Thinking Classrooms: How To Promote Critical Thinking In Class

The Thinking Classroom is an approach to teaching that prioritizes the development of students’ critical thinking skills. In this type of classroom, the teacher acts as a facilitator rather than a traditional lecturer. Students are encouraged to actively engage with the material and collaborate with their peers.

The key to a Thinking Classroom is to focus on the process of learning rather than simply the acquisition of knowledge. This means that teachers must create opportunities for students to think critically, solve problems, and reflect on their learning.

We’ve rounded up the 14 practices of a Thinking Classroom below. 

thinking classroom

What are the 14 Practices of a Thinking Classroom?

The fourteen principles of a Thinking Classroom are designed to promote a classroom environment that encourages critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration. 

Here’s a summary of each principle to help teachers create an engaging and effective learning environment:

1. Classroom Culture of Thinking

Create a classroom culture that values thinking, learning, and intellectual development. Start with thinking tasks that are separate from your curriculum. This eases the transition to everyday thinking classroom activities. It’s hard for students to think deeper and for longer periods, so this transition should be gradual. You can start with non-curricular tasks as an ice breaker at the beginning of the school year.

2. Opportunities to Think in Groups

Provide opportunities for students to think and engage in meaningful group learning experiences. The Thinking Classroom practices emphasize “visibly random groups” that change frequently. This reduces social anxiety in the group and decreases communication barriers. 

3. Vertical and Non-permanant Workspaces

You may have noticed that the traditional method of having students sit at their desks and take notes is only sometimes the best way to promote active thinking in your classroom. Recent research has shown that students are more engaged and productive when standing and working on vertical non-permanent surfaces (VNPSs) like whiteboards, blackboards, or windows. The fact that the surface is non-permanent encourages risk-taking and experimentation, while the vertical orientation prevents students from disengaging. 

4. Room Layout

Research has shown that traditional, front-facing classrooms promote passive learning. At the same time, a more flexible, de-fronted setup—where students are free to face any direction—can be much more effective in promoting active thinking and engagement. So when designing your classroom layout, it’s essential to consider how the physical space can support the learning you want to see.

5. Answer Questions that Promote Thinking

You answer hundreds of questions each day in class. But not all of the questions encourage your students to keep thinking. Here are the common types:

  • Proximity questions: Questions students ask because you’re close by and convenient.
  • Stop-thinking questions: Questions students ask so they can mark a task complete. (i.e., Is this right?)
  • Keep-thinking questions: Questions that help them along, so they can continue working through a task.

Answer only questions that keep students thinking.

6. Give Tasks in the Right Manner

Give tasks early in class while students are standing around a teacher. Give verbal tasks, and avoid visual cues that promote passive learning. This differs from the traditional manner of giving examples from the textbook or a worksheet.  

7. Homework

Stop giving homework and instead give students opportunities to check their understanding. Make it optional so students can freely engage with authentic practice. 

8. Promote Student Autonomy

As step 5 outlines, don’t solve problems for students. Let them struggle so they build confidence in their independence. This may mean asking a peer for help or looking around the room for a hint. When students are on their own, they take ownership of their learning. 

9. Give Support So Students Can Learn at Their Own Pace

Encourage students to learn at their own pace by creating hints, extensions, and practice that meets them where they are in their learning. This is different from the typical guided practice that occurs in most classrooms. 

10. Consolidate Lessons

Consolidation is crucial to help students combine different parts of a task or activity and ultimately form a more comprehensive understanding of the concept taught. Traditionally, teachers have relied on methods like showing, telling, or explaining to help students achieve their learning objectives.

In a thinking classroom, consolidation takes a different approach. Instead of relying on teacher-led instruction, consolidation works upward from the basic foundation of a concept. By drawing on the student work produced during their thinking on a common set of tasks, teachers can help students develop a deeper understanding of the concept.

To facilitate this process, teachers should provide open-ended questions, encourage peer-to-peer discussions, or engage in activities that allow students to explore and experiment with the concept taught.

11. Give Students Autonomy Over Notes

Only one in five students review their notes again after taking them in class. Give students the option of choosing which notes to take while learning. They are more likely to refer back to notes later.

12. Evaluate Values That Matter Most

If you want your students to participate, take risks, and persevere in the classroom, you should incorporate these values into evaluations. Assessment should go beyond curriculum knowledge. 

13. Bring Students into Formative Assessment

Your students need to understand where they are and where they need to be with their learning. This means that they need to be a partner in formative assessment. Like students taking the lead over homework, they need to take the lead on owning their success in formative assessment. 

14. Assessment Needs to Connect to an Outcome

Use assessments that measure and value thinking and understanding, not just rote memorization. This may look like standards-based grading. Students need to understand what they know and don’t know after they complete an assessment.

By implementing these principles, teachers can create a dynamic and engaging classroom that promotes deep learning and helps students develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills they need to succeed in school and beyond.

TeacherMade helps teachers infuse technology into their Thinking Classrooms.

TeacherMade does more than convert PDFs into online activities. Teachers use TeacherMade to promote critical thinking skills. You can incorporate the Thinking Classroom practices with TeacherMade:

  • Every TeacherMade assignment is a non-permanent surface. Students can complete assignments again and again until they have reached mastery. 
  • Create a culture of practice rather than homework and worksheets. With TeacherMade, you can choose to grade or not grade assignments. Students can complete practice as many times as they need.
  • TeacherMade supports asynchronous learning so that students can learn at their own pace.
  • Students are more involved with formative assessment when they receive instant feedback via auto-grading. 
  • You can leave feedback, hints, and notes so that students fully understand their assessment results.