Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community

2-Minute Mentor: Critical Thinking

Critical thinking

  • How can I foster critical thinking in my courses?
  • How might students demonstrate critical thinking skills?
  • How can I help students understand the importance of evidence?


Click below to watch CTE’s 2-Minute Mentor video on this topic:

video platform video management video solutionsvideo player

Critical Thinking video transcript (doc)


Seven ways to facilitate creative and/or critical thinking

1. Idea generation and prioritization.

List possible:

  • ways to verify a calculated value, derived formula
  • uses for a specified object, a product
  • ways to improve a process, product, experiment, procedure
  • real-world applications of a theory, formula
  • flaws in a proposed design or procedure
  • benefits of doing something differently from how it is normally done

Then select the top three items on your list in decreasing order of their probable importance, and justify your selection.

2. Explain unexpected results. In Part (a) of this problem, you calculated that the cantilever support should fail when the applied load reaches 5.5x104 N. Suppose a test is run and the support fails at a load of only 2.1x104 N. List at least 10 possible reasons, including three or more that involve assumptions made in the calculation. Number the top three reasons on your list in decreasing order of their likelihood, and justify your selection.

3. Problem formulation. "Make up and solve a problem involving material covered in the past two weeks of this course. If your problem requires only simple formula substitution and contains no errors, you will get a minimum passing grade. To get more credit, your problem should require high-level analysis or critical or creative thinking to solve." Formulating the problem requires creative thinking, and determining whether or not it meets your criteria calls for critical thinking. Before you give the first such assignment, show in class several examples of poorly constructed and low-level problems and examples of well-constructed problems that meet your criteria.

4. Select from among alternatives. Following are (two strategies for solving a given problem, four alternative process or product designs, four possible explanations of given observations or experimental data). Select the best one and justify your choice.

5. Analyze. Assign a complex open-ended problem, with the first task being to determine whether enough information is available to get a solution, and if it isn't, to figure out what more is needed and how to find it. Another analysis problem involves an ethical dilemma. The following scenario describes the case of (an employee who learns about an illegal activity that involved his supervisor; a graduate student who discovers that her research advisor altered experimental data). List and discuss possible courses of action and make and justify a recommendation.

6. Critique. Read and critique the attached (article from a popular scientific journal, op-ed column in yesterday's paper, transcript of a speech or interview). Your critique should include an evaluation of the accuracy and persuasiveness of the opinions expressed and should identify stated and hidden assumptions, misleading statements, and inaccurate and unproven claims.

7. Grade. A student who took this course last year submitted the attached (project report, design, essay). Give it a grade and summarize your reasoning.

Whichever technique you use, there's a good chance students have never done anything like it before. Give them a clear idea of what you are looking for. A good way to do that is to show several successful and unsuccessful examples of student work. 

After several such exercises they will have a better sense of what you want them to do, and most should do reasonably well on their first attempts and much better thereafter. By the end of your course they may not all be complete critical thinkers, but they will have taken a big step in that direction.


The information above is adapted from the post "Thinking Creatively and Critically" on Tomorrow’s Professor.


More about critical thinking

The following links provide more information related to critical thinking:

These portfolios in the CTE Gallery illustrate the use of critical thinking:

^Back to top^

News & Notes

See how CTE is leading the shift to flexible teaching at KU.

Visit the Flex Teaching sitewhich provides help for creating flexible courses that can shift between in-person and online.