Question Stems To Facilitate Critical Thinking

question-MarkCritical thinking is essential in the technology driven society that we live in today. Educators and parents can help students to facilitate critical thinking by using the question stems.

These are some of the questions and question stems that families and educators can utilize to foster higher level thinking skills.


Question Stems For Critical Thinking

What would happen if…?

What is a new example of…?

How could … be used to…?

What is the counterargument for…?

Why is … important?

What is the difference between… and…?

What are the implications of…?

Explain why / Explain how?

What is … analogous to?

How are … and … similar?

How does … affect…?

Why is … happening?

What is the best … and why?

Do you agree or disagree with the statement…?  What evidence is there to support your answer?

What are the strengths and weakness of?

What is the nature of…?

What is the solution to the problem of…?

What do you think causes…?  Why?

What is another way to look at…?

The question stems help to develop the 21st Century Skills. The 21st century skills are needed to succeed in the information age. Educators can help students to develop competence through an engaging and rigorous educational program. Students must acquire a variety of traits and abilities to succeed in college and their careers. The 21st century skills are a variety of learning, literacy and life proficiencies that the workplace demands.

What should you be doing while you are reading?

I am a big fan of graphic organizers for promoting critical thinking and encouraging comprehension and organization of thoughts. I wrote on the Big Universe Blog before about Graphic Organizers: What Do You Know?

I found some Graphic Organizers that I had not seen before, so I decided to share them with you!

All of the ones on this Education Place page are good, but I thought I would highlight a few of them (the words in parentheses are just my thoughts and ideas about some ways they could possibly be used … there are lots of other ways too) :

  • E-Chart (for emphasizing main idea and supporting details … could use with reading to have students identify the differences in those things and/or with writing as a way to brainstorm specific parts)
  • Goal-Reasons Web (this could also be used for main idea and supporting details as well as for explaining the reasons a decision was made … it could also be used to place inferences made in the goal circle and then details that led to the inference in the reason circles)
  • Observation Chart (this one has 5 columns for the 5 senses … when teaching descriptive writing, I would encourage my students to not only think about the way something looked, but to also think about how it tasted, felt, sound … this chart would have been very helpful … think about the ways students could use it when encountering information about a new topic or place)
  • ISP Chart (3 columns for students to take notes of information, sources, and pages … great for teaching the basics of research, pulling in ideas from various sources, or just taking notes to remember things)

So I encourage you to go explore and find different way to keep track of thoughts and to represent thinking ….. but most of all …. THINK while you READ!

Developing Readers and Writers

Are there connections between thinking, speaking, and writing? Do students realize those connections? What can we do to help students make those connections?

According to Alane Jordan Starko in Creativity in the Classroom (2005), “The links among thought, speaking, and writing  are at the heart of current balanced literacy approaches.  Students learn that if they can think it, they can say it.  If they can say it, they can write and read it. Writing is, above all, communication. As students develop as readers and writers, they can approach the processes of finding and expressing ideas with increasing sophistication.”

I think reading aloud to students and having conversations with students while reading aloud can play a very big role in helping to establish those connections.  In my experience, students of all ages enjoy read alouds.  Just this week, I used skype to read aloud a story to a 4th grade class in a city several hours away from me. The adults in my department enjoyed that read aloud time as much as the 4th grade students.

When you are reading a story aloud, you can model the thinking processes that take place while reading a story.  I will stop at the end of a paragraph or even at the end of a sentence to share what I am thinking and to ask students what they are thinking.  I encourage students to jot down their thoughts on paper or a graphic organizer while we are reading.  Too many times I have waited until the end to write down my thoughts and ideas, and those ideas have just floated away by then.

I like to make use some of the ideas and thoughts students have while reading or listening to a story. We could use those for journal topics. We could use those for story starters. We could use those to start class discussions.

We can talk and write about what we read. We can talk about what we read and write. Our talking and reading can serve as inspiration for writing.

Helping students make those connections helps them develop as readers and writers!

The best way to become a better reader  …  is to read!

The best way to become a better writer  …  is to read and write!

Starko, Alane Jordan. Creativity in the Classroom: Schools of curious delight. 3rd ed. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005. 280. Print.

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Sort it out!

Person holding a stack of booksSorting is one of my favorite activities to do with young people in the library at the beginning of the school year.  It encourages scientific and critical thinking and it’s a great way to reinforce the concepts of the Dewey Decimal system. Each year I place piles of different types of books on the library tables and my only instruction to students is to work together to “sort the books.” I give them 2 minutes to sort the books and then I ask for a group member to share how they sorted the books and why. Most of my younger students will sort according to color and size. The older students are more sophisticated and tend to sort by subject. I repeat this procedure until we have completed 3-4 cycles of sorting. By this time, it becomes challenging to figure out new ways to sort the books…but this is where their creativity comes to play. Try this activity with your little ones and see what they come up with.

This Big Universe title, Sort it Out!, by Barbara Mariconda is a perfect book to read just before the sorting activity. Sort it out book cover

Keisa Williams (aka Ms. K) is a K-5 School Librarian at Monarch Academy, a public charter school in Oakland, CA. She is certified in secondary and elementary education (MLIS and MEd) and loves collaborating with teachers and integrating technology into her library lessons. She considers herself a “Technology Diva” and “Gadget Junkie”.