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40 Activities For Developing Critical Thinking in EFL Classes

In this article, I’m going to tackle critical thinking; what it is, what it involves, and some practical activities to develop it in EFL classes.

Critical thinking is one of the main purposes of education. Teachers should prepare their students to think critically from the first day of school. Critical thinking helps students to lead successful, fulfilling lives and become engaged citizens.

What Is Meant By Critical Thinking?

In today’s world, critical thinking is:

  • The ability to think about one’s thinking to recognize and improve it.
  • The process of applying, analyzing, constructing and evaluating information.
  • Making reasoned judgments using certain criteria to judge the quality of something.

What Critical Thinking Involves?

  • Asking questions,
  • Defining a problem,
  • Examining evidence,
  • Analyzing assumptions and biases,
  • Avoiding emotional reasoning,
  • Avoiding oversimplification,
  • Considering all interpretations,
  • Using higher level thinking skills; analyzing, evaluating and
  • Reaching creative solutions for problems.

Why Teach Critical Thinking?

Teachers should focus mainly to develop their students’ critical thinking to help them:  

  • Be active receptors of the massive information that they receive nowadays.
  • Solve the complex problems that they face every day.
  • Make sound decisions about personal and civic affairs.

The Main Teaching Strategies To Develop Critical Thinking

  • Using ongoing classroom assessment.
  • Putting students in group learning situations to get continuous support and feedback from other students.
  • Presenting case studies to the class without a conclusion and using discussion and debate methods.
  • Using critical questions.
  • Using dialogues written or oral and encouraging students to analyze them.
  • Using comparisons to show the pros and cons of two things.

Example #1 of a Critical Thinking Activity

Using debates

Letter x Email

Broom x Vacuum cleaner

Map x GPS

Telephone (landline) x Cell phone

Oven x Microwave

Sponge and soap x Dishwasher

Candle x Bulb

Book x Kindle

1. Ask the class who, in their own opinion, wins and why?

2. Ask students to pretend to be the item that they choose, try to list its advantages, and debate them with the other student.

3. Ask students to act out what they prepared in front of the class.

4.  Ask the class to listen and take notes.

Example #2 of a Critical Thinking Activity

Using short stories

Ask students to read the following short story and answer the questions below:

Just before Christmas my father took me skiing at Mount Baker. He’d had to fight for the privilege of my company, because my mother was still angry with him for sneaking me into a nightclub during his last visit, to see Thelonious Monk.

Questions:

  • Write an introduction to this short story.
  • Write the second paragraph.
  • Do you think they stayed up all night in the nightclub? What did they do?
  • What do you think about the father?
  • Do you think the family enjoyed Christmas?
  • If you were the mother, would you be angry?
  • What did you learn from the story?
  • Can you guess the best/worst case scenario of how the story will end?
  • Why did the father take the kid to the nightclub?
  • Do you think the mother wanted to go to the nightclub?
  • Do you like such a father?
  • Do you think the dad lives with the family?
  • What are the feelings of the kid?
  • Do you think the kid has siblings?
  • Did the kid solve the problem with his mother?
  • What would you do if you were in his/her shoes?
  • How old is he or she?
  • Where do they live? Country or town?
  • Do you think the kid is good at school?
  • Why did the father sneak the kid into the nightclub?
  • Do you think the mother was right when she got angry?
  • What do you think of the dad?
  • Should the kid apologize to the mother and how?
  • Does the father accompany his kid often or rarely?
  • What do you think happened before Christmas?
  • Why did the father not take the mother along? …. etc.

When asking students such critical thinking questions, the teacher should:

  • Keep the discussion focused.
  • Keep the discussion reasonable.
  • Stimulate the discussion with more probing questions.
  • Summarize periodically what has and what has not been dealt with or resolved.
  • Engage as many students as possible in the discussion.

More Examples of Activities For Developing Critical Thinking in EFL Classes

3. Write a title on the board, divide the students into groups, and they sit together and make a story (each group will have a different story and then share it with the whole class).

4. Use a short story, ask students about their opinions of the characters, then discuss with the whole class whether they agree or disagree asking why?

5. Draw objects and ask them about them (compare and contrast).

6. Write an essay on a certain topic or respond to an email.

7. Suggest a suitable title for a story.

8. Transfer information to others

9. Brainstorm ideas using a mind map.

10. Summarize a text and give opinions.

11. Ask what-if questions (what if you were Oliver twist/Cinderella).

12. Ask students to complete a sentence.

13. Ask about the moral of a story.

14. Give students a problem related to their environment and ask them to do research about it and give some creative solutions for it.

15. Ask open-ended questions; questions that have many possible answers (e.g. should we spend more money developing earth or exploring space?). Divide the class into groups, each thinks of answers and then shares them.

16. Give a situation and encourage students (in groups) to analyze, evaluate, and make judgments.

17. Ask students to make an end to a story.

18. Ask students to criticize a certain situation.

19. List the advantages and disadvantages of a topic.

20. Introduce some situations using (what would you do in the following situation? what if we do not have …., what would happen if …?

21. Ask students: which is different: milk, water, soda, or juice? Why? Which one is better (in pairs and students pick different sides)

22. Imagine you are the president, the mayor, a leader, a doctor etc… What decisions would you take first?

Reading Activities

Let’s brainstorm some ideas of how to promote critical thinking after reading a story, e.g. “Cinderella”.

23. Analyze characters: Do you like “Character”? Why?

24. Use what-if questions: What if Cinderella was ugly?

25. Introduce or remove a character then ask for the impact on the storyline.

26. Ask for another ending for the story.

27. Ask for their thoughts about what’s after the ending.

28. Change the setting and ask for the results.

29. Ask students to watch the movie after reading the story and then compare the characters and the storyline!

Speaking activities

30. Ask students to look at a certain picture and describe their feelings about it.

31. Ask students to compare things.

32. Introduce a problem and ask students to give as many solutions as possible for it.

33. Ask students to gather information from conflicting resources.

34. Ask controversial questions.

35. Encourage Role Plays.

36. Ask students about their priority: education/health/entertainment and why?

Listening activities

37. Prediction.

38. Making inferences.

39. Drawing conclusions.

40. Differentiating between facts and opinions.

Writing Activities

41. Writing blurbs to pictures or ads … etc.

42. Writing Commentaries.

43. Responding to emails, letters or SMS.

Final Word

For setting students up for success in critical thinking activities teachers need to:

  • Brainstorm enough information before asking students to carry out a certain task.
  • Encourage them to participate.
  • Provide them with help and guidance (when needed).
  • Assure them that there are no “wrong answers”.
  • Accept all answers and points of view.
  • Appreciate their efforts.
  • Praise their trials.
  • Teach them critical thinking skills!

Here are some critical thinking skills that students need to learn:

  • Thinking outside the box.
  • Asking questions and then questioning answers.
  • Analyzing the reading or the listening text.
  • Logically addressing an issue.
  • Supporting their stance with evidence.
  • Respectfully refuting others’ opinions.
  • Evaluating the truth of a claim or argument.

Adapted from U.S. Department of State English Language Programs – Samar Aal

Thanks for Reading

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