Using Direct Instruction to Teach Critical Thinking & Evaluation

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Critical thinking is often one of those terms used to refer to a broad spectrum of skills. This lesson focuses on four areas where teachers can use instruction to foster critical thinking in their students.

Direct Instruction and Critical Thinking

Teaching is an art form. Each teacher has a unique way of designing instruction. However, at one time or another, all teachers must use direct instruction, which is a teacher-directed (teacher presents information) means of transferring knowledge to students. Direct instruction, often considered old-fashioned, is truly necessary in the classroom. They key is to be creative and engaging.

One skill that requires direct instruction is critical thinking. Critical thinking uses logic as a means to draw conclusions in order to reach a judgment. Critical thinking also includes creative problem solving abilities. This lesson centers on four areas for teaching critical thinking: familiarization, intra-group problem solving, inter-group problem solving, and independent problem solving.


When helping your students develop critical thinking skills, the first step is to help your students familiarize themselves with the topic, so that they have all of the information necessary to draw a conclusion. The familiarization process involves gathering information, gaining experience and testing out ideas.

Imagine you are a science teacher and have assigned a research paper on global warming. You should begin with teaching students basic research skills. For instance, explain the difference between a reliable and unreliable website, using real online examples.

One way to help students gain experience and familiarity with the topic is to introduce a variety of activities that help them process the information. Simply having a discussion in class about the topic of global warming, for example, can get them thinking about the topic. It can also be useful to use visuals, like graphic organizers, which are pictorial representations of information, like flow charts and diagrams. For the example on global warming, one method would be to have students create 3-D models of the process of global warming.

Use a diagram like this one on global warming and have students turn it into a 3D model
global warming

Lastly, teach your students how to test out their own ideas. As a class you can design an experiment to investigate one well-known theory on global warming. All of these ideas for instruction will help students learn to familiarize themselves with a topic before drawing conclusions or evaluating.

Intra-group Problem Solving

The second area for helping your students develop critical thinking skills involves using intra-group problem solving, which centers on learning through interactions with group members. Interacting with others helps them learn how to evaluate a wide variety of ideas in order to come to the best solution.

In your classroom, an effective intra-group activity is a formal debate. Assign a group of 5-6 students to each side of an argument. An example could be one group arguing that global warming is destroying our environment, while the other argues the opposite. This type of classroom activity not only encourages working as a cohesive group, but also relies heavily on critical thinking and making judgments. Students will learn to support their ideas with evidence in order to win the debate.

Your classroom debates probably will not be this formal

These kinds of group activities allow for each member of the group to use critical thinking in order to conclude which ideas are best. If you do not have the capacity to do a formal debate, another idea is to use small groups for competitions. You can give each group some sort of problem to solve, like a puzzle or riddle. Then each group has a limited time to share ideas and try to solve it. In this way, students will use critical thinking in a fun and engaging activity.

Inter-group Problem Solving

The next area for developing critical thinking skills is inter-group problem solving, which involves one group working with another group. Design groups with differing objectives, as this will promote teamwork and compromise. Again, a variety of ideas will be shared, and students will use critical thinking in order to draw a conclusion about the best way to achieve their goal.

Let's return to the global warming issue. To use inter-group problem solving, divide your class into several small groups with the ultimate objective of solving the problem of global warming. Assign each group a role, like the car industry, government officials, U.S. citizens, and environmentalists. Each group will have their own agenda and goals they want to accomplish, but all groups have to work together as a class to come to a solution to global warming. The students will have to learn to synthesize all the perspectives and come to some sort of compromise or solution.

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