Critical Thinking Skills in Writing for ELL Students

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

Learning to write well involves many different components, some of which are overlooked. This lesson focuses on providing teachers with strategies and techniques on how to provide ELLs (English Language Learners) with critical thinking skill in writing.

A Class Full of Thinkers

Regardless of the age of your learners, critical thinking skills can always be developed and fostered. When it comes to ELLs (English Language Learners), the growth of critical thinking skills can be challenging because these students must also incorporate a deeper level of language comprehension. Broaching this topic with ELLs is perhaps most effectively accomplished step-by-step and with the goal of creating measurable achievements.

It can be helpful to begin by clearly explaining each critical thinking technique before allowing students to practice. While it may not be possible to incorporate all of the following topics, you can use this list as a starting point.

  • Personal observations
    • Personal observations can be a valuable critical thinking tool for students in a number of ways. First of all, observation allows students to focus on what they already know and thus doesn't require significant research or prior knowledge. Additionally, when observations are used to support critical thinking, students may be able to more clearly express personal ideas and opinions.
  • Evaluating facts
    • Factual information, including statistics, can help students bolster their claims and conclusions. Explain to students that the facts they use must be both relevant and timely. ELLs sometimes have a tendency to use the first factual information they come across without viewing the information critically. This can be avoiding by ensuring students are using contemporary and appropriate resources. If possible, provide students with a list of suitable resources and instruct them on effective research techniques.
  • Using Persuasion
    • Creating a persuasive argument in English can be particularly difficult for ELLs because of the nuanced grammar and diction that persuasion can require. Providing examples of persuasive language for your students can help them visualize how this technique can strengthen the critical thinking aspects of a piece of writing. Editorials and argumentative essays can be a good resource for this type of writing. The use of emotional imagery, voice, and tone can also aid the development of critical thinking skills because these aspects can affect the reader in a more personal manner than facts alone.
  • Applying Reason
    • Reasoning is a skill that can take years to develop. However, ELLs can utilize this skill by using reason to build basic arguments. One of the advantages of using reason as a method to demonstrate critical thinking is that reasoning is often a combination of observations, facts, and persuasion. The main questions students should ask themselves when using reason include why, how, and what? More specifically:
      • Why am I using this information?
      • How does this information support my writing?
      • What value or effectiveness does my reasoning bring to my writing?
    • If students can answer the above questions confidently, they are more likely to produce writing that uses the strengths of critical thinking to convey ideas and opinions.

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