Professional Development Module on
Critical Thinking Skills

By Vicky Lara, El Paso Community College


The purpose of this module is to provide a series of annotated web sites for educators interested in exploring critical thinking in order to incorporate it to a greater extent into their teaching. To that effect, the selections in this module are of a more practical than theoretical basis. However, some theory has been included in the section on definition and basic concepts to ensure that the module provides a sound theoretical foundation for application.

Key Concepts:

  • Critical Thinking History and Definition<
  • Web Use Criteria for Critical Thinking
  • A Critical Thinking Process
  • Basic Concepts and the Elements of an Argument
  • Implementation Strategies and Recommendations
  • Activities and Lesson Plans
  • Reworking Existing Activities and Lesson Plans
  • Assessing Critical Thinking

Section l: Critical Thinking History and Definition

At one level we all know what "critical thinking means--it means good thinking, almost the opposite of illogical, irrational thinking. But when we test our understanding further, we run into questions. For example, is critical thinking the same as creative thinking, are they different, or is one part of the other? How do critical thinking and native intelligence or scholastic aptitude relate? Does critical thinking focus on the subject matter or content that you know or on the process you use when you reason about that content?

Thus Peter Facione begins his clever exploration of the definition of critical thinking by guiding the reader's own use of the process in the essay, "Critical Thinking: What Is It and Why It Counts”
(1998) California Academic Press. His work on critical thinking includes having served as the principle investigator for Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction. (ERIC ED 315 423) The experts list the core cognitive skills necessary for critical thinking as: analysis, interpretation, evaluation, inference, self-regulation, and explanation.

The article "A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking" by Richard Paul and Linda Elder of the Critical Thinking Consortium ( explains how the philosophical traditions of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle gave rise to the critical thinking processes we teach today:

From this ancient Greek tradition emerged the need, for anyone who aspired to understand the deeper realities, to think systematically, to trace implications broadly and deeply, for only thinking that is comprehensive, well-reasoned, and responsive to objections can take us beyond the surface.

Their website offers a wealth of information including “A Draft Statement of Principles” which briefly delineates the history of critical thinking from Socrates to the present; the goals of the Council, which are applicable to all interested in implementing critical thinking; and its founding principles, excellent general guidelines for any CT program.

There are as many definitions of critical thinking as there are writers about it. Therefore, it is helpful to look at a variety of definitions to fully understand the breadth and relevance of the term. Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum, a project developed by Longview Community College in Lee's Summit, MO provides a wide selection of definitions from educators, educational associations, and other websites that range from pithy to descriptive statements of attributes and characteristics.
The following are a few examples from this site.

"Critical thinking is deciding rationally what to or what not to believe."
Norris, Stephen P.(1985) "Synthesis of research on critical thinking." Educational Leadership, 42(8), 40-45.

"The purpose of critical thinking is, therefore, to achieve understanding, evaluate view points, and solve problems. Since all three areas involve the asking of questions, we can say that critical thinking is the questioning or inquiry we engage in when we seek to understand, evaluate, or resolve."
Maiorana, Victor P. Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum: Building the Analytical Classroom. 1992.

Critical Thinking is “the art of thinking about your thinking while you are thinking in order to make your thinking better: more clear, more accurate, and more defensible.”
Paul, Binker, Adamson, and Martin (1989)

“Critical thinking is ‘reasonably and reflectively deciding what to believe or do.’”
Ennis (1985)

Critical Thinking Core Concepts
Contributed by: Lauren Miller and Michael Connelly, Longview Community College

Section 2: Web Use Criteria for Critical Thinking

It is often difficult to provide students with an in-depth guide to evaluate web resources.
Any search, whether of CT or not, will produce an incredible number of sources. Some of these will be well thought out and credible; others may well be written poorly, misleading, and slick. Both educators and students will, therefore, benefit from the thoughtful evaluation process outlined in this site. It provides not only clearly explained evaluation criteria, but also a wonderful PowerPoint Presentation and Web Page Checklists based on the criteria. > Evaluating Web Resources

This site presents very down to earth, clear suggestions and practice exercises for using critical thinking while on the web. It incorporates actual sources to be read and analyzed from the point of view of “accuracy, authorship, purpose, detail and design, and overall value.” The multiplicity of exercises available will make it appealing to most students. The exercises require brief, but pointed responses. It is appropriate for individual study.

“Critical Thinking in an Online World” addresses the difficulty of refining research skills and selecting valid materials from the librarians’ point of view. It states, “The librarian would serve the student best if we taught the process of defining the information query, of designing the entire research strategy, and then moved on to selection and evaluation of research tools.” Instead, many times the librarian thinks for the students and presents them with the search engines and terms they will need to carry out their research.

Section 3: A Critical Thinking Process

This site discusses the basic elements of CT and relates them to Bloom’s Taxonomy. In addition, it stresses the need for instruction and student activity to progress from lower to higher levels of critical analysis. It makes clear that without a careful progression, students will be unable to complete the required tasks successfully. A psychology course is used as an example of an appropriate progression throughout a semester and of the support built into the CT developmental stages.

Section 4: Basic Concepts and The Elements of Argument

In a related vein, Richards J. Heuer’s Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, though written for the CIA, offers an excellent book-length, online text on intelligence. “ Part II – Tools” and “Part III – Cognitive Biases” are of particular interest to CT scholars. >Critical Thinking > Psychology of Intelligence Analysis

Umbrella Sites

There are several sites that could fill just about any need because of the breadth of their offerings. These are wonderful sites for beginners or for those with limited search time.
Many of these sites “tunnel” into the availability on the web as their links lead to further links – all of them carefully selected and credible.

>The Internet School Library Media Center is one of these sites. Although some of its links are to commercial sites, the wealth of materials available here cancels out this drawback. This site offers general information, lesson plans, and bibliographies. For example, it offers 13 sites under general sites, eleven sites for lesson plans – many from AskEric, links for K – 12 as well as for colleges and universities, and annotated bibliographies on a variety of topics – a media specialist’s introductory guide, a bibliography for TalentEd (gifted education). By itself, it is almost a mini-clearinghouse.

>Mission Critical from San Jose State has less depth, but equal breadth. For online perusal, click on the icon for 1996-1998. Although it is the original site, it offers in-depth information about all aspects of the critical thinking process, i. e., statements, induction/deduction, vagueness and ambiguity, and fallacies, to name just a few. It has an extensive section for graphic organizers, and exercises and quizzes with explanations of the answers. This last feature makes it a perfect choice for students who need to work individually.

Tim van Gelder’s Critical Thinking on the Web offers his “Top Ten” links. Only a few will be described here. (

  • Argument Mapping Tutorials offers six online tutorials ranging from simple arguments to macrostructures. The first tutorial, Simple Arguments, is free. As the introduction states, the point of argument mapping is “to make the structure of reasoning completely explicit using graphical techniques such as boxes and arrows.”
  • The Fallacy Files is also extensive. It tells us that a “’fallacy’ is a mistake in reasoning.” It offers a variety of examples of fallacies from the written media with explanations of the mistakes. Some of the information is complex, some is simple.
  • Baloney Detection Part 1 and Part 2, a Ten Step Guide asks ten questions which critical thinkers should ask regarding scientific conclusions. Its applicability is not limited to science. To access all ten questions, it is necessary to click on Part 1 and then on Part 2.

Handbooks and Guides

Michael O’Rourke’s Critical Thinking Handbook is available online. Each chapter in the handbook offers both theory and applications. Sample chapter headings are “Critical Thinking and Argument,” Analyzing Argument,” and “The Fallacies.” Particularly helpful for beginners is “Chapter Two: Characterizing Critical Thinking.” This chapter defines CT and explains thinking skills; its exposition of “Goal Pursuit Skills,” “Criteria Recognition Skills,” and “Option Evaluation Skills” is exceptional and enlightening. >Critical Thinking Handbook

Despite availability on the web, many students still prefer and request a written version.
This is not an endorsement, simply an indication of availability. The Critical Thinking Consortium offers “The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools” which may be purchased singly or in bulk. The listed price for a single copy is $4.00. Bulk prices decrease with the number ordered. The Mini-Guide has an impressive table of contents and is quite short. Product ID: 520M

Section 5: Implementation Strategies and Recommendations

Under the heading “Tactical and Structural Recommendations,” this site offers 13 practical suggestions for incorporating critical thinking into the regular classroom activities. All are easy to carry out. For example, it recommends “Speak[ing] less so that they think more” and questioning students “Socratically: probing various dimensions of their thinking: their purpose, their evidence, reasons, data, their claims, beliefs, interpretations, deductions, conclusions, the implications and consequences of their thought, their response to alternative thinking from contrasting points of view, and so on.”

The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, under Critical Thinking Skills, offers “35 dimensions of critical thought.” It classifies the strategies in the list into Affective Strategies (exercising fairmindedness, developing intellectual courage), Cognitive Strategies (refining generalizations and avoiding oversimplifications, questioning deeply: raising and pursuing root or significant questions), and Cognitive Strategies – Micro-Skills (comparing and contrasting ideals with actual practice, exploring implications and consequences). Any student capable of putting most of the 35 dimensions into effect would be an accomplished critical thinker; any educator capable of incorporating most of the 35 dimensions into a course’s work would be a consummate advocate of critical thinking.

Bonnie Potts in “Strategies for Teaching Critical Thinking,” an Eric Digest, presents the basics of critical thinking instruction concisely and simply. She also provides practical suggestions for classroom implementation. In particular, she focuses on “three specific strategies.” The first, Building Categories, “is an inductive reasoning tool that helps students categorize information by discovering the rules rather than merely memorizing them.” The second, Finding Problems, encourages the educator to attempt “to present more ‘real-life’ problems” instead of the classic, but unrealistic, problems encountered in most textbooks. The third, Enhancing the Environment, discusses classroom adaptations to encourage critical thinking.

Section 6: Activities and Lesson Plans

Ask Eric has unending possibilities for activities and lesson plans. Through its alphabetized site search, an educator can discover a plethora of appropriate materials for almost any discipline or topic. Each classification offers multiple links.

This PBS site provides lessons and activities on a wide variety of topics and areas of study, i.e., arts and literature, math, science, etc. It offers detailed lesson plans based on PBS programming. It is well thought out. It includes video excerpts; primary sources, i.e., “Letter from Camp to Coldwell, 1818”; explicit instructions and examples; and resources and a teaching guide for each activity.

Socratic Teaching

As a tactic and approach, Socratic questioning is a highly disciplined process. The Socratic questioner acts as the logical equivalent of the inner critical voice which the mind develops when it develops critical thinking abilities. The contributions from the members of the class are like so many thoughts in the mind. All of the thoughts must be dealt with and they must be dealt with carefully and fairly. By following up all answers with further questions, and by selecting questions which advance the discussion, the Socratic questioner forces the class to think in a disciplined, intellectually responsible manner, while yet continually aiding the students by posing facilitating questions.

"The Critical Mind is a Questioning Mind: Learning How to Ask Powerful, Probing Questions"

Section 7: Reworking Existing Activities and Lesson Plans

This site presents an idea for taking an existing lesson plan and “remodeling” it to incorporate critical thinking skills based on the 35 dimensions of critical thought (See
Section 5: Implementation Strategies and Recommendations, the NCREL entry). It offers three components: the original lesson, a critique, and a remodeled lesson. This site demonstrates that “the baby need not be thrown away with the bathwater.” >Resources >Introduction to Remodeling

“Adams offers short and long versions of how he integrated critical thinking into his developmental biology class by ‘explicitly discussing the logic and thought processes that inform experimental methods.’” Although focusing on science, the processes followed here are applicable, with some modification, to all disciplines. >Critical Thinking >Critical Thinking, the Scientific Method, and Page 25 of Gilbert

Section 8: Assessing Critical Thinking

For a comprehensive and insightful tool for assessing student work, refer to this site. It offers “The Critical Thinking Rubric,” an instrument which “articulates seven dimensions of CT….acts as a diagnostic measure for student progress….[and] demystifies the expectations of instructors for students.” Whether used as a whole or in part, as is or modified, this rubric clearly delineates for the student the bases of evaluation of his/her

“Using Intellectual Standards to Assess Student Reasoning” also presents guidelines for assessment. It posits two “dimensions of reasoning”: 1) Elements of Reasoning, i.e., purpose, inferences, evidence, etc., and 2) Standards of Reasoning, i.e., clarity, logic, consistency, flexibility and fairness, significance of purpose, and precision and depth.

"The Role of Questions in Thinking, Teaching and Learning" from the Center for Critical Thinking

Study of 38 Public Universities and 28 Private Universities To Determine Faculty Emphasis on Critical Thinking In Instruction
Principal Researchers: Dr. Richard Paul, Dr. Linda Elder, and Dr. Ted Bartell


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