Encouraging Critical Thinking: Activities and Approaches to Foster Higher-Order Thinking Skills

Thinking Skills

There are certain non-negotiable 21st-century skills that every student, professional, and individual must possess to remain relevant. One such is critical thinking, a skill that helps students think rationally and logically to arrive at a plausible conclusion. Many benefits come with being a critical thinker, which can be to one’s personal life, academics, and career. Moreover, critical thinking empowers a person to consider different angles to a problem and develop a practical solution.

As a student, being a critical thinker gives you an edge over your classmates, making you the best in class. You could be the go-to expert for junior students or even your coursemates looking to hire a nerd to help with schoolwork. The best part is that anyone can have this skill; you just need to engage in exercises to enhance it. Therefore, this article will give you seven activities and exercises that can foster critical thinking skills.

1. Explaining Problems to Others

Studies have shown that students learn and retain lessons better when they teach others what they have learned. Meanwhile, before you can tackle and solve a problem, you must first understand it. You can test that out by explaining the problem to someone else; if they understand, then you can find a solution. Therefore, next time you have a problem, try discussing it with a colleague; that’s one way to develop critical thinking skills.

2. Use the Ladder of Inference Model

The Ladder of Inference model was created by Chris Argyris, a renowned organizational psychologist; it aids in problem-solving. Essentially, the ladder of inference represents a step you take in a decision-making process to arrive at conclusions. This tool can be very helpful in framing your thinking as it encourages you to examine each thought process and avoid making assumptions.

For example, you saw a friend at a party and wave, but they turned and walked away instead. Naturally, you would make a series of inferences that leave you with the conclusion that your friend is mad at you. However, the ladder of inference helps you examine each step of your thought process to see that your friend probably didn’t see you.

3. Inversion

Inversion is like becoming the devil’s advocate, a critical thinking exercise you can use in any situation. This exercise is all about considering and adopting the view of the opposite side regarding the issue you’re exploring. By considering the other side’s potential arguments, you can see other perspectives clearly, thus broadening your critical thinking skills.

For example, If you’re considering starting a business, the inversion method lets you explore all the pitfalls. This may include concerns like you ending up in debt, the amount of work involved, the business failing, or you becoming too involved. Exploring adverse outcomes may seem like sabotaging yourself, but it helps you identify potential risks. Then, you can decide whether it’s a risk you can take or if you should prepare better to deal with the issues when they arise.

4. Weigh Opinions against Facts

A valuable way to acquire critical thinking skills is by engaging in activities that focus on opinions as well as facts. These activities are particularly valuable to new learning opportunities and train your mind to ask questions when presented with new claims. First, know how to differentiate facts from opinions: facts are established and objective, while opinions are unproven and subjective. For example, it’s a fact that there are 365 days a year, but how a dress looks on someone is an opinion.

You can practice and polish these skills by listening to the news and reading credible information sources. Then, try and see if you can identify whether what you’re hearing is a fact or an opinion. The more you do this, the better you will get at thinking critically about the information you’re digesting. Also, you learn to question everything you hear before you accept it as truth.

5. The Five-Whys Technique

When faced with a difficult problem, the five-whys technique is an analytical skill that has often proven effective. It involves repeatedly asking why when encountering a problem to determine what caused it. However, it can be difficult to know when you’ve discovered the source of your challenge, which makes this exercise difficult. Meanwhile, your questions don’t have to be five; that’s just a guideline – they can be more or less.

6. Argument Mapping

Another way to enhance one’s critical thinking skills is argument mapping, a visual representation of the structure of an argument. This technique helps you analyze and evaluate existing ideas and create new ones. Argument mapping or diagramming can be an effective way to build a mental schema for argument structure, making critical evaluation easier.

Argument maps consist of three elements:

  • The conclusion,
  • Premises, and
  • Inferences.

The conclusion outlines the argument, the premises supply the reasons supporting the conclusion, and the inferences are connections made between the premises and the conclusion.

At the end of the mapping, identify weak points in the argument and add additional premises to areas that are not well supported. Consistently engaging in this exercise will leave you with critical and creative thinking skills, helping you make more informed decisions.

7. Engage the Six Thinking Hats

Edward de Bono designed this exercise that helps enhance one’s critical thinking skills: the six thinking hats. They include the red, white, black, green, blue, and yellow hats – each one serving different functions;

  • The red hat, intuitive, focuses on emotion and instinct,
  • The white hat, objective, focuses on logic and facts,
  • The black hat, cautious, predicts adverse outcomes,
  • The green hat, creative, comes with a little criticism but many ideas,
  • The blue hat, the control hat, facilitates organization and management,
  • The yellow hat, optimistic, encourages positive outcomes.

With these six thinking hats on, you can create solutions and make decisions in less time than you would without. If you’re working with a group, each team will have a different hat; it is even more effective this way.


Developing critical thinking skills requires consistent, diligent, and regular practice; it doesn’t happen overnight. In every situation you find yourself, engage in some critical thinking to improve your ability to analyze information. Thinking critically has many benefits, including increased expertise in your field and competitiveness in the knowledge economy. Furthermore, critical thinking equals greater creativity, enhanced problem-solving, and independence, which makes you prime for a leadership position.

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