NSW Department of Education

Developing critical thinking skills

For teachers
For parents
For students

Key message

Not all information is trustworthy, and some sources of information are intended to mislead or confuse people. For this reason, it is important that children and young people have the critical thinking skill to analyse information and evaluate its authenticity.

Critical thinking does not mean criticising people or ideas. Critical thinking is an important skill in an information rich world that helps children and young people examine new pieces of information in order to make an informed judgement on an issue (Young and eSafe, Office of the eSafety Commissioner 2018).

Developing critical thinking skills

Children and young people should always consider and question the relevance, accuracy and reliability of any content they find online. Peter Ellerton (Lecturer in Critical Thinking, The University of Queensland) suggests that students need to master 4 key concepts to develop their critical thinking abilities:

  • Argumentation – the process of intellectual engagement with an issue and opponent with the intention of developing a justified position.
  • Logic – the rules of deduction and induction used to proceed from premises or evidence to conclusion.
  • Psychology – an awareness of how our minds actually work, especially the effect of cognitive biases and prior beliefs.
  • The nature of science – knowledge of basic statistics and the difference between hypothesis, theory and law.

Read Peter's full article in The Conversation, titled How to teach all students to think critically.

Further suggestions for developing critical thinking skills

Here are some suggestions for developing critical thinking skills in children and young people:

Top tips

Who wrote the information?

  • Is the author listed on the information?
  • Is the author is qualified on the topic of the article? An author may be qualified if they have a university degree or experience relevant to the article topic.
  • Has the author included a bibliography or link to the sources they used to research the information?

What is it about?

  • Does the article provides links to research to back up its argument?
  • Does the article give a balanced opinion and present both sides of the argument?

Where does the information come from?

  • Does the article come from a reliable person/organisation (e.g. newspaper, university, etc.)?
  • Does the article come from a reliable website (such as one ending in .gov or .edu)?

When was it written and last updated?

  • Does the article say when it was published or last updated?
  • Is the article recent (within the last 2 years)?

Why was the information written?

  • Can you tell what the author’s primary motive is for writing this information? For example, is it intended to teach or inform? Is the author trying to sell something?
  • Does the article encourage debate and allow me to make up my own mind about an issue?

How do I feel about it or find out more?

  • Is the article written in a way that is easy to understand or does it use confusing and emotive language?
  • Where could I could find more research on the claims that are made in this article?

Additional resources

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Curriculum and syllabus links

References

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