True Criteria for Critical Thinking

Affiliate links may have been used in this post. To read our full disclaimer, click here.

FREE offers are often time-sensitive. Although they are FREE at the time of posting, please be sure to verify the offer is still free before claiming or purchasing it. (We are not responsible for price changes.) Thank you!

Most parents want their children to learn to think critically. Our kids are barraged with information every day, and they need tools to discern between the good and the bad when there’s so much relative, fuzzy information out there. To equip them to think clearly through all the options, parents often buy literature programs that contain critical thinking assignments. 

True Criteria Critical Thinking
The Typical Criteria for Teaching Critical Thinking

While we all agree on the outcome of what we want for our kids, it’s the getting there that’s tricky. I recently walked the halls of a home school convention and looked through many of the critical thinking programs that were there.

The Typical Objectives

Most of the the objectives in these programs were variations of these:

  • Grasp the significance of
  • Have an interest in
  • Appreciate
  • Comprehend (and its new spinoff, “metacomprehend”)
  • Think critically
  • Understand
  • Learn
  • Respect
  • Enjoy reading

The Typical Methods

The method being used to teach these objectives consisted of two parts: to read a passage of literature and then answer questions about it. Here are some of the questions I pulled from actual 4th-8th grade critical thinking programs:

  • Why did she give him the cornbread?
  • Which bunk did the girl sleep on – the top or the bottom?
  • What kind of candy did she buy at the drugstore?
  • What was Billy’s mother’s name?
  • What does the word “exasperated” mean? Look it up and write five sentences with it.

Changing the Objectives and the Method

Would these questions really help a child think critically about what he just read? Would they equip him to think smarter in the next book he read?

No. Those are recall questions, and recall is the lowest form of thought. Recall happens in the frontal lobe (the forehead), the part of the brain you use to find your coffee cup, or the name of that person you met an hour ago. There’s no critical thinking involved at all.

True critical thinking boils down to reasoning, or disciplined thinking. Here’s the criteria for critical thinking as described by The Foundation of Critical Thinking:

“Critical Thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action… [it is] based on…clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.”

Critical thinking, in its truest sense, focuses on the thinking process over the topics. Questions based on cornbread, bunk beds, and names fall short of the mark.

What’s the Better Way to Teach Critical Thinking?

Refreshingly, you just do it by having conversations (the better method) with your kids about what they’re reading, and help them reason through it (the better objective).

The Better Method
Here’s how the conversations work:

  • Use one of the free-reading books your child has selected on her own
  • Help her identify the universal elements for literary analysis (*see below)
  • Have a Socratic dialogue with her about one of those elements in the story. These are simple conversations that include open-ended questions to help her gain insights about what she’s read; there are no point-blank recall questions. The goal is for her to analyze the elements of fiction, synthesize what she observes, and to apply that knowledge to the real world.

The Better Objectives

Here are some objectives that will help your child think critically about what she’s reading:

  • Identify the *four universal elements of the story: the setting (time & place), characters (protagonist/good guy or antagonist/bad guy), conflicts (internal or external), and the conclusion of the story
  • Analyze how the elements work together
  • Use that analysis to predict outcomes
  • Identify relationships between elements
  • Discover knowledge
  • Clarify vocabulary (first by context, then in a dictionary if necessary)
  • Synthsize knowledge
  • Apply the knowledge to other situations

As Natural as a Conversation 

True critical thinking happens during conversations that give kids the criteria they need to organize information and find conclusions on their own. With practice, they can apply the criteria in any context, and as a result, your kids will learn to think smarter, and read smarter, when they’re not even aware they’re doing it. This is critical thinking at its best: when it’s relevant, equipping, bigger than an assignment itself, and as natural as having a conversation.

For more information, see

Written by Cathy Canen

Cathy Canen

Cathy was a home school curriculum consultant for 30 years. She’s listened to thousands of parents and kids talk about the issues most important to them, so now she writes to address the topics they discussed the most often. She has taught in their home school (K-12), in a traditional classroom, and currently tutors kids in first grade through college. She is a certified Sign Language Interpreter and has taught kids with various developmental challenges including Aspergers, autism, deaf students, and blind students. She also developed a language program for deafblind students at Georgia School for the Blind. She leads a community Bible study, works with hospice patients, and blogs at the, where she writes about health and nutrition. You can contact her at her main site,, where she coordinates her writing and tutoring services.

Opt In Image
Join our growing list of over 100,000 homeschoolers who LOVE free stuff!

Sign up to receive emails that include deals, sales, and free offers for homeschoolers.

We value your privacy and promise never to send you spam. You can unsubscribe at anytime. 

View our Privacy Policy for more information on how we process your data.

NOTE: If you are already a subscriber, you can find subscriber perks and downloads links in our Monday & Wednesday newsletters.

Similar Posts You Might Like:

Need An Affordable Approach to Learning?
Save time, money and stress with our award-winning online homeschool curriculum!

50+ Water Balloon Games for Kids

Keep this awesome list of over 50 fun water balloon games handy this summer. Your kids will love them. You can use any one of these fun water balloon activities for end of the year class parties, family reunions, backyard games, and good old summer fun. The list includes easy…

5 Important Things to Know Before Your First Camping Trip

If you are planning a camping trip for the first time, read this post for 5 important tips that will help prepare you. If you are like me, you will wish you have read this. I went camping this year, for the first time. It was a mess. Luckily, we…

Decluttering: Where to Start When You’re Drowning in Clutter

You may have settled into your school year, but is your home back into its usual routine as well? We have been back to school for two weeks at my house. Now that I have that area mentally cinched up,  I am ready to tackle some of the resulting disorganization…

Cast Iron Skillets: Tips, Tricks, and How-To’s

Have you considered using Cast Iron Cookware in your home? About 7 years ago I really started to research more healthy, natural alternatives for my family. I had no idea what I was going to learn about when I started my initial research. It was overwhelming to say the least!…

Homemade “Shout” Stain Remover

I am a stain magnet, and because of it, I try to never spend more than $7 on a shirt. It's just a matter of time before that shirt is going in the rag bin! Yes, I have heard of Tide Pens. I go through those things like crazy. Laundry…

DIY Homemade Bug Bite Relief Stick

Bug bites - while they are pesky to some people, they are positively traumatic for others! There are medical hypotheses that state reasons why some unfortunate folks attract mosquitoes more than others, but the simple reality is that if you've been bitten, you need relief! Since the bug bite relief is…

FREE Printable Yard Sale Checklist

Raise your hand if you've got a house full of junk, um...I mean treasures, that you have got to get rid of! Let this free, printable Yard Sale Checklist help you get things started! It begins two to four weeks before the actual sale and walks you through the process. Summertime…

Cooking With Kids: 5 Ways Cooking Can be a Lesson in Hospitality

This is the fourth post in our Cooking With Kids Series!When you teach your children how to cook in a loving and patient environment you are giving them more than just life skills. You aren't just teaching them to prepare a meal so you don't have to, or to make…

How to Embrace (and Love) a Cleaning Routine

Learn how to embrace (and maybe even love) a cleaning routine  with these 4 tasks you should do every day and a weekly cleaning routine that works. This post from Becky of Clean Mama shares little things to do around the house every day that can make a big difference in…

Free weekly meal planning printables

Planning meals ahead can help busy moms stay ahead of the game and ensure that her family is fed on time! A mother's day is full and busy, and sometimes planning meals can be forgotten. These free meal planning printables can help you plan your meals ahead of time and…


Notebooking Pages Free Resources