Dig Deeper with Critical Thinking in Upper Elementary

Whether your students are reading a novel, learning a math concept, or being introduced to new content in Social Studies and Science, critical thinking activites play an intricate role to help students learn on a deeper level.  Being able to think outside the box or at a deeper level, helps students not only retain the information, but they develop an appreciation for the lesson.   This post will provide you with ideas for provoking critical thinking to use across the curriculum and FREE charts to use with your students.

dip deeper in upper elementary

1.  Think Pair Share
TPS is a strategy in which students work collaboratively to answer a question or solve a problem.   This strategy helps focus attention and engage students in comprehending the material.  The model is desgined for teachers to:

a.  Think-  Ask students a specific question about the topic or a theme in story.  Tell them to "think individually" about what they know or have learned about this topic or theme.  
b.  Pair-  Pair your students with a partner or small group.
c.  Share- Encourage students to share their ideas with their partner or small group, then as a whole group.

2.  Choice
Provide students with a choice.  Choice motivates, empowers and leads to a deeper understanding.  In many instances, it caters to Multiple Intelligence.  Choice can be provided in many ways.  You can give your students a choice of how to present a project or a choice of strategies to solve a challenging problem.  The opportunities are endless and will feed your students' innate desire for variety.  An example in math might be showing them different ways to achieve the correct answer.  

For example, students can:
a.  draw a diagram
b.  make a list
c.  create a table or graph
d.  model with objects.  

This can be accomplished with specific skills as well.  
For example:  Multiplication: 
a.  Teach the traditional way 

b.  Teach the method of lattice multiplication

Students can use the method that works for them or a combination of methods and in turn they will be able to explain how to get the correct answer better.  

It began with KWL charts to encourage students to think deeper.  This chart elicits students prior knowledge, sets a purpose for reading, and helps students to monitor their comprehension.  Begin a new social studies unit with one of these charts.  

K- What do I know?  
W- What do I want to know?
L- What did I learn?

Next the H got added:  KWHL
H- How do I find out?

Then Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano developed 21st century chart:  KWHLAQ
A-  What action will I take?
Q-  What questions do I have now?

kwl chart kwhl template

4.  Shared Inquiry

shared inquiry dig deeper

I first learned about his strategy when teaching a gifted class with Junior Great Books.  Shared Inquiry is a type of student-led discussions that are engaging and thought-provoking.  It is recommended to read the literature twice prior to the inquiry.  Students sit in a literacy circle and the teacher begins with an interpretive question that has more than one plausible answer.   For example, "Students then learn to take part in a discussion where each person actively participates and the teacher listens.  Students ask questions, respond to questions, interpret the text, refer back to the text, listen to the thoughts and idea of others.  Once you introduce this strategy and students learn how to use it, you will see them develop a deeper understanding of their reading.  Shared inquiry has three basic kinds of questions:.  Here are examples for Jack and the Beanstalk

a.  Factual- What was the name of Jack's cow?
b.  Interpretive- Does Jack believe the beans will grow right up to the sky?
c.  Evaulative- Is it necessary to take risks to grow up like Jack does?

5.  Notice Think Wonder
Another chart that is effective when looking at historical illustrations, is NOTICE THINK WONDER.  It can be used in other subject areas too.  Find a photograph that depicts an event in the social studies unit.  Display it on your smart board or give each group a copy.  I found it is best to do one step at a time.  Have students discuss NOTICE in small groups, then discuss as a whole group.  Students will be fascinated at what others are thinking and cause them to think even deeper with the next step!

Notice- Talk about the things you notice in the illustration.
Think- Then think deeper and tell what you think is happening.
Wonder- What questions do you have?

6.  Scientific Method
The SCIENTIFIC METHOD is a great tool for promoting critical thinking in science.

1.  ASK QUESTIONS- Ask: "What do I want to learn more about?" "I wonder what might happen if...?"
2.  GATHER INFORMATION- Research your topic to better understand it.
3.  MAKE A HYPOTHESIS- Make an educated guess to your questions about the topic.
4.  CONDUCT AN EXPERIMENT- Plan and follow steps to test your hypothesis.
5.  OBSERVE AND RECORD RESULTS- After making an observation, reflect on your results and draw conclusions.
6.  SHARE RESULTS- Present your results by sharing your experiment, observations, and conclusions.

7.  Poetry
An activity I found extremely effective when I want my students to dig deeper into a topic or story, is writing poetry.  I love this quote from a modern-day poet Criss Jami, "When a poet digs himself into a hole, he doesn't climb out.  He digs deeper, enjoys the scenery, and comes out the other side enlightened."  I've found this statement to be true when students write poetry about a topic they are learning.   

Ideas from this blog post were collected from:  
The Critical Thinking Consortium
Reading Rockets
Great Books Foundation
Education World

Poetry templates can be found here:

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