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Help Your Child Develop Critical Thinking Skills

“Critical thinking” is a term that has received renewed interest, as a part of the “21st Century Skills” shortlist of the abilities that students of today should develop, in order to be successful citizens of the future. Critical Thinking is one of the Four C’s considered critical for learning: 

  • Critical Thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Creativity

These Four C’s are considered key skill sets to develop, because if students are armed with the ability to think critically, collaborate with others, communicate effectively, and creatively solve problems, then they can apply these skills to any profession or role.  Learning is also more likely to last if students are communicating and collaborating together, examining topics from multiple angles, and asked to think of solutions creatively.

Just as Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity skills can be honed and developed, the same is true for Critical Thinking, and it is a skill worth growing!

Depth of Knowledge Levels

The beauty (and challenge) of teaching critical thinking, is that there is no “correct way” or step-by-step guide to doing so. If there was an algorithm, it would no longer be considered critical thinking. The Depth of Knowledge (DOK) framework is an easy visual resource to increase the rigor in which a child is asked to perform.  Based on Norman Webb’s study and subsequent DOK Levels, as students progress through the DOK levels 1-4, they will be faced with tasks that require deeper cognitive stages of thinking.

Level 1 – Recall and Reproduction: Examples of this may be having a child recite math facts by heart, or choose from finite choices on a multiple choice assignment. Level 1 tasks may include copying, computing, defining, and recognizing from a choice menu.

Level 1 DOK Prompts:

  • List the keywords you know about [topic]…
  • Retell in your own words…
  • Draw a picture that illustrates an event in your life/the story…

Level 2 – Working with Skills and Concepts:  At this level, students may make some decisions about their approach to a problem or context. They may be shown a word problem they know requires addition, but they can draw a picture or use numbers to solve it.  Level 2 tasks may include comparing, organizing, and summarizing.

Level 2 DOK Prompts:

  • Construct a model to demonstrate how it works…
  • Make a diorama to illustrate an event in your life/the story…
  • Make up a game about this topic…

Level 3 – Short Term Strategic Thinking: At this deeper Depth of Knowledge, students must use planning and evidence, and abstract thinking is required. Level 3 tasks may present with multiple valid responses, where students must justify their choices or answers. An essay question asking a student to explain and define underlying causes of World War II would be an example of an abstract, strategic thinking exercise.

Level 3 DOK Prompts:

  • Make a Venn Diagram to show how these are different/the same (compare/contrast)…
  • Conduct an investigation to support your hypothesis…
  • Write a letter to the editor persuading him/her to change something [about your school/town]…

Level 4 – Extended Thinking: Level 4 tasks require the most cognitive workload and deep critical thinking. Students performing Level 4 tasks take information from multiple sources to solve a problem, or transfer knowledge from one domain to solve problems in another. Level 4 tasks often involve the creation of something new, or asking “what if” questions, which push students into abstract thinking.

Level 4 DOK Prompts:

  • Collaborate with a group of individuals to solve a novel problem…
  • Develop a menu for a new restaurant for healthy foods…
  • Write a jingle to advertise a new product…

Consider using this information to make a list of activities your child participates in regularly. Once you identify which Knowledge Level the activity is, consider how you can take it to the next DOK Level, which would require increased critical thinking

Remember, it’s not about making everything more difficult for your child. Think about it more as expanding and scaffolding your child’s current thinking to the next level, little by little. Start in areas where your child is already strong or passionate, and take smaller steps in areas where Level 1 and Level 2 activities and prompts will be more comfortable.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy of cognition skills is another resource to increase your student’s critical thinking skills.  Benjamin Bloom released Taxonomy of Educational Objectives in 1956, and it continues to be a mainstay for increasing students’ critical thinking skills to this very day. There are six levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, again ranging from acquiring knowledge to the highest level, manipulating acquired knowledge and synthesizing knowledge to form new ideas.

Below are the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (updated in 2001) from basic understanding through complex cognitive tasks:

  • Knowledge: Recalling of basic information, rote memorization.
    • Action Verbs may include recite, identify, define, label, spell, etc.
  • Comprehension: Demonstrating an understanding of information without explicit explanation.
    • Action Verbs may include describe, explain, compare, contrast etc.
  • Application: Applying learned knowledge to a new idea or situation.
    • Action Verbs may include demonstrate, explain, build, perform, etc.
  • Analysis: Breaking down knowledge into its smaller parts.
    • Action Verbs may include discover, categorize, simplify, test for, deduce, etc.
  • Evaluation: Taking knowledge from different areas and placing it together to form new understandings.
    • Action Verbs may include convince, determine, recommend, interpret, assess, etc.
  • Creation:  Organizing existing ideas into a new structure or concept of understanding.
    • Action Verbs may include design, formulate, combine, imagine, construct, etc.

Bloom’s Taxonomy Action Verbs, and Depth of Knowledge Prompts are both excellent resources to start developing critical thinking skills for children.  They guarantee that students will learn by doing by being actively engaged at the “just right” level of critical thinking challenge that their content knowledge calls for!  It’s best to keep in mind that as long as you are moving your child from concrete (“right there”) thought processes toward more abstract (“what if”) ideas and activities, you are surely growing their ability to think critically, which will benefit them in the short term and long run as they learn and develop.