According to our recent Instructor Engagement Insights survey, 83% of the responding instructors cover critical thinking in their courses. With this strong result, it’s more than likely that you, too, you place a high priority on teaching critical thinking to your students.

However, even though most instructors teach critical thinking, their methods differ based on the subject or course they’re teaching. Cengage Learning wanted to understand a bit more about instructors’ strategies for helping students build these skills. Below, we’ve shared their responses. If you’re hoping to add more critical thinking coverage to your own course, you may find some inspiration in their ideas.

Methods of teaching critical thinking

In the survey, we also asked instructors to select the methods they most frequently used to teach critical thinking. Below, the results:
Methods used in teaching critical thinking

Most of the instructors who responded use group discussion as a means of teaching critical thinking. Online discussions were also noted in the results, but not at as high of a rate. Approximately two-thirds of the respondents use case studies to teach critical thinking. Questions associated with the course reading are also used with frequency.

A fairly high percentage of instructors (29%) indicated that they use other means of teaching critical thinking. This makes sense; each discipline will have its own discipline-specific skills; how instructors choose to apply those skills will, therefore, differ as well. For example: a history instructor may use a research project as a means of teaching critical thinking, whereas an algebra instructor might foster students’ critical-thinking and reasoning skills through a variety of problems that reflect real-world challenges.

Critical thinking in the classroom: additional ideas

In another question within the survey, we asked instructors “How do you decide whether or not to teach critical thinking in your classes?” A great number of them mentioned that they always teach critical thinking, and supplied examples of how they do so in their specific courses and subject areas. Here are some of the ideas they shared:

  • “I do not TEACH critical thinking per se, I just use the topics of the texts we are reading in class to raise certain questions that force them to go further in their analysis.”
  • “I don’t believe it can be explicitly taught- it must be modeled in the context of the class material… I teach physics, so clear examples, lab activities, and good homework questions are important.”
  • “I don’t teach the process of critical thinking in class, but I present students with experiences and activities that require them to think critically.”
  • “I start every semester telling students to question everything they hear on the news, in their classes, and from me. I remind them of this throughout the semester.”
  • “I think it comes natural in the content of the courses for communication. That is, while the form may change a bit, it’s still the same principle. It’s careful listening–not necessarily negative, ambushing listening, but careful attention to personal narratives, media ideas, and/or scholarly insights. So, I’m not sure I really “decide to teach it”–it just is part of the course naturally.”
  • “In my courses, I teach nursing students. They have to learn to think on their feet and apply concepts they’ve learned about physiology and therefore have to be able to process information analytically and then act on it.”
  • “…I regularly begin my topics with questions to determine what they know ahead of introducing the topic; that is designed to get their critical thinking ‘juices’ going.”
  • “When we are involved in the discussion of an important issue or when I ask them to write about some topic, I will require them to address the issue or topic in a manner that indicates that they are covering several aspects of that issue.”

Ideas for incorporating more critical thinking activities and exercises into your own course

Hoping to increase the number of ways you teach critical thinking in your course? Review these previous posts from the Engaging Minds blog.

Helping Students Think More Critically and Strategically

Facilitating Discussions that Inspire Deeper Thinking

Using Technology to Foster Students’ Critical Thinking Skills

Critical Thinking and Writing Assignments

Tips for Students: Become a More Critical Thinker


How do you go about teaching critical thinking in your course? Do you have any suggested activities, ideas, or strategies to share? Write them in the comments.