thinkers are optimistic and see the benefits of things. They give logical reasons for why something is good or useful, and explore the value in things.

The Black Hat – ‘The Devil’s Advocate’
Black Hat thinkers see the difficulties, the weaknesses and the risks and they give logical reasons for why certain problems might occur. A useful hat but be careful that it is not overused.

The Green Hat – ‘Creativity’
Green Hat thinkers are solution-oriented and see alternatives and new ideas. They are willing to experiment and take risks.

The Blue Hat – ‘The Manager’
Blue Hat thinkers organise and manage the thinking process and often chair meetings or group discussions. They think about what thinking is needed, summarise what has been said and plan for action.


With the help of Socrates, Bloom and De Bono, we can perhaps approach the development of critical thinking skills in the classroom in a more explicit, structured and purposeful way.


Read more from Chia Suan Chong.