SOS Top Ten for Encouraging Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Welcome to our special SOS Top Ten series. In this post, we highlight some of the most popular ways to use Spotlight on Strategies (CDN Version) to encourage critical thinking and problem-solving in your classroom.

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning identifies four areas of skills, knowledge, and expertise that students should master to succeed in 21st century work and life: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity.

Critical Thinking specifically focuses on effective reasoning, systems thinking, making judgements and decisions, and solving problems. Many of the strategies in the Spotlight on Strategies collection provide a framework to help students practice and perfect their critical thinking skills. Here are ten of our favorites.

We hope you’ll try one or more of these strategies and share your experience with us, either in the comments below or in the DEN Online Community!


Strategies that help students learn to reason effectively through careful analysis of details

Inquiry Chart (CDN Version), developed by James Hoffman in 1992, provides students with a table that guides them in using multiple sources to research a topic. The chart helps students think critically about the results of their research, and supports students in their efforts to synthesize multiple sources of information into a cohesive and meaningful product. Teachers have found that I-Charts are suitable for whole-class, small-group, or individual inquiry, making them a versatile tool in a variety of subject areas and grade levels.

4C’s (CDN Version) is a visible thinking routine developed in Harvard’s Project Zero. It helps students develop synthesizing and organizational skills by focusing their thinking on four elements: making connections, challenging decisions, understanding concepts, and suggesting changes. A graphic organizer helps students focus small group discussion around specific look-fors in the media to help students make sense of multimodal text.

Save the Last Word for Me (CDN Version) fosters student discussion and allows all students to explain and defend their own thinking. When students follow a specific structure for group discussion, all students are heard, but each student has the last word about his or her own ideas.


Strategies that help students make evidence-based reflections and decisions

Let’s Roll (CDN Version) engages students in a discussion about topics presented in digital media. In small group, students are encouraged to reflect on the content and make evidence-based decisions based on what they’ve learned.

Whittle It Down (CDN Version) scaffolds students as they learn to summarize information. Students work together as a whole group, then in small groups, and finally independently, to identify the most important information before writing a summary statement of what they’ve learned.

Take a Stand (CDN Version) is a simple movement-based game that can be used in a variety of ways. Teachers ask students to take a stand, both literally as well as figuratively, and then to back up their stance with evidence they’ve found in media selections.

Myth Bustin’! (CDN Version) mimics the scientific inquiry model used on the popular television show, Mythbusters (CDN Version). Students consider statements provided by the teacher and, through the exploration of a variety of resources, determine whether the statements are fact or fiction. This strategy enables students to develop critical thinking, because they are required to examine and use evidence to support their claims.

Persuade Me (CDN Version) provides a framework to help students understand and use Toulmin’s Model of Argument. Using Toulmin’s six elements of a persuasive argument, students evaluate a media selection for the strength of its claim and evidence.


Strategies that help students take a systematic approach to solving problems

Concept Circles (CDN Version) helps students analyze and understand the relationships between content words and concepts. Students systematically use a circle organizer to define and discuss vocabulary and its relationship to content they are studying.

Think-Puzzle-Explore (CDN Version) activates students’ curiosity and engagement by encouraging them to engage in the inquiry process. By following the think-puzzle-explore steps sequentially, students are scaffolded into inquiry-based problem solving and investigation.

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