Critical Thinking Strategies for Elementary Students: 7 Exercises and 5 Activities to Help

Teaching students to think critically from an early age is essential. In order to excel in school and beyond, students need to learn and practice critical thinking skills.Being a critical thinker will aid students in making good decisions, both related to learning and to their personal lives. It will also be extremely helpful in helping them solve problems and overcome the various challenges that they are faced with.

Use these tips for your lessons

As teachers, we always hear a lot about how important it is to help our students learn to think critically. What I’ve noticed, however, is that teachers don’t get enough support with the “how” of actually teaching their students to become critical thinkers.

I would like to help you learn more about what you can do to help impart these essential skills on your students. Continue reading, and I’ll share:

5 Critical Thinking Games and Activities

The games and activities shared below are great for helping your students develop and fine tune their critical thinking skills.

1. The Barometer

This activity can help students see that there are more than simply two opinions for any given topic. For this activity, come up with a list of semi-controversial issues appropriate for the grade you teach. Some examples include giving students no homework, setting limits on screen time, removing specials or recess, etc.

Playing games is fun!

Then, label each side of the classroom with one of the two most extreme opinions related to the topic. Tell students that they need to place themselves on the continuum to designate where their opinion falls.In order for students to decide exactly where they should be standing, they’ll need to have discussions with other students to compare their opinions. This process will help expose them to the logic and reasoning that others are using to form their own opinions, even if they are different from those held by the student.

This could be an interesting lesson to record and reflect back on. You can discuss the different conversations students had with one another and how those conversations helped them decide where to stand.

2. Debating the Accuracy of a Globe vs a Map

This activity is ideal for older elementary school students studying geography. For the lesson, you can have students compare the relative sizes of Australia and Greenland on a map vs a globe. Then, discuss how one representation makes Greenland appear to be larger, and how the other makes Australia appear larger.

Debating sometimes helpful

Encourage students to think about why this difference in representation may occur. Then, have a classroom debate about which geography tool is more accurate and why.You may want to project a world map using your document camera and have a few different globes available for students to examine.

This video shows a teacher leading his students through this critical thinking exercise. Watch it to see the lesson in action and see one teacher’s approach to using it with his students.

Do you think your students could benefit from this lesson? How do you see using it in your classroom?

3. Media Bias Scavenger Hunt

This activity can be especially beneficial in today’s world. Students will need to identify media bias in news stories and separate fact from fictionFor this activity, provide students with a few different news stories and hoaxes. Students will need to conduct research and determine which of the stories are real news and which are simply made-up hoaxes.

Encourage students to find at least two legitimate sources to back up the stories they classify as real news. After students have completed their work, you can have them share the sources they found to back up each true story on your interactive whiteboard.

This video shares more about this critical thinking activity. You can also learn more about a few additional activities you may want to try with your students.

Do you think this activity will engage your students and help them enhance their critical thinking skills?

4. Brain Teasers

Brain teasers are an excellent way to help students improve their critical thinking skills. In order to solve a brain teaser, students need to combine information from multiple sources, consider their background knowledge, and think outside of the box.

You can use this video with a brain teaser about a rooster laying an egg on the roof of a barn with your students. It sets up the scenario and even helps explain the correct solution and why such a ‘simple’ solution is overlooked by many.

Were you able to come up with the correct solution to the brain teaser? Or, did the misdirection with all the unnecessary key details take your focus off the fact that roosters can’t lay eggs?

5. Take a Side

For this activity, students will need to choose one of two sides representing opposing views to a question. For example, you can ask students to agree or disagree to a statement about a text they have read.Students should stand on one side of the room to show their opinion. Then, you can call on different students to share their reasoning for selecting whether they agreed or disagreed with the question.

Can you prove your opinion?

After each student shares their rationale, provide an opportunity for students to switch to the other side of the room if they have changed their opinion.

Why Critical Thinking is Important

Critical thinking is important well beyond the school years. Students need to learn how to think critically and evaluate different options in order to make the right decision.Of course, these decisions could be related to academics, as with choosing the most logical answer to a question. However, critical thinking skills will also serve your students well as they grow older and need to decide about a future career, how to treat a friend, or even whether they should drink and drive.

Let's make our brain work

Everyone has inherent biases. Teaching critical thinking to your students will allow them to identify these biases and try to focus on the facts of a situation. It also helps remove some of the emotions from a decision and allows students to clearly see the different points of views of others.Of course, part of your job as a teacher is to prepare your students for the real world and life after school. This includes helping them gain the skills they’ll need to be a successful candidate.

Reading, writing, math, science, and other content areas are, of course, important. However, we don’t know exactly what technological advancements may be made before our students are ready to begin their first job.It is possible that they’ll be using different technologies and materials that haven’t even been invented yet. What we do know, however, is that critical thinking is a skill that can benefit them regardless of the exact position they end up in.

This ideo goes into more detail about why teaching critical thinking is important. You’ll also learn some information about how to start teaching critical thinking strategies to your students.

Do you agree that helping your students learn how to be critical thinkers is important? Are you ready to learn how to help them grow and thinking critically?

9 Strategies for Development of Critical Thinking

There are nine different critical thinking strategies for elementary students . You can use these with your students to help them improve on their critical thinking skills.

Use this strategies for your lessons

The nine strategies include:

  1. Questioning
  2. Visualization
  3. Point of View
  4. Mind mapping
  5. Fluency, flexibility, originality, elaboration
  6. Encapsulation
  7. Analogies
  8. Decisions and outcomes
  9. Plus, minus, and interesting (aspects of a given task/scenario)

To learn more about teaching critical thinking in the classroom, watch this short video. You’ll learn some of the different strategies that you can use with your students.

Finding ways to incorporate these critical thinking strategies into your daily lessons will help your students tremendously. You’ll be impressed with the growth you see in your students.

7 Critical Thinking Exercises for Elementary School

There are a number of exercises  and methods you can implement into your lessons to help your students improve on their critical thinking skills.Many of these exercises are probably things you are already doing.

Train your brain

Looking at them through the creative thinking lens can help you identify small tweaks and/or follow-up questions you can be asking your students to help them get the most from each exercise.

1. Asking Questions

Asking questions is important for letting students build on what they already know and apply their learning to a new scenario. Open-ended questions can be particularly beneficial for developing critical thinking skills.

Do you like asking questions?

2. Working in Groups

Working in a cooperative group will help students hear the varying ideas and opinions of their classmates. They’ll also learn that other ideas and solutions to a given problem, beyond their initial thoughts, are also feasible.

It's important to be able to work in group

3. Making Connections Between Various Ideas

By asking students to make connections between different ideas and scenarios, they will need to take what they already know and tweak their thinking to match the new scenario.

Socialization is necessary for children

4. Exploring Different Points of View

Discussing viewpoints different from their own, or those of characters in a text, is an excellent exercise for helping students develop critical thinking skills. It will help students learn that others may have different views from their own and that there are different reasons behind these views.

Let your dtudents express their opinions

5. Evaluating Options and Making a Decision

Presenting students with a problem or a complex question where they’ll have to weigh the benefits and drawbacks can also be helpful. Students will have to evaluate each option and make an informed decision about which is best.

Sometimes it's very hard to make a decision

6. Brainstorming

Brainstorming different ideas, answers, and solutions can also help develop critical thinking skills. Students will need to come up with different approaches and ideas and think outside the box.

Brainstorming can be useful for creating new ideas

7. Using Creativity

Providing students with time for creativity is also important. It gives students an opportunity to showcase their talents and develop something new and original.Watch this short video to learn more about critical thinking in the classroom. It shares some helpful ideas for teaching students think critically when faced with a problem or challenge.

As you can see, there are many different exercises and methods you can use in the classroom to help your students enhance their critical thinking skills.

Useful Resources :

Closing Words

I hope what I shared about critical thinking strategies for elementary students has been helpful. What are your favorite critical exercise and games that you’re ready to try out with your students? How do you think they’ll benefit from improving their critical thinking skills?

Simona Johnes
  1. Hi, thanks for the useful advice! I never thought that creativity can help develop critical thinking skills.But, what do you think are the main factors of developing student’s ability for critical thinking?

    • Hi! Well, I guess that one of the main factors is the teacher’s attitude to the student’s opinion. I think that it’s the teacher’s responsibility to make sure that kids are not afraid of sharing their opinions and that they feel respected.


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