According to our recent “Student Engagement Insights” survey of over three thousand college students, 99% of students believe critical thinking is an important skill for them to learn in the classroom. Additionally, 92% believe what they learn in class sharpens their critical thinking skills for the “real world.” Terrific! But how many instructors and institutions find room for teaching it in their curriculum?

Students: Is critical thinking and important skill?In a similar survey, 83% of instructors reported teaching critical thinking in their classrooms. While the majority of instructors do touch on critical thinking, many instructors still do not cover these types of lessons, despite the high value students place on them.

Whether on the first day only or throughout the entire term, it sounds as though students are eager to refine their critical thinking skills. The question is: how do students define critical thinking?

What does “critical thinking” mean?

We asked students, “When you hear the term ‘critical thinking,’ what comes to mind?”

The number-one answer we received simply stated “thinking outside the box.” It looks like this is a phrase used often when introducing the concept of critical thinking to students, but most were not able to elaborate much further. Great answers ranged from, “Going beneath the surface level of a topic, thinking of all possible routes and outcomes” to “using reasoning/”common-sense” skills to come to conclusions, rather than just memorizing specific information.”

Some got quite philosophical as well: “A problem is presented that requires more processing to answer but does not necessarily have one answer.” It seems clear that this very question does not necessarily have one answer. When you begin covering critical thinking in your classroom, explain what it is you would like your students to take away from the learning experience.

Critical thinking lessons for the real world

One of students’ primary reasons for wanting to gain critical thinking skills is for use in the workplace and the “real world.” For this reason, consider some real-world exercises such as group problem solving, relaying complex ideas and information, or risk-assessment scenarios.

For more ideas on leading your classroom in a lesson on critical thinking, visit our post, “Helping Students Think More Critically and Strategically.”

How do you explain critical thinking to your students, and what methods do you use for demonstration? Share your ideas below.