Critical thinking skills development in teaching english to efl students

Who are critical thinkers?

They are learners who develop a mental and communicative process about grammar, discourse, strategic (negotiation of meaning), and social-cultural competence in order to reach the target language. Critical thinkers interact to use the language target progress more rapidly through habitual practices and oral interaction as much as possible.

What is Critical Thinking?

“Critical thinking is the identification and evaluation of evidence to guide decision making. A critical thinker uses broad in-depth analysis of evidence to make decisions and communicate his/her beliefs clearly and accurately.” According to Edward Glaser (1941) “the ability to think critically involves: a) an attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one´s experiences; b) the knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning; c) some skill in applying those methods.

Which skills are developed through critical thinking?

Among the skills of critical thinking we can mention:

  • Analyzing;
  • Reasoning;
  • Evaluating;
  • Problem solving;
  • Decision Making.

Critical thinking is the process of actively analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing information gathered from a variety of sources, using a framework designed to lend structure and clarity to the thinking process. Students use their background knowledge, as well as information gathered from other sources, to draw their own conclusions. One of the challenges when teaching critical thinking skills to English language learners (ELLs) is helping them develop adequate background knowledge and adequate vocabulary to support this type of higher order thinking.

At each educational level, thinking must be practiced in each content field. This means hard work for the teacher. It's much easier to teach students to memorize facts and then assess them with multiple-choice tests. In a course that emphasizes thinking, objectives must include application and analysis, divergent thinking, and opportunities to organize ideas and support value judgments. When more teachers recognize that the facts they teach today will be replaced by the discoveries of tomorrow, the content-versus-process controversy may be resolved. As McMillen (1986) noted, "It really boils down to whether teachers are creating an environment that stimulates critical inquiry."

Through the use of critical activities students can also learn how to reach to conclusions, and selfassess their performance in class Interactive classes could be the major factor for the development of critical thinking. Based on Bruffee (1984) ideas, people who think well must first have the ability to communicate well and reason within a learning community. Therefore, group work, pair work and project work are the processes that enable our students becoming critical thinkers. As well they also develop collaborative strategies that give them the opportunity to participate effectively and listen or accept others´ ideas.

Which are critical thinkers competences?

Critical thinking calls for the ability to:

  • Recognize problems, to find means for meeting those problems.
  • Understand the importance of prioritization in problem solving.
  • Gather pertinent and relevant information.
  • Recognize unstated assumptions and values.
  • Comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discernment.
  • Interpret data and evaluate arguments.
  • Recognize the existence of logical relationships between propositions.
  • Draw conclusions and generalizations.
  • Put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives.
  • Reconstruct one’s patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience.
  • Render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life.

So, the above mentioned points are theory. How does theory go with practice in our region and country?

The first thing most new EFL teachers in Kazakhstan discover when they begin to teach English is the lack of critical thinking skills of the most students. The teacher writes information on the board and the students copy it, memorize it and regurgitate it on the next exam. Consequently, many Kazakhstan students do not have problem-solving or critical thinking skills, both of which are necessary if they are to compete in the modern world. For any EFL teacher to be successful in Kazakhstan and to really help their students learn, they must teach critical thinking and problem solving skills, and here are some great ways to start. Strategies for integrating the four skills in the development of critical thinking.

Begin With Reading When beginning to teach critical thinking skills to EFL students in Kazakhstan who do not have them, you should not begin with something too challenging or something that requires them to bring their own already-though-out opinions or information to class. Instead, begin with a reading exercise. Read a passage in an English book out loud, and then have your students read it out loud themselves. Then discuss it. The topic of teaching students to think while reading-critical reading-should be central to any discussion of thinking skills, in part because the reading of textbooks plays such a prominent role in the content fields. Critical reading has been defined as learning to evaluate, draw inferences and arrive at conclusions based on the evidence (Zintz and Maggart, 1984).

One method that promotes critical reading involves the use of news media in the class. Newspapers, magazines, television, and radio can motivate students to develop critical listening and reading skills. Differing accounts and editorials can be compared as a way of helping students read with a questioning attitude. Students can construct their own arguments for discussion or publication in student newspapers. In the process, they become more discriminating consumers of news media, advertising, and entertainment.

During this activity students need to organize pieces from a story in the correct order; they will make up a title for it as well as write a new ending. This exercise provides students the opportunity to think logically, to solve problems and relate the events to their own previous experiences.

Socratic thinking: it is a process of questioning hypothetical problems so thinking would be triggered, the idea is to challenge students to answer questions analysis between facts and assumptions and get to the best possible solution according to the situation.

Think Out-of–the-box: make students draw a specified number of dots and then tell them to join the dots making creative figures with a determined number of lines.

What if you were: make students imagine and characterize a person, who could be a famous are popular one. Give a student a hypothetical event and ask them to react as if they were that know person. These kind of activities will help students understand others reactions and think in different ways.

This article is intended to help teachers who are interested in developing and encouraging critical thought in their language classrooms. First I will explain briefly how I define critical thinking and why I feel it is important, relevant, and highly applicable to the EFL/ ESL teaching context. Then I will look briefly at what I feel are two key elements teachers interested in this topic should keep in mind. The majority of this article however, is given over to an analysis of three classroom techniques which I feel teachers in most any circumstance or situation can begin to use almost immediately. I have tried to focus on techniques which I think help students to focus on the real world around them and which teachers may make use of even with limited resources.

Simple Debate Skills While a debate might seem like a huge challenge for EFL students just learning about critical thinking and problem solving I've often discovered, if it's kept at a simple level and about a subject they're interested in, it's usually quite successful and students have a blast.

This miniature guide focuses on of the essence of critical thinking concepts and tools distilled into pocket size. For faculty it provides a shared concept of critical thinking. For students it is a critical thinking supplement to any textbook for any course. Faculty can use it to design instruction, assignments, and tests in any subject. Students can use it to improve their learning in any content area. Its generic skills apply to all subjects. For example, critical thinkers are clear as to the purpose at hand and the question at issue. They question information, conclusions, and points of view. They strive to be clear, accurate, precise, and relevant. They seek to think beneath the surface, to be logical, and fair. They apply these skills to their reading and writing as well as to their speaking and listening. They apply them in history, science, math, philosophy, and the arts; in professional and personal life. When this guide is used as a supplement to the textbook in multiple courses, students begin to perceive the usefulness of critical thinking in every domain of learning. And if their instructors provide examples of the application of the subject to daily life, students begin to see that education is a tool for improving the quality of their lives. If you are a student using this miniguide, get in the habit of carrying it with you to every class. Consult it frequently in analyzing and synthesizing what you are learning. Aim for deep internalization of the principles you find in it until using them becomes second nature. If successful, this guide will serve faculty, students, and the educational program simultaneously.

Critical Thinking Skills in Writing As critical thinking skills are vital at the university level in the west, and becoming more important in Asian universities, it's important that Asian students can apply critical thinking and problem solving skills to essays they write.

Teaching critical thinking to EFL students in Asia is often as simple as asking your students what their opinions are and then pushing them on what they think so that they think deeper and their critical thinking skills become more developed. In keeping with the current emphasis on writing across the curriculum, composition and rhetoric scholars stress the teaching of thinking through writing. Elbow (1983) has presented a two-step writing process called first-order and second-order thinking. For the first order thinking, he recommends freewriting. So it means an unplanned, free-association type of heuristic writing designed to help students discover what they think about a topic. The freewriting technique produces conceptual insights. Elbow asked students to write a few incidents that came to mind without careful thinking. This resulted in more intuitive, creative thinking. Elbow cautions that the reflective scrutiny of second-order thinking is a necessary follow-up of free writing. In this stage, the writer examines inferences and prejudices and strives for logic and control.

Most students in Kazakhstan do have opinions and critical thinking skills, and can develop problem solving skills if the student themselves is treated as having something valuable to add to the discussion and is actually asked what their opinion is (in Kazakhstan, they're usually not even asked).

Critical thinking is an important and vital topic in modern education. It is a sophisticated process which includes skills, dispositions and met cognition. Critical thinking is disciplined, self-directed, reasonable and reflective thinking that one performs when deciding what to believe or do.

All educators are interested in teaching critical thinking to their students. Many academic departments expect their professors and instructors to be well informed about the strategy of teaching critical thinking skills, identify areas in one’s courses as the proper place to emphasize and teach critical thinking, and develop and use some problems in exams that test students’ critical thinking skills. The urgent need to teach thinking skills at all levels of education continues. But we should not rely on special courses and texts to do the job. Instead, every teacher should create an atmosphere where students are encouraged to read deeply, question, engage in divergent thinking, look for relationships among ideas, and grapple with real life issues.

A well-known fact is that students during their learning years do not achieve sufficient language skills to understand lectures, comprehend texts books, participate in class discussions or generate an accurate written work. The development of met cognitive strategies can help them organize, plan and make decisions about their own learning. This development is, of course, teachers´ responsibility to get acquired by the use of new strategies, so students will be expected to think, to communicate and to continue their learning by themselves in and outside the classroom.

As a teacher, it does not matter whoever you are a primary school teacher or a high school teacher or a university teacher, we should enclose these different type of critical thinking skills, because we need talented and gifted people in the future. These people will make our life easier and give us fruitful activities and works.

Focusing Skills

Focusing skills come into play when an individual senses a problem, an issue, or a lack of meaning. Focusing skills enable him or her to attend to selected pieces of information and ignore others. The two focusing skills we chose to include in this framework, defining problems and setting goals, are often use dearly in a thinking process, but that also be used at any time during a task to clarify or verify something or to redefine or refocus one's efforts. Focusing skills may also be used at the end of problem solving, comprehending, or other processes as a way of establishing "next steps."

Defining Problems

This may include asking and answering such questions as:

What is a statement of the problem? Who has the problem? What arc some examples of it? By when must it be solved? What makes it a problem? Or, why must it be solved? These questions help the learner identify the "problem space" or boundaries of the problem as well as clarify its nature (Newell & Simon, 1972).

Giving some attention to defining problems is crucial when the problem is ill-defined or unstructured, such as finding ways to conserve eroding soil or determining the reasons for behaviors of the a laractersin Lord of the Flies; however, the same questions are important even with well-structured problems such as how to if lance a car (Frederiksen, 1984). Defining problems is important not only in problem solving but also in many of the other processes, such as scientific inquiry.

Key Concepts and Issues Once a problem has been "found" most research on problem solving emphasizes the importance of clarifying the situation early in the process, but students tend to ignore this step, perhaps because of the way problem solving is taught (Bransford, Sherwood, Rieser,& Vye, 1986). For example, students are often given problems for practice that are not of real significance to them. A page of story problems theta nothing but computational exercises in sentence form can be solved simply by changing the sentences into computational algorithms. To ask the question "W I lose problem is it?" would seem strange and pointless in this situation. Such exercises are appropriate for practicing computation, but they do very little to help students apply mathematics to solve realworld problems.

Indeed, many situations call for "problem finding" recognizing a problem when there appears to be none. For example, students do not always recognize that their writing cannot be understood by their intended audience. They pro-duce writing that only they can understand (writer -based prose)and express surprise when a reader is confused. As part of writing instruction, teachers need to help students discover that taking the reader's point of view is indeed a real problem and that solving it requires definition and clarification.

Strategies A general principle for teaching students to define problems is to begin with problems that are clearly structured and then move to more unstructured problems. The problemdefining questions listed above can be used to guide the discussion. A discussion of the national debt a complex, familiar, unstructured problem might be preceded by discussion of something simpler and more familiar, such as a personal debt. Such questions can lead students to define a problem more carefully, to change or reshape a problem, or even to reassess whether a situation is a problem in the first place. Equally important, applying these questions to familiar problems helps students link the new information to prior knowledge.

Comments on Classroom Applications A key issue for most skills in this chapter is whether or not students benefit from isolated skills instruction. Is it useful to teach defining problems as an end in itself? While many thinking skills programs attempt to do that, there is considerable debate among researchers about whether generic skills instruction helps students to solve ob lessen the content areas.



  1. Critical thinking skills by Alec Fisher
  2. Handbook for teachers University of CAMBRIDGE Faculty of Education
  3. Incorporating Critical Thinking Skills Development into ESL/EFL Courses. Andy Halvorsen halvora [at] seattleu. edu Polytechnic University (Tirana, Albania)
  4. Generating Questions: Using Critical Thinking Skills By: Liz Fothergrill (2006)
  5. Performance more by Reza Gholami
  6. The Impact of Teaching Critical Thinking on Intermediate EFL Learners' Writing Skill Nacim Shangarffam Faculty Member at Islamic Azad University, Central Tehran Branch Department of English Teaching, Tehran, Iran Maryam Mamipour Islamic Azad University, Central Tehran Branch Department of English Teaching, Tehran, Iran
Year: 2013
City: Almaty
Category: Philology