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4 Strategies for Sparking Critical Thinking in Young Students

Fostering investigative conversation in grades K–2 isn’t easy, but it can be a great vehicle to promote critical thinking.

In the middle of class, a kindergartner spotted an ant and asked the teacher, “Why do ants come into the classroom?” Fairly quickly, educational consultant Cecilia Cabrera Martirena writes , students started sharing their theories: Maybe the ants were cold, or looking for food, or lonely. 

Their teacher started a KWL chart to organize what students already knew, what they wanted to know, and, later, what they had learned. “As many of the learners didn’t read or write yet, the KWL was created with drawings and one or two words,” Cabrera Martirena writes. “Then, as a group, they decided how they could gather information to answer that first question, and some possible research routes were designed.” 

As early elementary teachers know, young learners are able to engage in critical thinking and participate in nuanced conversations, with appropriate supports. What can teachers do to foster these discussions? Elementary teacher Jennifer Orr considered a few ideas in an article for ASCD .

“An interesting question and the discussion that follows can open up paths of critical thinking for students at any age,” Orr says. “With a few thoughtful prompts and a lot of noticing and modeling, we as educators can help young students engage in these types of academic conversations in ways that deepen their learning and develop their critical thinking skills.”

While this may not be an “easy process,” Orr writes—for the kids or the teacher—the payoff is students who from a young age are able to communicate new ideas and questions; listen and truly hear the thoughts of others; respectfully agree, disagree, or build off of their peers’ opinions; and revise their thinking. 

4 Strategies for Kick-Starting Powerful Conversations

1. Encourage Friendly Debate: For many elementary-aged children, it doesn’t take much provoking for them to share their opinions, especially if they disagree with each other. Working with open-ended prompts that “engage their interest and pique their curiosity” is one key to sparking organic engagement, Orr writes. Look for prompts that allow them to take a stance, arguing for or against something they feel strongly about. 

For example, Orr says, you could try telling first graders that a square is a rectangle to start a debate. Early childhood educator Sarah Griffin proposes some great math talk questions that can yield similar results:

  • How many crayons can fit in a box?
  • Which takes more snow to build: one igloo or 20 snowballs?
  • Estimate how many tissues are in a box.
  • How many books can you fit in your backpack?
  • Which would take less time: cleaning your room or reading a book?
  • Which would you rather use to measure a Christmas tree: a roll of ribbon or a candy cane? Why?

Using pictures can inspire interesting math discussions as well, writes K–6 math coach Kristen Acosta . Explore counting, addition, and subtraction by introducing kids to pictures “that have missing pieces or spaces” or “pictures where the objects are scattered.” For example, try showing students a photo of a carton of eggs with a few eggs missing. Ask questions like, “what do you notice?” and “what do you wonder?” and see how opinions differ.

2. Put Your Students in the Question: Centering students’ viewpoints in a question or discussion prompt can foster deeper thinking, Orr writes. During a unit in which kids learned about ladybugs, she asked her third graders, “What are four living and four nonliving things you would need and want if you were designing your own ecosystem?” This not only required students to analyze the components of an ecosystem but also made the lesson personal by inviting them to dream one up from scratch.

Educator Todd Finley has a list of interesting writing prompts for different grades that can instead be used to kick off classroom discussions. Examples for early elementary students include: 

  • Which is better, giant muscles or incredible speed? Why?
  • What’s the most beautiful person, place, or thing you’ve ever seen? Share what makes that person, place, or thing so special. 
  • What TV or movie characters do you wish were real? Why? 
  • Describe a routine that you often or always do (in the morning, when you get home, Friday nights, before a game, etc.).
  • What are examples of things you want versus things you need? 

3. Open Several Doors: While some students take to classroom discussions like a duck to water, others may prefer to stay on dry land. Offering low-stakes opportunities for students to dip a toe into the conversation can be a great way to ensure that everyone in the room can be heard. Try introducing hand signals that indicate agreement, disagreement, and more. Since everyone can indicate their opinion silently, this supports students who are reluctant to speak, and can help get the conversation started. 

Similarly, elementary school teacher Raquel Linares uses participation cards —a set of different colored index cards, each labeled with a phrase like “I agree,” “I disagree,” or “I don’t know how to respond.” “We use them to assess students’ understanding, but we also use them to give students a voice,” Linares says. “We obviously cannot have 24 scholars speaking at the same time, but we want everyone to feel their ideas matter. Even if I am very shy and I don’t feel comfortable, my voice is still heard.” Once the students have held up the appropriate card, the discussion gets going.

4. Provide Discussion Sentence Starters: Young students often want to add their contribution without connecting it to what their peers have said, writes district-level literacy leader Gwen Blumberg . Keeping an ear out for what students are saying to each other is an important starting point when trying to “lift the level of talk” in your classroom. Are kids “putting thoughts into words and able to keep a conversation going?” she asks.

Introducing sentence starters like “I agree…” or “I feel differently…” can help demonstrate for students how they can connect what their classmate is saying to what they would like to say, which grows the conversation, Blumberg says. Phrases like “I’d like to add…” help students “build a bridge from someone else’s idea to their own.”

Additionally, “noticing and naming the positive things students are doing, both in their conversation skills and in the thinking they are demonstrating,” Orr writes, can shine a light for the class on what success looks like. Celebrating when students use these sentence stems correctly, for example, helps reinforce these behaviors.

“Students’ ability to clearly communicate with others in conversation is a critical literacy skill,” Blumberg writes, and teachers in grades K–2 can get students started on the path to developing this skill by harnessing their natural curiosity and modeling conversation moves.

Critical Thinking Skills for First Grade

John zaphyr.

critical thinking in first grade

For first-graders, learning to read, learning basic mathematical skills, and learning to write numbers are top priorities. But of all the basic skills young students learn, critical thinking is one of the most important. Applying, analyzing and evaluating information is one of the foundations of education and, if taught at an early age, students can master the art of thinking critically.

Explore this article

  • What is Critical Thinking?
  • Critical Thinking Learning Strategies
  • Developing Critical Thinking Skills

1 What is Critical Thinking?

The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines the skill of critical thinking as the “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” In real world terms, critical thinkers are active learners. They are people who constantly question what they see or hear, and who want to know what details lay beneath the surface.

2 Critical Thinking Learning Strategies

There are many strategies for teaching these skills in the classroom. Just a few of the recommended strategies from the American Institute of Research include learning in group settings, open-ended questioning methods and applying lessons to real-life settings. Open-ended questioning from the teacher, for example, allows students to look for answers rather than mnemonically regurgitate the “right” answer. That type of investigative thinking is crucial to learning critical thinking. Showing how a skill transfers to real world situations also enhances a student’s ability to think critically. A student might be more motivated to learn, for example, if his lesson relates to coins in his piggy bank.

3 Developing Critical Thinking Skills

According to the Council for Exceptional Children, teachers can develop the basic critical thinking skills of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation in their students through various classroom activities and lines of questioning. The way a teacher frames a question is especially important here. The open-ended questioning model can be used to help facilitate discussion and thinking, but the types of questions will ultimately guide the learning activities. When students are analyzing a story or problem, teachers should urge children to look at differences, explain what they are seeing and compare two like or unlike things. In activities where students are synthesizing information, such as in a reading or science activity, teachers should be asking them to create or invent new ideas or to compare and contrast what they are seeing. “What if” questions such as “What if you were a character in the story?” help students work through synthesizing problems. When evaluating, students should be asked to judge or decide if something is right or wrong, correct or incorrect. Measuring, selecting and explaining are all good ways to get students to make judgments based on a certain set of predetermined criteria. Math and science subjects are good places to work on evaluating results. Any activities involving these critical thinking skills should be based on fun and the natural inquisitive nature of children. Games or writing activities involving questioning are techniques to get children engaged.

  • 1 Criticalthinking.org

About the Author

John Zaphyr is a marketing and sales manager with the Oncology Nursing Society. He has written professionally since1999 and also has editing credits with Friedlander Publishing Group. His articles have appeared in the "Pittsburgh Tribune Review." John earned a master's degree in English education from the University of Pittsburgh.

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Developing Students' Critical Thinking Skills Through Whole-Class Dialogue

Developing Students' Critical Thinking Skills Through Whole-Class Dialogue

  • Resources & Preparation
  • Instructional Plan
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Students take positions all the time. They defend their love of a television show or character with evidence or support that justifies their position. However, students may struggle to think critically about the books they've read and take a position about events from those books. In this lesson, students either listen to the instructor read a book aloud or read the book silently. (The book used in this lesson is My Freedom Trip by Frances Park and Ginger Park.) After reading, students answer an open-ended question about an issue that could have multiple perspectives. Students take positions, then identify reasons to support their positions. They then evaluate the reasons and draw their own conclusions. The lesson may be followed by additional whole-class discussion sessions that place emphasis on dialogue, eventually transferring more and more responsibility to the students for their learning.

From Theory to Practice

  • Dialogical-Thinking Reading Lessons (D-TRLs), in which students articulate their thoughts in response to literature through dialogue, go beyond the question-and-answer and recitation methods that usually deal only with literal thinking.
  • Students develop critical thinking as they learn to justify their reasons for a certain position on a story-specific issue.
  • The basic format of a D-TRL provides practice with identifying and evaluating reasons as well as drawing conclusions. As more responsibility for the elements of the D-TRL is transferred to students, they receive additional practice in formulating hypotheses and identifying central themes and issues
  • When students have opportunities to pose questions, they assume more responsibility for determining what needs to be understood and for directing their own learning processes.
  • Literature discussions based on student-posed questions address an array of reading, writing, and oral language core curriculum objectives.
  • When student questioning reigns in literature discussions, students generate many questions, help one another clarify questions, listen carefully to their peers, engage in critical thinking, and appreciate the opportunity to reflect on their own questions.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • My Freedom Trip by Frances Park and Ginger Park (Boyds Mills Press, 1998)
  • Chart paper, board, or overhead

Central Question Chart


Student objectives.

Students will

  • Develop and demonstrate critical thinking skills as they take positions in response to a question, consider other viewpoints, identify reasons in support of their positions, evaluate supporting reasons for truth and acceptability, and draw final conclusions based on discussion
  • Take responsibility for their own learning and for evaluating their own thoughts
  • Participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical persons in respectful dialogue with one another

Instruction and Activities

Before reading (15 minutes) Open the lesson with an informal discussion of what students already know about the Korean War. Tell them that they will be reading and discussing a book about one girl's experience during that war. Can they make predictions about the book based on its title and cover and what they already know about the war? Let students know that after reading the book, they're going to be asked a question that will take the whole class to answer-and everyone's answer could be different. What will be important is whether they can provide acceptable reasons to support their answers. Reading phase (about 15 minutes, depending on the length of the text and the reading comprehension method you use) Depending on your students' needs and the availability of book copies, you can read the book to your students using the guided reading approach, have the students partner/group read, or have the students read silently. The important thing to consider when conducting the reading phase is to make sure students understand the text entirely. This will allow them to fully participate in the discussion phase to follow.

  • With the guided reading approach, intermittent discussion should take place. The discussion breaks should be informal and focus on sharing an understanding of what is happening in the text.
  • If you use another approach, check in with the individuals or groups to ensure understanding by asking questions during or after the reading. Keep the questions focused for now on students' comprehension of the book, making sure everyone understands the basic story well enough to be able to participate in the discussion phase to follow.

Discussion phase (30 to 60 minutes, depending on class size) There are four basic components to this part of the lesson:

  • Posing a central question and possible answers
  • Identifying reasons to support the possible answers
  • Evaluating the truth and acceptability of the supporting reasons
  • Drawing final conclusions on the merit of the possible answers

As students become familiar with the critical-thinking process, these components can be modified to give students greater responsibility for their learning. (See Modifications for examples.) Before proceeding with the discussion, make sure to establish a few guidelines with the students. These guidelines can include

  • Listening carefully to other students' questions, opinions, and reasons and responding to them in a helpful manner
  • Respecting everyone's questions and everyone's responses
  • Agreeing or disagreeing, but giving reasons to support your opinion
  • Respecting everyone's opportunity to speak and waiting your turn

Central question. At this point, introduce a question that will be of interest to students and in response to which they will each have to take a position. The question should be thought-provoking, the answer to which can be debated. A sample question for this book (as listed on the Central Question Chart ) is, "Why did Mr. Han try to convince the soldier to let Soo go across the river instead of himself?" Once you have a question, you should offer two hypotheses (or positions) as answers to it. Record the two positions on chart paper, the board, or overhead. Sample positions are listed on the Central Question Chart. (Until students have practiced the subsequent processes of identifying and evaluating reasons, it is important to limit the position options for now to two.) Once the two positions are listed, ask each student to decide which position he or she thinks best answers the central question and to be prepared to explain why. Let students know that they can change their positions after the discussion. Identifying reasons . Have students explore each position by identifying supporting reasons for it. Talk to a student who supports the first position, for example. Ask the student why he or she believes it's correct. How about a student who supports the second position? Get the students to begin talking to each other, with you acting as facilitator between them. This may be a good time to abandon a rule of raising hands; instead, let students dialogue freely but respectfully. As they cite reasons, encourage them to use examples from the text, from their own background knowledge of not only the Korean War but any experiences they have had that help them understand the text, and from what they feel makes sense. Record all reasons on the chart underneath their respective positions, even those that make little sense or seem wrong. (In the course of the discussion, students will be evaluating the truth and acceptability of the reasons. If you filter out reasons according to your judgment, it will deny students the opportunity to evaluate their own thinking.) Evaluating reasons. After all the reasons are listed (and perhaps even as they are being listed), students should decide whether they are completely true, completely false, or are true or false depending on certain factors. As the facilitator, put each reason before the group for discussion and let students decide amongst themselves the truth and acceptability of each reason. For each reason, ask students the following kinds of questions (and eventually encourage them to ask each other and themselves): What makes this reason true? Or what makes it false? Are there times that it could be true, but other times when it could be false? What examples can you give from the book to support a reason as acceptable? Does it make sense? Why or why not? Should we accept this as a supporting reason for the position? Throughout this discussion, you may need to question the students or rephrase their ideas to help them formulate their thoughts. However, be sure not to put words in students' mouths. As students discuss the reasons, record their decisions about the reasons in the truth column of the chart. You can use a 'T' for true, 'F' for false, and 'D' for depends. For the 'T' and 'D' reasons, mark what makes them acceptable: 'TXT' for text support, 'BK' for background knowledge support, and 'LOG' for logical support. Students themselves may not know at first that an acceptable reason is based on text, background knowledge, or logic (i.e., what seems to make sense), but they should be able to decide if it's acceptable or not. As you classify the reasons, help them to understand why you are categorizing them as you are-that their discussion is leading you to figure out the kind of support each reason is based upon. Guide them in this thought process until they are able to tell you what justifies the reasons. Drawing conclusions. After all reasons have been evaluated, give students the opportunity to say what their positions are based on the discussion. Has anyone changed his or her mind? For those who are sticking with their original positions, do they feel more strongly about them now? Also, give students the option to say they have not made up their minds (for the ability to withhold judgment is central to critical thinking). Another way to end the lesson could be to have the students write their conclusions and justify their reasons in a journal entry or a more formal writing assignment. Modifications After a few lessons with the same book or subsequent readings, students will have had practice identifying and evaluating reasons for positions you hypothesize. Next, allow them to generate several positions of their own to new central questions. This will help them to develop hypothesizing skills. After practice at hypothesizing, move on to allowing them to generate their own central questions. You will have to determine their readiness for identifying central themes and issues, but also, you can expect by this time for students to help guide each other in this process. Another modification as students become more and more responsible for their own learning may include switching to peer discussion groups, which then report their results in writing or to the class.

My Freedom Trip does not have a great deal of factual information, so creating a K-W-L chart may help lead the class into a research project as an extension of the book. Ask the students what they already know about Korea and the issues that arose around the Korean War. Use the W column in the K-W-L as a springboard for research. As examples, students could research why the soldiers divided the country of Korea or why North Korea was oppressed while South Korea was "the freedom land." Since My Freedom Trip has a theme of bravery and not giving up, ask each student to write a personal narrative about a time when he or she was faced with a tough situation, but stuck it out. Remind students that their stories do not have to be of the same magnitude and that we all face challenges, big and small. You may want to take these pieces through the entire writing process to publication. Invite people who have lived through challenging situations to speak to the class about their ordeals. Send a letter to parents and community members to see if they would like to share their experiences. Students can respond to guest speakers' experiences through discussion afterward or in journal entries.

Student Assessment / Reflections

Observe the following in students:

  • Do they participate in the discussion before the book is read, as well as during the reading (whether using the guided reading approach or other method)?
  • Do they offer reasons for their positions that can be verified by the text, background knowledge, or logic?
  • Do they rightfully evaluate and dismiss reasons that are not acceptable or valid?
  • Do they participate fully in the discussion, giving due regard for differing opinions and viewpoints?

Provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate their critical thinking skills with the following assessment:

  • Have students read a new text or read it aloud to the entire class
  • Present students with a central question and two positions
  • Have students, on an individual basis, provide support for both positions and evaluate each as they did in the lessons
  • Have students give a written response regarding one of the positions
  • Evaluate the written response the same way as the journal entry (see below)

Evaluate student journal entries on the following (minimum) criteria:

  • Do the students justify their conclusions using reasons supported by the text, background knowledge, or logic?
  • Do the students' writing responses reflect your expectations for them?
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Think About It: Critical Thinking

Use these tips to encourage your child's critical thinking skills..

Critical thinking has become a buzzword in education. In the past, the emphasis in classrooms has been on imparting information and content — the times tables or the capitals of the United States, for example. In recent years, however, there's been a shift toward teaching critical thinking , a skill that elevates thinking beyond memorization into the realm of analysis and logic.

Put another way, critical thinking is about knowing how to think, not what to think. Teachers use a number of techniques to help students learn critical thinking, starting as early as kindergarten and ramping up especially in 2nd grade and beyond. Below are a few of the methods educators employ; you can try them at home to help your child become a critical thinker.

  • Critical thinking: Ask open-ended questions. Asking questions that don't have one right answer encourages children to respond creatively without being afraid of giving the wrong answer.
  • Critical thinking: Categorize and classify. Classification plays an important role in critical thinking because it requires identification and sorting according to a rule, or set of rules, that kids must discover, understand, and apply. If you play classification games at home, be sure to follow up the activity with questions about the similarities and differences between the groups. You can sort everything from dirty laundry to Legos to produce to doll clothes to promote critical thinking.
  • Critical thinking: Work in groups. In a group setting, students are exposed to the thought processes of their peers. Thus, they can begin to understand how others think and that there are multiple ways of approaching problems — not just one correct way.
  • Critical thinking: Make decisions. Help your child consider pros and cons, but don't be afraid to let her make a wrong choice. Then evaluate the decision later. Ask your child, "How do you feel about your decision? What would you do differently next time?"
  • Critical thinking: Find patterns. Whatever you're doing, whether it's going to the park or watching television, encourage your child to look for patterns or make connections for critcal thinking practice. For example, relate a favorite television show to a real-life situation. Or, while driving in the car, have your child identify different shapes in roads signs and in the windows and roofs of passing houses. 

It might be tempting to pass off the critical thinking buzz as just another fad in education. However, most teachers disagree. It's still important for your child to know his multiplication tables, but it's just as vital for him to know how and when to use them.

Classroom Q&A

With larry ferlazzo.

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to [email protected]. Read more from this blog.

Eight Instructional Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking

critical thinking in first grade

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(This is the first post in a three-part series.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What is critical thinking and how can we integrate it into the classroom?

This three-part series will explore what critical thinking is, if it can be specifically taught and, if so, how can teachers do so in their classrooms.

Today’s guests are Dara Laws Savage, Patrick Brown, Meg Riordan, Ph.D., and Dr. PJ Caposey. Dara, Patrick, and Meg were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show . You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

You might also be interested in The Best Resources On Teaching & Learning Critical Thinking In The Classroom .

Current Events

Dara Laws Savage is an English teacher at the Early College High School at Delaware State University, where she serves as a teacher and instructional coach and lead mentor. Dara has been teaching for 25 years (career preparation, English, photography, yearbook, newspaper, and graphic design) and has presented nationally on project-based learning and technology integration:

There is so much going on right now and there is an overload of information for us to process. Did you ever stop to think how our students are processing current events? They see news feeds, hear news reports, and scan photos and posts, but are they truly thinking about what they are hearing and seeing?

I tell my students that my job is not to give them answers but to teach them how to think about what they read and hear. So what is critical thinking and how can we integrate it into the classroom? There are just as many definitions of critical thinking as there are people trying to define it. However, the Critical Think Consortium focuses on the tools to create a thinking-based classroom rather than a definition: “Shape the climate to support thinking, create opportunities for thinking, build capacity to think, provide guidance to inform thinking.” Using these four criteria and pairing them with current events, teachers easily create learning spaces that thrive on thinking and keep students engaged.

One successful technique I use is the FIRE Write. Students are given a quote, a paragraph, an excerpt, or a photo from the headlines. Students are asked to F ocus and respond to the selection for three minutes. Next, students are asked to I dentify a phrase or section of the photo and write for two minutes. Third, students are asked to R eframe their response around a specific word, phrase, or section within their previous selection. Finally, students E xchange their thoughts with a classmate. Within the exchange, students also talk about how the selection connects to what we are covering in class.

There was a controversial Pepsi ad in 2017 involving Kylie Jenner and a protest with a police presence. The imagery in the photo was strikingly similar to a photo that went viral with a young lady standing opposite a police line. Using that image from a current event engaged my students and gave them the opportunity to critically think about events of the time.

Here are the two photos and a student response:

F - Focus on both photos and respond for three minutes

In the first picture, you see a strong and courageous black female, bravely standing in front of two officers in protest. She is risking her life to do so. Iesha Evans is simply proving to the world she does NOT mean less because she is black … and yet officers are there to stop her. She did not step down. In the picture below, you see Kendall Jenner handing a police officer a Pepsi. Maybe this wouldn’t be a big deal, except this was Pepsi’s weak, pathetic, and outrageous excuse of a commercial that belittles the whole movement of people fighting for their lives.

I - Identify a word or phrase, underline it, then write about it for two minutes

A white, privileged female in place of a fighting black woman was asking for trouble. A struggle we are continuously fighting every day, and they make a mockery of it. “I know what will work! Here Mr. Police Officer! Drink some Pepsi!” As if. Pepsi made a fool of themselves, and now their already dwindling fan base continues to ever shrink smaller.

R - Reframe your thoughts by choosing a different word, then write about that for one minute

You don’t know privilege until it’s gone. You don’t know privilege while it’s there—but you can and will be made accountable and aware. Don’t use it for evil. You are not stupid. Use it to do something. Kendall could’ve NOT done the commercial. Kendall could’ve released another commercial standing behind a black woman. Anything!

Exchange - Remember to discuss how this connects to our school song project and our previous discussions?

This connects two ways - 1) We want to convey a strong message. Be powerful. Show who we are. And Pepsi definitely tried. … Which leads to the second connection. 2) Not mess up and offend anyone, as had the one alma mater had been linked to black minstrels. We want to be amazing, but we have to be smart and careful and make sure we include everyone who goes to our school and everyone who may go to our school.

As a final step, students read and annotate the full article and compare it to their initial response.

Using current events and critical-thinking strategies like FIRE writing helps create a learning space where thinking is the goal rather than a score on a multiple-choice assessment. Critical-thinking skills can cross over to any of students’ other courses and into life outside the classroom. After all, we as teachers want to help the whole student be successful, and critical thinking is an important part of navigating life after they leave our classrooms.



Patrick Brown is the executive director of STEM and CTE for the Fort Zumwalt school district in Missouri and an experienced educator and author :

Planning for critical thinking focuses on teaching the most crucial science concepts, practices, and logical-thinking skills as well as the best use of instructional time. One way to ensure that lessons maintain a focus on critical thinking is to focus on the instructional sequence used to teach.

Explore-before-explain teaching is all about promoting critical thinking for learners to better prepare students for the reality of their world. What having an explore-before-explain mindset means is that in our planning, we prioritize giving students firsthand experiences with data, allow students to construct evidence-based claims that focus on conceptual understanding, and challenge students to discuss and think about the why behind phenomena.

Just think of the critical thinking that has to occur for students to construct a scientific claim. 1) They need the opportunity to collect data, analyze it, and determine how to make sense of what the data may mean. 2) With data in hand, students can begin thinking about the validity and reliability of their experience and information collected. 3) They can consider what differences, if any, they might have if they completed the investigation again. 4) They can scrutinize outlying data points for they may be an artifact of a true difference that merits further exploration of a misstep in the procedure, measuring device, or measurement. All of these intellectual activities help them form more robust understanding and are evidence of their critical thinking.

In explore-before-explain teaching, all of these hard critical-thinking tasks come before teacher explanations of content. Whether we use discovery experiences, problem-based learning, and or inquiry-based activities, strategies that are geared toward helping students construct understanding promote critical thinking because students learn content by doing the practices valued in the field to generate knowledge.


An Issue of Equity

Meg Riordan, Ph.D., is the chief learning officer at The Possible Project, an out-of-school program that collaborates with youth to build entrepreneurial skills and mindsets and provides pathways to careers and long-term economic prosperity. She has been in the field of education for over 25 years as a middle and high school teacher, school coach, college professor, regional director of N.Y.C. Outward Bound Schools, and director of external research with EL Education:

Although critical thinking often defies straightforward definition, most in the education field agree it consists of several components: reasoning, problem-solving, and decisionmaking, plus analysis and evaluation of information, such that multiple sides of an issue can be explored. It also includes dispositions and “the willingness to apply critical-thinking principles, rather than fall back on existing unexamined beliefs, or simply believe what you’re told by authority figures.”

Despite variation in definitions, critical thinking is nonetheless promoted as an essential outcome of students’ learning—we want to see students and adults demonstrate it across all fields, professions, and in their personal lives. Yet there is simultaneously a rationing of opportunities in schools for students of color, students from under-resourced communities, and other historically marginalized groups to deeply learn and practice critical thinking.

For example, many of our most underserved students often spend class time filling out worksheets, promoting high compliance but low engagement, inquiry, critical thinking, or creation of new ideas. At a time in our world when college and careers are critical for participation in society and the global, knowledge-based economy, far too many students struggle within classrooms and schools that reinforce low-expectations and inequity.

If educators aim to prepare all students for an ever-evolving marketplace and develop skills that will be valued no matter what tomorrow’s jobs are, then we must move critical thinking to the forefront of classroom experiences. And educators must design learning to cultivate it.

So, what does that really look like?

Unpack and define critical thinking

To understand critical thinking, educators need to first unpack and define its components. What exactly are we looking for when we speak about reasoning or exploring multiple perspectives on an issue? How does problem-solving show up in English, math, science, art, or other disciplines—and how is it assessed? At Two Rivers, an EL Education school, the faculty identified five constructs of critical thinking, defined each, and created rubrics to generate a shared picture of quality for teachers and students. The rubrics were then adapted across grade levels to indicate students’ learning progressions.

At Avenues World School, critical thinking is one of the Avenues World Elements and is an enduring outcome embedded in students’ early experiences through 12th grade. For instance, a kindergarten student may be expected to “identify cause and effect in familiar contexts,” while an 8th grader should demonstrate the ability to “seek out sufficient evidence before accepting a claim as true,” “identify bias in claims and evidence,” and “reconsider strongly held points of view in light of new evidence.”

When faculty and students embrace a common vision of what critical thinking looks and sounds like and how it is assessed, educators can then explicitly design learning experiences that call for students to employ critical-thinking skills. This kind of work must occur across all schools and programs, especially those serving large numbers of students of color. As Linda Darling-Hammond asserts , “Schools that serve large numbers of students of color are least likely to offer the kind of curriculum needed to ... help students attain the [critical-thinking] skills needed in a knowledge work economy. ”

So, what can it look like to create those kinds of learning experiences?

Designing experiences for critical thinking

After defining a shared understanding of “what” critical thinking is and “how” it shows up across multiple disciplines and grade levels, it is essential to create learning experiences that impel students to cultivate, practice, and apply these skills. There are several levers that offer pathways for teachers to promote critical thinking in lessons:

1.Choose Compelling Topics: Keep it relevant

A key Common Core State Standard asks for students to “write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.” That might not sound exciting or culturally relevant. But a learning experience designed for a 12th grade humanities class engaged learners in a compelling topic— policing in America —to analyze and evaluate multiple texts (including primary sources) and share the reasoning for their perspectives through discussion and writing. Students grappled with ideas and their beliefs and employed deep critical-thinking skills to develop arguments for their claims. Embedding critical-thinking skills in curriculum that students care about and connect with can ignite powerful learning experiences.

2. Make Local Connections: Keep it real

At The Possible Project , an out-of-school-time program designed to promote entrepreneurial skills and mindsets, students in a recent summer online program (modified from in-person due to COVID-19) explored the impact of COVID-19 on their communities and local BIPOC-owned businesses. They learned interviewing skills through a partnership with Everyday Boston , conducted virtual interviews with entrepreneurs, evaluated information from their interviews and local data, and examined their previously held beliefs. They created blog posts and videos to reflect on their learning and consider how their mindsets had changed as a result of the experience. In this way, we can design powerful community-based learning and invite students into productive struggle with multiple perspectives.

3. Create Authentic Projects: Keep it rigorous

At Big Picture Learning schools, students engage in internship-based learning experiences as a central part of their schooling. Their school-based adviser and internship-based mentor support them in developing real-world projects that promote deeper learning and critical-thinking skills. Such authentic experiences teach “young people to be thinkers, to be curious, to get from curiosity to creation … and it helps students design a learning experience that answers their questions, [providing an] opportunity to communicate it to a larger audience—a major indicator of postsecondary success.” Even in a remote environment, we can design projects that ask more of students than rote memorization and that spark critical thinking.

Our call to action is this: As educators, we need to make opportunities for critical thinking available not only to the affluent or those fortunate enough to be placed in advanced courses. The tools are available, let’s use them. Let’s interrogate our current curriculum and design learning experiences that engage all students in real, relevant, and rigorous experiences that require critical thinking and prepare them for promising postsecondary pathways.


Critical Thinking & Student Engagement

Dr. PJ Caposey is an award-winning educator, keynote speaker, consultant, and author of seven books who currently serves as the superintendent of schools for the award-winning Meridian CUSD 223 in northwest Illinois. You can find PJ on most social-media platforms as MCUSDSupe:

When I start my keynote on student engagement, I invite two people up on stage and give them each five paper balls to shoot at a garbage can also conveniently placed on stage. Contestant One shoots their shot, and the audience gives approval. Four out of 5 is a heckuva score. Then just before Contestant Two shoots, I blindfold them and start moving the garbage can back and forth. I usually try to ensure that they can at least make one of their shots. Nobody is successful in this unfair environment.

I thank them and send them back to their seats and then explain that this little activity was akin to student engagement. While we all know we want student engagement, we are shooting at different targets. More importantly, for teachers, it is near impossible for them to hit a target that is moving and that they cannot see.

Within the world of education and particularly as educational leaders, we have failed to simplify what student engagement looks like, and it is impossible to define or articulate what student engagement looks like if we cannot clearly articulate what critical thinking is and looks like in a classroom. Because, simply, without critical thought, there is no engagement.

The good news here is that critical thought has been defined and placed into taxonomies for decades already. This is not something new and not something that needs to be redefined. I am a Bloom’s person, but there is nothing wrong with DOK or some of the other taxonomies, either. To be precise, I am a huge fan of Daggett’s Rigor and Relevance Framework. I have used that as a core element of my practice for years, and it has shaped who I am as an instructional leader.

So, in order to explain critical thought, a teacher or a leader must familiarize themselves with these tried and true taxonomies. Easy, right? Yes, sort of. The issue is not understanding what critical thought is; it is the ability to integrate it into the classrooms. In order to do so, there are a four key steps every educator must take.

  • Integrating critical thought/rigor into a lesson does not happen by chance, it happens by design. Planning for critical thought and engagement is much different from planning for a traditional lesson. In order to plan for kids to think critically, you have to provide a base of knowledge and excellent prompts to allow them to explore their own thinking in order to analyze, evaluate, or synthesize information.
  • SIDE NOTE – Bloom’s verbs are a great way to start when writing objectives, but true planning will take you deeper than this.


  • If the questions and prompts given in a classroom have correct answers or if the teacher ends up answering their own questions, the lesson will lack critical thought and rigor.
  • Script five questions forcing higher-order thought prior to every lesson. Experienced teachers may not feel they need this, but it helps to create an effective habit.
  • If lessons are rigorous and assessments are not, students will do well on their assessments, and that may not be an accurate representation of the knowledge and skills they have mastered. If lessons are easy and assessments are rigorous, the exact opposite will happen. When deciding to increase critical thought, it must happen in all three phases of the game: planning, instruction, and assessment.


  • To increase rigor, the teacher must DO LESS. This feels counterintuitive but is accurate. Rigorous lessons involving tons of critical thought must allow for students to work on their own, collaborate with peers, and connect their ideas. This cannot happen in a silent room except for the teacher talking. In order to increase rigor, decrease talk time and become comfortable with less control. Asking questions and giving prompts that lead to no true correct answer also means less control. This is a tough ask for some teachers. Explained differently, if you assign one assignment and get 30 very similar products, you have most likely assigned a low-rigor recipe. If you assign one assignment and get multiple varied products, then the students have had a chance to think deeply, and you have successfully integrated critical thought into your classroom.


Thanks to Dara, Patrick, Meg, and PJ for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected] . When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo .

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Why Schools Need to Change Yes, We Can Define, Teach, and Assess Critical Thinking Skills

critical thinking in first grade

Jeff Heyck-Williams (He, His, Him) Director of the Two Rivers Learning Institute in Washington, DC

critical thinking

Today’s learners face an uncertain present and a rapidly changing future that demand far different skills and knowledge than were needed in the 20th century. We also know so much more about enabling deep, powerful learning than we ever did before. Our collective future depends on how well young people prepare for the challenges and opportunities of 21st-century life.

Critical thinking is a thing. We can define it; we can teach it; and we can assess it.

While the idea of teaching critical thinking has been bandied around in education circles since at least the time of John Dewey, it has taken greater prominence in the education debates with the advent of the term “21st century skills” and discussions of deeper learning. There is increasing agreement among education reformers that critical thinking is an essential ingredient for long-term success for all of our students.

However, there are still those in the education establishment and in the media who argue that critical thinking isn’t really a thing, or that these skills aren’t well defined and, even if they could be defined, they can’t be taught or assessed.

To those naysayers, I have to disagree. Critical thinking is a thing. We can define it; we can teach it; and we can assess it. In fact, as part of a multi-year Assessment for Learning Project , Two Rivers Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., has done just that.

Before I dive into what we have done, I want to acknowledge that some of the criticism has merit.

First, there are those that argue that critical thinking can only exist when students have a vast fund of knowledge. Meaning that a student cannot think critically if they don’t have something substantive about which to think. I agree. Students do need a robust foundation of core content knowledge to effectively think critically. Schools still have a responsibility for building students’ content knowledge.

However, I would argue that students don’t need to wait to think critically until after they have mastered some arbitrary amount of knowledge. They can start building critical thinking skills when they walk in the door. All students come to school with experience and knowledge which they can immediately think critically about. In fact, some of the thinking that they learn to do helps augment and solidify the discipline-specific academic knowledge that they are learning.

The second criticism is that critical thinking skills are always highly contextual. In this argument, the critics make the point that the types of thinking that students do in history is categorically different from the types of thinking students do in science or math. Thus, the idea of teaching broadly defined, content-neutral critical thinking skills is impossible. I agree that there are domain-specific thinking skills that students should learn in each discipline. However, I also believe that there are several generalizable skills that elementary school students can learn that have broad applicability to their academic and social lives. That is what we have done at Two Rivers.

Defining Critical Thinking Skills

We began this work by first defining what we mean by critical thinking. After a review of the literature and looking at the practice at other schools, we identified five constructs that encompass a set of broadly applicable skills: schema development and activation; effective reasoning; creativity and innovation; problem solving; and decision making.

critical thinking competency

We then created rubrics to provide a concrete vision of what each of these constructs look like in practice. Working with the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE) , we refined these rubrics to capture clear and discrete skills.

For example, we defined effective reasoning as the skill of creating an evidence-based claim: students need to construct a claim, identify relevant support, link their support to their claim, and identify possible questions or counter claims. Rubrics provide an explicit vision of the skill of effective reasoning for students and teachers. By breaking the rubrics down for different grade bands, we have been able not only to describe what reasoning is but also to delineate how the skills develop in students from preschool through 8th grade.

reasoning rubric

Before moving on, I want to freely acknowledge that in narrowly defining reasoning as the construction of evidence-based claims we have disregarded some elements of reasoning that students can and should learn. For example, the difference between constructing claims through deductive versus inductive means is not highlighted in our definition. However, by privileging a definition that has broad applicability across disciplines, we are able to gain traction in developing the roots of critical thinking. In this case, to formulate well-supported claims or arguments.

Teaching Critical Thinking Skills

The definitions of critical thinking constructs were only useful to us in as much as they translated into practical skills that teachers could teach and students could learn and use. Consequently, we have found that to teach a set of cognitive skills, we needed thinking routines that defined the regular application of these critical thinking and problem-solving skills across domains. Building on Harvard’s Project Zero Visible Thinking work, we have named routines aligned with each of our constructs.

For example, with the construct of effective reasoning, we aligned the Claim-Support-Question thinking routine to our rubric. Teachers then were able to teach students that whenever they were making an argument, the norm in the class was to use the routine in constructing their claim and support. The flexibility of the routine has allowed us to apply it from preschool through 8th grade and across disciplines from science to economics and from math to literacy.

argumentative writing

Kathryn Mancino, a 5th grade teacher at Two Rivers, has deliberately taught three of our thinking routines to students using the anchor charts above. Her charts name the components of each routine and has a place for students to record when they’ve used it and what they have figured out about the routine. By using this structure with a chart that can be added to throughout the year, students see the routines as broadly applicable across disciplines and are able to refine their application over time.

Assessing Critical Thinking Skills

By defining specific constructs of critical thinking and building thinking routines that support their implementation in classrooms, we have operated under the assumption that students are developing skills that they will be able to transfer to other settings. However, we recognized both the importance and the challenge of gathering reliable data to confirm this.

With this in mind, we have developed a series of short performance tasks around novel discipline-neutral contexts in which students can apply the constructs of thinking. Through these tasks, we have been able to provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate their ability to transfer the types of thinking beyond the original classroom setting. Once again, we have worked with SCALE to define tasks where students easily access the content but where the cognitive lift requires them to demonstrate their thinking abilities.

These assessments demonstrate that it is possible to capture meaningful data on students’ critical thinking abilities. They are not intended to be high stakes accountability measures. Instead, they are designed to give students, teachers, and school leaders discrete formative data on hard to measure skills.

While it is clearly difficult, and we have not solved all of the challenges to scaling assessments of critical thinking, we can define, teach, and assess these skills . In fact, knowing how important they are for the economy of the future and our democracy, it is essential that we do.

Jeff Heyck-Williams (He, His, Him)

Director of the two rivers learning institute.

Jeff Heyck-Williams is the director of the Two Rivers Learning Institute and a founder of Two Rivers Public Charter School. He has led work around creating school-wide cultures of mathematics, developing assessments of critical thinking and problem-solving, and supporting project-based learning.

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  • Math Tips, Tricks, and Games

Tips to Improve Critical Thinking Skills with 1st Grade Math Word Problems

critical thinking in first grade

Last Updated on May 31, 2022 by Thinkster

Developing critical thinking skills with math word problems is incredibly important. Students should move beyond simple rote memorization and fact-finding to understand the thought process and concept behind those facts.

In doing so, students are developing strong thinking skills that can help them become successful lifelong learners.

In elementary school, first grade math word problems are a great place to start teaching critical thinking strategies.

Here are some tips to help your first grader think through word problems with a critical mind.

Create a Plan

To be a strong critical thinker, your child needs to take the time to plan and strategize before tackling a problem.

critical thinking in first grade

You can teach your child to do this by having her read the problem, then dissect what it is asking.

She can then underline the important information in the problem and create a picture or diagram to represent what the problem is asking.

This ensures that he is taking the steps to carefully outline and identify what the problem is asking.

Teaching these steps early on is also incredibly important, as your child will face multi-step problems and ones with distractors in the future.

Ask “Why?”

One of the keys to critical thinking in math is being able to not just do the problem, but also to explain why.

In first grade math word problems, the “why” is often quite simple to identify, but you should still be asking.

Find out why the child chose to count, add or subtract. Have him explain his reasoning in his own words and help him write it down. Then, talk about how he came to that conclusion, encouraging him to continue to think about the problem and his steps for solving it.

Ask “Does It Make Sense?”

Most first grade math word problems are fairly clear in what they are asking the child to do, and your child should stop and reflect on his answer to see if it makes sense.

For example, if the problem creates a scenario where a person has a certain amount of an item and someone gives him more, the answer should be a larger number than he started with, which you would get by adding. If the child chose to subtract, the answer will be smaller than what you started with.

Use an online math program, like Thinkster, to help with math word problems

Critical thinking is a crucial component of Thinkster Math’s  curriculum .

Thinkster’s curriculum introduces critical thinking problems within the first grade curriculum, giving your child the opportunity to practice and sharper skills and strategies that will help them become incredible lifelong learners and thinkers.


Curious to see your child’s abilities in solving first-grade word problems?

If you’re looking for  online  math   tutoring  to help your child, you can try   Thinkster risk-free .

Thinkster provides a full-fledged  online  tutoring  platform (driven by AI, behavioral, and data science), as well as supplemental  math  worksheets ,  math   homework  help ,  test prep , and more. Our  Parent Insights App  allows you to monitor your  student ‘s work and  learning  improvements at any time.

An elite,  expert  math   tutor  and  online teaching  system work together to help your  student  go beyond just  learning   math  – we want them to master it.

Learn more about our curriculum and teaching style  here .

Tips to Improve Critical Thinking with 1st Grade Math Word Problems

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5 Critical Thinking Activities That Get Students Up and Moving

More movement means better learning.

Students engaged in critical thinking activities

It’s easy to resort to having kids be seated during most of the school day. But learning can (and should) be an active process. Incorporating movement into your instruction has incredible benefits—from deepening student understanding to improving concentration to enhancing performance. Check out these critical thinking activities, adapted from Critical Thinking in the Classroom , a book with over 100 practical tools and strategies for teaching critical thinking in K-12 classrooms.

Four Corners

In this activity, students move to a corner of the classroom based on their responses to a question with four answer choices. Once they’ve moved, they can break into smaller groups to explain their choices. Call on students to share to the entire group. If students are persuaded to a different answer, they can switch corners and further discuss. 

Question ideas:

  • Which president was most influential: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, or Abraham Lincoln?
  • Is Holden Caulfield a hero: Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree?

Gallery Walk

This strategy encourages students to move around the classroom in groups to respond to questions, documents, images, or situations posted on chart paper. Each group gets a different colored marker to record their responses and a set amount of time at each station. When groups move, they can add their own ideas and/or respond to what prior groups have written.

Gallery ideas:

  • Political cartoons

Stations are a great way to chunk instruction and present information to the class without a “sit and get.” Group desks around the room or create centers, each with a different concept and task. There should be enough stations for three to five students to work for a set time before rotating.

Station ideas:

  • Types of rocks
  • Story elements
  • Literary genres

Silent Sticky-Note Storm

In this brainstorming activity, students gather in groups of three to five. Each group has a piece of chart paper with a question at the top and a stack of sticky notes. Working in silence, students record as many ideas or answers as possible, one answer per sticky note. When time is up, they post the sticky notes on the paper and then silently categorize them.

  • How can you exercise your First Amendment rights?
  • What are all the ways you can divide a square into eighths?

Mingle, Pair, Share

Take your Think, Pair, Share to the next level. Instead of having students turn and talk, invite them to stand and interact. Play music while they’re moving around the classroom. When the music stops, each student finds a partner. Pose a question and invite students to silently think about their answer. Then, partners take turns sharing their thoughts.

  • How do organisms modify their environments?
  • What is the theme of Romeo and Juliet ?

Looking for more critical thinking activities and ideas?

critical thinking in first grade

Critical Thinking in the Classroom is a practitioner’s guide that shares the why and the how for building critical thinking skills in K-12 classrooms. It includes over 100 practical tools and strategies that you can try in your classroom tomorrow!

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Integrating Technology in First-Grade

Creative educator lesson plans can help you provide your first-grade students with an engaging and creative approach to content learning..

Students in 1st grade needs to build strong foundations for reading, writing, and numbers. You can use these creative ideas to help them practice these essential skills and build a love of learning.

Depending on your student's abilities, you may also want to explore kindergarten and second-grade lesson plans.


Amazing Animal Alliterations

Students will learn to create illustrations that support and reflect their writing.

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Adapt a Pattern Story

Students practice writing and illustrating as they create a page in your class's adaptation of their favorite pattern story.

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Five Senses Poetry

In this lesson, students write a five senses poem to share information about a favorite place or topic they are exploring.


Writing How To's

Students will write how-to stories about getting ready for school and publish them to use at home.

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Five-Star Book Reviews

In this lesson, students think of books they have enjoyed and why they liked them. Then, they create a book review on a card or 3D cube to help others choose books they will enjoy.

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My Favorite Relative

Students create a video that names their favorite relative and supports their opinion with reasons and examples.

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Persuade for a Pet

Students write a persuasive letter to convince their parents or teacher to get a new pet.

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Seeing Shapes

Students learn about 2-dimensional shapes and create a class book identifying these shapes around their school.

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Simple Surveys and Great Graphs

Students create and complete surveys, graph the data and share the results with an audience outside the classroom.

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Plan a Class Party

Students practice math skills, organization, and teamwork as they work as a class to plan and deliver a class party.

The Shape of Things

The Shape of Things

Students compose images from shapes, describe their composition, and create their own version of the book, The Shape of Things.

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Tangram Tales

Students solve tangram puzzles and then create a new shape using the shapes in the Tangram square and tell its story.

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Magical Metamorphosis

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Fantastic Field Guides

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Fashion a Family Flag

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US Symbol Stories

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A Tour of Our Classroom

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Internet Safety Poster

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Me: A Visual Essay

Students build media literacy skills as they create a visual essay to share information about themselves.

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Higher Order Thinking Math in 1st Grade

susanjones March 22, 2015 10 Comments

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But why are they not excelling on our standardized tests?!?

Over the years I created and collected tasks that are both challenging and fun for my first graders. Each task also has a challenge question that can be used when a student solves the problem and is looking to challenge themselves a little further.

critical thinking in first grade

Here are some in use in my classroom:

critical thinking in first grade

What’s the equation: The sum is 20, what is the equation? These two students worked together to come up with many different ways to make 20, including 3 and 4 addend equations.

critical thinking in first grade

Test time! To see if these two had progressed with subtraction within 20, their task was to create a math test (with an answer key) to give to a friend! They loved getting to be the teacher and I could tell right away that they knew how to subtract within 20 easily!

critical thinking in first grade

 Dress Teddy! This was a fun and tricky number sense problem for my students. They had to look at the clothes and try to figure out how many different outfits they could make for the teddy bear. At first, this group was all sorts of confused. Until one of my kids said, “let’s start with the pants… there’s only one pair of pants.” From there they could mix and match and record the different outfits. It is SO hard to bite my tongue and not guide them, but if you can hold back long enough it is amazing to see them persevere to get the answers. They feed off one another and it is pretty cool to watch!

I created 8 different tasks (which each have an additional *challenge* task) for each of the following domains:

Number sense Addition Subtraction Place Value Geometry & Measurement Time & Money

Each task comes in 3 different forms as well. There is a printable version that you can see above with the question on it. There is a guided printable version which is the same, but has guiding questions to help your students complete the problem, and a task card version to print, laminate and pass out to groups.

If you think these would be great for you students, head on over and check them out:

critical thinking in first grade

You can download the preview for more examples of the tasks 🙂

I am always looking for new ways to stretch my first grade students' understanding of math concepts and these higher order thinking tasks do just that! There are over 80 different tasks all aligned to the first grade common core math standards for students to try out! Head on over to see more.

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critical thinking in first grade

Reader Interactions


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March 22, 2015 at 11:34 pm

This looks great. I am adding it to my wishlist! Marcy [email protected]

March 23, 2015 at 1:20 am

This product would be awesome for incorporating those skills into higher level thinking but how do you incorporate this when you have a scripted math program as well? We use Saxon and have found it to do just what you said – teaches the skills but the kids still don't have the critical thinking aspect they need to be successful.

Thanks! you can email me at [email protected]

The Weekly Sprinkle

March 25, 2015 at 2:17 am

Love it! I'm also a first grade teacher who is passionate about high level math thinking skills! I always love finding fellow math junkies!

Whitney @ The First Grade Roundup

March 25, 2015 at 7:25 am

I just picked up this packet! Pinning your post for reading & rereading -I'm really excited about incorporating these ideas! Thank you, Jen

July 28, 2015 at 3:57 am

I LOVE this and am sharing it in my blog post tonight on math discussion strategies! Thank you! 🙂

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September 26, 2020 at 5:05 pm

Thank you! I’m looking at setting up my Numeracy block for my K/1 students. I’m finding it challenging to spread myself between both groups! Your activities are super helpful!

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August 27, 2022 at 5:49 am

This is awesome i loved it. I am a parent and gonna try this for sure. Thank you for creating amazing sheets.

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September 17, 2022 at 1:42 am

I’ve been searching for ways to increase higher order thinking skills in math. I love these ideas!

September 17, 2022 at 1:43 am

I’ve been searching for ways to increase higher order thinking skills in math. I love these ideas! Are these items for sale in a bundle?

September 17, 2022 at 1:44 am

I love the ways that you have incorporated higher order thinking skills in fun and engaging activities.

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critical thinking in first grade

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critical thinking in first grade

Math Games for 1st Grade: Print, Play, LEARN!

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Number Sense Activities (0-20)

critical thinking in first grade

Telling Time Games

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Subtraction Games & Activities

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Welcome to Susan Jones Teaching. When it comes to the primary grades, learning *All Things* in the K-2 world has been my passion for many years! I just finished my M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction and love sharing all the latest and greatest strategies I learn with you through this blog and my YouTube channel! I hope you'll enjoy learning along with me :)

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critical thinking in first grade

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The Integrated Teacher

19 Short Stories and Questions For Critical Thinking

Apr 2, 2024

There have been rumblings in different online teacher groups recently about replacing novels with short stories and informational articles in middle and high school English classrooms. I have to admit I was shocked when I first read the comments because I am a book lover at heart, but since then, I’ve considered that there are several pros and cons to this approach.

Short stories and other smaller texts can provide a briefer timeline to complete tasks, and this process is helpful when there is already SO MUCH curriculum to cover. Short stories and related activities can also be more engaging for our students because of the exposure to diverse voices and themes! Using short stories and lessons provides students with amazing choices to meet their needs and preferences!

On the other hand, incorporating mainly short stories and other shorter passages means students’ already-pressed attention spans (as a result of social media influences and pervasive sources of technology) are reinforced. Plus, students miss out on the more complex stories within longer pieces of fiction that are, dare I say, life-altering! A novel can provide opportunities for sustained reading and layers for analysis that shorter pieces of literature like short stories and related texts cannot offer.

Ultimately, no matter where you find yourself on the issue, I think we can all agree that short stories and their counterparts can be vital, effective, and helpful in the modern classroom!

Continue reading for 19 Short Stories and Questions For Critical Thinking!!

Need help with Test Prep ?  Check out this  FREE Pack of 3 Test Prep Activities  to help students achieve success on standardized tests!

short stories and activities picture

Table of Contents

19 Short Stories and Questions – Suggestions for Teaching Them

You don’t need to remove all novels to be able to include short stories and smaller passages like vignettes, articles, and narratives; there’s a time and place for all genres! But if you’re thinking about ways to include more short stories and fun activities, check out this list of 19 varied short stories and critical thinking questions as well as suggestions for teaching them in middle school and high school.

1.  “The Most Dangerous Game” 

“The Most Dangerous Game” is one of my absolute favorite short stories and overall plots to teach! This suspenseful short story by Richard Connell follows the harrowing ordeal of Sanger Rainsford, a skilled hunter who becomes the prey of a deranged aristocrat named General Zaroff. Stranded on Zaroff’s secluded island, Rainsford must outwit the cunning general in a deadly game of survival, where the stakes are life and death. 

the most dangerous game short stories and activities


  • You could focus on the setting (description of time and place) and examine how the setting changes throughout the story.
  • Students could learn about the plot (major events in the story) and list the major events and evidence as they read.
  • Define foreshadowing (hints for what will happen by the end of the story) and encourage students to hypothesize about what will happen after every page.
  • Analyze the character development (how a character changes over time) of Rainsford and highlight his traits/actions as you read along.


  • How does the setting contribute to the tension and suspense in the story?
  • How does the author use foreshadowing? How does the author hint at the danger Rainford is facing?
  • What inferences can you make about the main character and the changes he undergoes from the beginning to the end of the story?

If you want to teach plot elements and plot analysis , check out this lesson bundle for the story , which includes comprehension quizzes and a variety of activities!

2.  “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

Ambrose Bierce’s story is a gripping tale set during the American Civil War, where a Southern civilian named Peyton Farquhar faces execution by hanging after attempting to sabotage a Union railroad bridge. As Farquhar falls through the trapdoor, time seems to stretch, and he experiences a surreal moment, only to realize his grim reality. 

Integrating historical texts with other short stories and passages like “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” will make history come more alive and relevant for our students!

  • Teach about irony (when the opposite occurs from what is expected) and how it plays a role throughout the story.
  • Explain the term characterization (how a character is depicted) by looking at direct and indirect references while reading with your students.
  • Discuss the major themes (messages) of the story and how they connect to our modern era within a Socratic Seminar.
  • How does the author use characterization to convey Peyton Farquhar’s thoughts, emotions, and motivations?
  • What is the purpose of irony in this story? How does its use affect the reader’s interpretation and understanding of events?
  • What is the significance in our contemporary/real world of the themes of the story, including reality and fantasy, the passage of time, and the consequences of actions?

Ensure students’ understanding of the story with this set of reading questions that are perfect for state test prep, too !

an occurence at owl creek bridge short stories and questions

3.  “The Masque of the Red Death”

This chilling tale from Edgar Allan Poe is set in a secluded abbey where Prince Prospero and his wealthy guests attempt to escape a deadly plague known as the Red Death. Despite their isolation efforts, the guests are confronted with their own mortality as a mysterious figure in a blood-red mask appears.

If you have not read any short stories and poems from Poe, this story is a perfect journey into the horror genre!

  • The setting (description of time and place) plays a MAJOR role in the story, so following the Prince from room to room and highlighting the imagery (description that connects to the five senses) is very important when reading.
  • If you have not introduced mood  (emotion intended for the reader to experience), this story is PERFECT for delineating its progression from start to finish.
  • As students read, you might guide them through identifying various examples of  symbolism  (object, person, or place that represents something else); each room, objects within, and the “antagonist” is symbolic in some way!
  • How does the author convey the tone of the story? How would you, as the reader, describe the story’s mood?
  • What role does the plot structure (focus on the different rooms) play in shaping the reader’s understanding of the story?
  • What is the purpose of the symbolism in the story such as the clock and the masked figure?

Check out this EASY-TO-TEACH bundle , you can practice with your students, so they will feel more confident analyzing higher-level language in “The Masque of the Red Death!”

4.  “The Cask of Amontillado”

Another chilling tale from Poe is the classic story “The Cask of Amontillado.” This one is set during Carnival in an unnamed Italian city. The plot centers on a man seeking revenge on a ‘friend’ he believes has insulted him. If your students are anything like mine, they will relish the ending particularly!

This is just one more of Poe’s short stories and tales that will capture the mind of every reader!

  •  As you plan for this short story, be sure to encourage your students to analyze the changing setting (description of time and place); following Fortunato from scene to scene will help your students track what is really going on.
  • This story is the perfect moment to teach about dialogue (conversation within someone=internal and/or between someone and someone/thing else=external); Montresor certainly means more than what he SEEMS to say!
  • You might also offer a mini-lesson on the 3 types of irony and how each plays a role in the story: verbal (when a person says the opposite of what is really intended), situational (an action occurs that is the opposite from what the reader expects), and dramatic (a character expects a result, but the opposite occurs and the audience can tell what will happen)!
  • Describe Montresor. What are his motives and personality?
  • What inferences can you make about Montresor’s mindset based on his dialogue?
  • What is the purpose of the family’s motto and the carnival atmosphere? 

Check out this Short Story Activity & Quiz Bundle for Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” which contains questions and answers modeled after various reading standardized tests as well as pre-quiz reading comprehension questions, graphic organizers, and a writing activity to get students thinking critically about this classic short story involving REVENGE!

Want 7 more teaching ideas for one of Poe’s epic short stories and questions to go with it? Click below!

questions for the cask of amontillado

5.  “To Build a Fire”

This story by Jack London describes the treacherous journey of a man through the harsh Yukon wilderness during extreme cold. Despite warnings and the company of a loyal dog, the man’s arrogance and underestimation of nature’s power lead to a tragic end.

Short stories and ideas related to survival in nature are still relevant today! Who knows when you might get lost on a hike or crashland in no man’s land?

  • This story is PERFECT for a bit of  literary analysis  (examining the impact of various ideas, elements, or themes within a piece of literature); you could hone in on literary devices, characterization, theme, etc.!
  • Integrating clips from survival shows will help students see connections to the world and extend their thinking by comparing (recognizing similarities) and contrasting (recognizing differences) varied experiences!
  • Write a short narrative about surviving 24 hours in a different setting (description of time and place).
  • How does the author use irony? Provide an example and explain. 
  • What real-world connections can be made between this story and our contemporary life? 
  • What is the story’s message about preparedness and respecting nature?

Grab these engaging short stories and activities to make teaching this Jack London story stress-free!

6.  “The Cactus”

Told from the point of view of a young man at his former lover’s wedding, the narrator retells their story. Like most of O. Henry’s short stories and texts, this one has a twist that involves the titular cactus plant.

The ending will end in a bit of fun for your students!

  • Introduce diction (word choice) and its impact within the story by hyperfocusing on specific words within the story . Students can look up definitions, locate synonyms, create their own sentences, replace the words, etc.
  • Investigate twist endings (unexpected finish to a story); before reading the end of the story, ask students to guess why the girl “rejected” him. Some students may know the answer before reading it!
  • Describe the main characters. What similarities and differences are evident? How does this affect the story’s action?
  • What inferences can you make about Trysdale and his feelings about love and marriage?
  • What are the real and symbolic meanings of the cactus?

This resource packed with questions and answers, graphic organizers, and writing activities is sure to get your students thinking about this love story driven by misconceptions.

short stories and activities image

7.  “After Twenty Years”

This tale of friendship and betrayal focuses on the reunion of two old friends after twenty years apart on a New York City street corner. As they reminisce, something is revealed that demonstrates the reality of their bond as well as the choices they’ve made in life.

If you have not read O. Henry’s short stories and incorporated character analysis yet, this is your chance! The story is not long and can be completed in one to two class periods!

  • Sometimes, we ask students to visualize (create a picture) in their minds, but why not give them the opportunity to use their artistic skills to draw the two characters?
  • As students read, annotate for a description of each character; then, students can do a character analysis (investigation of the characters’ similarities and differences).
  • What type of irony is used in the story? How does its use affect your interpretation and understanding of the story?
  • How does the urban setting contribute to the mood of the story?
  • What is the story’s message about friendship and loyalty?

Examine the links between loyalty and duty with this set of resources designed specifically for this O. Henry story.

8.  “The Lottery”

“The Lottery” is the quintessential short story for middle school or high school English! Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” tells the story of an annual ritual that takes place in a seemingly idyllic town. When the townsfolk gather for the lottery drawing, a shocking turn of events demonstrates the dark side of human nature and their ties to (outdated) traditions.

  • Introduce the terms suspense (uncertainty and/or excitement leading up to a major event) and tension (anxiety or uneasy feelings experienced by characters). While reading, identify evidence that relates to each of these concepts and chat/write about their impact on meaning and plot.
  • Teach title (the name of the text) analysis. The title of “The Lottery” is perfect for teaching the impact of the title and audience expectations. Before reading, students may write what they believe the story will be about based on the title. After reading, students can complete a quick write responding to their previous expectations! You can do a text analysis for all short stories and poems!
  • What role does the plot structure play in building suspense and tension? (Consider the revelation of the lottery’s ‘prize’ in particular.)
  • What social commentary is being made through the story and its characters?
  • Describe Mr. Summers, Tessie, and Old Man Warner. What does the story reveal about their role in the community and their feelings about the lottery?

Give yours elf a breath of fresh air with this NO PREP curriculum that integrates test prep within the teaching of literature by using Shirley Jackson’s quintessential story!

the lottery short stories and activities

9.  “The Pedestrian”

This Ray Bradbury story follows a lone walker in a futuristic society in which everyone else is consumed by technology, particularly the television. One evening, the walker encounters a police car that questions his unusual behavior and the end is quite unexpected! (Most of Bradbury’s short stories and texts connect to the future and technology in some way!)

  • This story exemplifies Dystopian Literature (texts that include a supposedly perfect future society marred in some way by governmental or societal oppression). Using this story to introduce this type of literature is always fun for students because they will easily make connections to other dystopic short stories and poems!
  • Teach about mood (the emotional impact of a story’s description/action). The goal is to get students to deepen their critical thinking skills by recognizing how the mood changes and the purpose for that change!
  • How does the author use foreshadowing and suspense to build the mood of the story?
  • What is the central theme of the story? How might it connect with our current world?
  • What similes and metaphors does Bradbury use to describe the community and its members? What is notable about these comparisons?

With this resource about Bradbury’s “The Pedestrian,” you can just print and teach the lesson and activities with EASE! 

10.  “The Gift of the Magi”

This 1905 story by O. Henry relays a tale about a couple struggling to make ends meet. Throughout the story, they both figure out gifts to buy one another for Christmas and realize what love truly means!

  • Review character traits (how a character is depicted internally and externally). Log the traits of each character within the story and how they are important to the meaning of the story.
  • Extend (move beyond the text) critical thinking skills by encouraging students to think and write about other people. If they had $1,000 to spend on someone else, how would they spend the money and why?

the gift of the magi short stories and questions

  • How would you describe Della and Jim, and their relationship?
  • What values do the characters have, when you consider their actions and decisions?
  • Explain how dramatic irony is used in the story. Is it necessary? Is it effective? Why or why not?

This tale is a great addition to your short stories and questions unit around the winter holidays! Save yourself time at that time of the year with this lesson bundle . 

11.  “The Monkey’s Paw” 

“The Monkey’s Paw” is a classic horror story about the White family who come into possession of a mystical monkey’s paw that grants three wishes. Despite warnings, they use it and then face devastating consequences as a result.

  • Teach about the elements of the horror/suspense genre (Ex. Scary movies are typically dark, stormy, surprising, morbid, etc.).
  • Create a thematic statement (message relayed by the text in a complete sentence). There is no perfectly created theme (message) unless it is directly stated by the author; however, students can create a theme by supporting their ideas with evidence from the story!
  • What is the main theme of the story? Or how does the author communicate the themes of greed or fate? Is one stronger than the other?
  • Are Mr. and Mrs. White more alike or different from one another? How do you know?
  • Should we be afraid of the unknown? What message does the story share? Do you agree or disagree?

Examine W.W. Jacobs’ classic story with this set of questions and answers along with rigorous reading and writing activities . While it is ideal for a spooky season, the story is valuable for its ability to hook readers any time of year!

12.  “Lamb to the Slaughter” 

This classic story with a killer plot twist is about a woman who kills her husband and gets away with murder thanks to cooking a leg of lamb!

  • You could introduce the plot elements (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution), encourage students to identify major events to fit each element and write down textual evidence to support their ideas.
  • Complete a film analysis (examination of film techniques and their effects) to compare/contrast the short story with the classic Alfred Hitchcock television episode.
  • What is Mary Maloney’s state of mind? Does it remain the same or does it change throughout the story? Explain.
  • Is the resolution of the story satisfying? Why or why not? Why do you think the author ended it as he did?
  • How does irony contribute to the theme of deception in the story? Explain.

Spice up your middle school English or high school English class with this short stories and activities bundle for Dahl’s famous story!

13.  “The Tell-Tale Heart” 

Poe’s classic psychological thriller is narrated by an unnamed protagonist who insists on their sanity while recounting how they murdered an old man. The narrator is haunted by the sound of the victim’s beating heart, which ultimately drives him to confess to the crime despite not originally being a suspect. 

  • Teach symbolism (object, person, or place that represents something else) by focusing on the heart and eye . The author used these symbols in various ways!
  • Investigate psychology (the study of the human mind) as a part of the story. Determine what is fact and what is fiction within the narrator’s mind.
  • What does the story reveal about the human psyche?
  • What is the deeper meaning of the two key symbols in the story – the beating heart and the eye of the old man?
  • What role do the narrator’s inner thoughts play in the development of the plot?

the tell tale heart short stories and activities

This Short Story Comprehension Bundle offers quick (and effective!) ways to assess students’ learning and understanding of the story. It’s easy to use and will no doubt save you time too!

14.  “The Scarlet Ibis” 

Emotional short stories and their counterparts have a place as well in English classrooms! This short story by James Hurst about two brothers is a heartbreaking must-read. Through flashbacks, the unnamed narrator tells the life story of his younger sickly brother William Armstrong, who is nicknamed Doodle. And the end…well, you’ll see.

  • Define and explain the purpose of a flashback (referring back to the past within a story). Think about the implications of never thinking back on the past or always thinking about the past.
  • Complete a comparison chart between Doodle and the Ibis as you read along. Then, students can create a visual of each after they have ready by using their own evidence!
  • What is the meaning of the story’s title and the presence of a scarlet ibis in the story?
  • What is the central theme of the story? How do the events of the story support this chosen theme?
  • How does the author use personification for the storm? What effect does this have on the story?

This flexible resource features critical thinking questions and answers as well as writing and reading activities for students to explore Hurst’s heartbreaking story.

15.  “The Veldt” 

This science fiction story by Ray Bradbury was first published as “The World the Children Made” and it is quite fitting as a title! The story focuses on a futuristic world in which a video screen can be controlled and it turns out to be more than simple virtual reality! By the story’s conclusion, the world the children made is the downfall of their parents. 

  • Compare and contrast “The Veldt” with “The Pedestrian,” two short stories and dystopic texts by Ray Bradbury. Analyze the similarities and differences of both short stories and create a thematic statement that connects to both texts!
  • Make connections to our current reality in the 21st century. Locate research about the implications of technology on young people and integrate this information as you discuss this short story.
  • How does the author address the theme of technology versus humanity in the story? Do you agree with this commentary? Why or why not?
  • How does the nursery reflect the personalities of Wendy and Peter in this story?
  • Do you know the story of Peter Pan and his friend Wendy? What connections can you make between it and this story by Ray Bradbury?

Ray Bradbury’s classic short stories and similar passages are the BEST to teach in middle and high school English! With so much to dive into, they are sure to be a hit with your students. Grab this set of activities to extend your students’ engagement with rigorous reading and writing activities about “The Veldt.” 

16.  “The Necklace” 

A woman who longs for a life of luxury and elegance beyond her means faces consequences when she loses a borrowed necklace. Guy de Maupassant’s story ends with a twist that has the reader question the value of material possessions. 

  • I love comparing this short story with O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” You might choose to focus on the theme, characterization, setting, etc.
  • Summarize (writing about the main idea with details) each chunk of the story as you read with your students. Instead of asking students to write a paragraph, you could ask students to create each summary in only one sentence.
  • The story explores vanity, deception, and the consequences of striving for social status. Which theme do you think is the most important? Explain with support from the story.
  • Is Mathilde Loisel a likable character? Does this change during the story? Does it matter if the reader likes her? Why or why not?
  • What clues does the author provide throughout the story that foreshadow the twist at the story’s end?

Focus on the standards with this Short Story Lesson Bundle for “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant!

Need help with implementing activities for “The Necklace?” See below!


17.  “A Vendetta” 

Guy de Maupassant’s late-19th-century story is all about REVENGE. A mother is obsessed with creating a plan to avenge her son’s murder and she then puts the plan into action with a morbid outcome.

  • There are so many texts that involve REVENGE! Why not use this concept as a focus for a thematic unit (texts linked to a similar concept and/or message)? You could read “A Poison Tree,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “Lamb to the Slaughter” as well as “A Vendetta” with the intention of writing about all 4 for a comparison/contrast paper, presentation, or seminar.
  • Analyze the development (how a character changes over time) of the mother and the dog throughout the story; you might annotate for similarities and differences as well as their motivations!
  • What comment is the story making about the nature (or need) for justice? Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?
  • What similes and metaphors does the author use to communicate the main character’s feelings about the vendetta?
  • How does the author use details to explain the main character’s thoughts, feelings, and motivation?

Add these activities for this lesser-known work to your short story plans. It’s sure to keep things fresh for your short stories and activities unit! 

18.  “Thank You, Ma’am” (also known as “Thank You, M’am”)

This heartfelt story by Langston Hughes tells the story of Luella, an older woman in the neighborhood, who is nearly robbed by a young man named Roger. In response to Roger, Luella brings him back to her home and treats him with an abundance of kindness, which has a profound effect on Roger.

This tale is at the top of the list for the BEST short stories and passages for upper middle and younger high school students!

  • Introduce perspective and/or point of view (how a story is told: 1st, 2nd, 3rd omniscient, 3rd limited, 3rd objective). Students might rewrite the story from another perspective or extend the story using the perspective of one of the main characters.
  • Review plot elements with a focus on the exposition (introduction to the characters, setting, and conflict), climax (highest point of interest/turning point of the story), and resolution (how the story is concluded and/or resolved in some way.) You could assign an activity surrounding each concept: visualization of the scene, a journal response to the event, or a short response focused on how the element is important to the overall theme!

thank you maam short stories and questions

  • Do you believe in second chances? What does the story say about second chances? 
  • How might the climax of the story also be seen as the turning point in Roger’s life?
  • How would you describe Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones? Are her actions expected or unexpected in the story? Consider from Roger’s and the reader’s point of view.

Click to check out all of the details for this BUNDLE with differentiated options , which includes a Test Prep Quiz (with varied options), Venn Diagrams, Graphic Organizers, and Writing Responses!! 

19.  “Click Clack the Rattle Bag”

This short story by Neil Gaiman is creepy and fun in the best ways possible! The narrator is taking care of his girlfriend’s little brother and walking him to bed when the child asks for a story. Instead of the narrator sharing a story, the boy shares about the Click Clacks who drink their prey and leave behind rattling bodies. The end is too good to be missed!

Short stories and plots like those in “Click Clack the Rattle Bag” will most certainly engage even your most struggling learners!

  • We all know that test prep can be tough as many reading passages are, well, boring! Why not accomplish some test prep with your students and incorporate 5 standardized test-related questions ? You could focus on theme, structure, order of events, characterization, etc.!
  • Help students make inferences (acknowledging and hypothesizing about the impact of details that are not directly referenced or stated) as the scene moves along. Students can analyze the change in the setting, the little boy himself, the story the boy is telling, and specific phrases from the story.
  • What details in the story contribute to its eerie atmosphere or mood? Or what figurative language devices does Neil Gaiman use to create a sense of suspense in the story? 
  • How does the author use ambiguity in the story? Is it effective or not? Explain.
  • What inferences can you make about the relationship between the narrator and the young boy?

click clack the rattle bag short stories and questions

This “Click Clack the Rattle Bag” Quiz Pack for middle and high school students uses the Common Core standards and contains questions and answers modeled after various state standardized tests! Make teaching this amazing short story by Neil Gaiman SIMPLE & EASY!

Why should we incorporate more short stories and activities in our teaching?

While I would never advocate replacing all novels with short stories and smaller texts, there is still something to be said about spending quality time with short stories and excerpts. 

Including short stories and standards-based activities is an ideal option to improve reading comprehension and develop skills, especially in middle and high school English classes!


short stories and questions unit

This  Short Stories and Test Prep Questions ULTIMATE BUNDLE with Lessons, Quizzes, and Activities uses the Common Core standards with reading comprehension QUESTIONS and ANSWERS for 18 short stories such as “The Most Dangerous Game,” “The Monkey’s Paw,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “After Twenty Years,” “The Gift of the Magi,” “The Veldt,” “The Lottery,” “The Pedestrian,” etc. modeled after various state reading exams.

Make teaching short stories and activities SIMPLE & EASY!

Just PRINT & TEACH with engaging short stories and lessons!!

Need more fun ideas for teaching short stories and corresponding activities? Check out my store Kristin Menke-Integrated ELA Test Prep !

critical thinking in first grade


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  1. 20 Critical Thinking Activities for Elementary Classrooms

    critical thinking in first grade

  2. Grade One Integrated Critical Thinking Workbook

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  3. critical thinking, analyze, compare, contrast, inferences, higher level

    critical thinking in first grade

  4. Critical Thinking Skills

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  5. Critical Thinking strategies for students and teachers

    critical thinking in first grade

  6. Grade 1 Critical Thinking Bundle

    critical thinking in first grade


  1. Grade 1 Reading

  2. Critical Thinking 1 Units 1-4 Review Questions

  3. 7 Signs You Ask Questions without Thinking: Unlocking the Power of Thinking First

  4. Using Critical Thinking Skills

  5. Teacher De-Wokefies Student By Teaching Critical Thinking

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  1. Promoting Critical Thinking in the Early Elementary Grades

    2. Put Your Students in the Question: Centering students' viewpoints in a question or discussion prompt can foster deeper thinking, Orr writes. During a unit in which kids learned about ladybugs, she asked her third graders, "What are four living and four nonliving things you would need and want if you were designing your own ecosystem?"

  2. Critical Thinking Skills for Kids (& How to Teach Them)

    Get ideas and activities for teaching kids to use critical thinking skills to thoughtfully question the world and sort out fact from opinion. ... All Grades K-5 All Grades 6-12 PreK 6th Grade Kindergarten 7th Grade 1st Grade 8th Grade 2nd Grade 9th Grade 3rd Grade 10th Grade 4th Grade 11th ... First, we need to be able to simply understand the ...

  3. Critical Thinking Skills for First Grade

    For first-graders, learning to read, learning basic mathematical skills, and learning to write numbers are top priorities. But of all the basic skills young students learn, critical thinking is one of the most important. Applying, analyzing and evaluating information is one of the foundations of education and, if ...

  4. Critical Thinking Questions: The Big List for Your Classroom

    Strong critical thinking skills are key. Encourage careful reading and deeper connections with this list of critical thinking questions. ... 75 Tips, Tricks, and Ideas for Teaching 1st Grade. Pass them onto your first grade teacher friends! Read More. Author spotlight.

  5. 10 Awesome Tips for Teaching Critical Thinking Skills

    10. Hold a Q&A session. One way you can figure out how well kids are grasping critical-thinking skills is by holding question-and-answer sessions. Ask a variety of questions one-on-one or in small groups and take note of the levels of thought individual students use regularly and avoid over time.

  6. First Grade Thinking Skills & Key Concepts: Teacher's Manual

    First Grade Thinking Skills & Key Concepts is part of a new standards-based series from The Critical Thinking Co. The book does an excellent job of helping kids develop essential thinking skills, academic vocabulary, and a grasp of key concepts in mathematics, social studies, and science.

  7. Comprehension: Activities for Your First Grader

    Here are some of the things your first grader can do: Independently read and retell familiar stories. Notice when a text doesn't make sense, and begins to use strategies such as rereading, predicting, and questioning to understand it. Read and understand fiction and nonfiction and know the difference between made-up stories and facts.

  8. First Grade Thinking Skills & Key Concepts

    First Grade Thinking Skills & Key Concepts is part of a new standards-based series from The Critical Thinking Co. The book does an excellent job of helping kids develop essential thinking skills, academic vocabulary, and a grasp of key concepts in mathematics, social studies, and science.

  9. Developing Students' Critical Thinking Skills Through Whole-Class

    Students develop critical thinking as they learn to justify their reasons for a certain position on a story-specific issue. The basic format of a D-TRL provides practice with identifying and evaluating reasons as well as drawing conclusions. As more responsibility for the elements of the D-TRL is transferred to students, they receive additional ...

  10. PDF First Grade Thinking Skills & Key Concepts Table of Contents Table of

    First Grade Thinking Skills and Key Concepts Thinking About Living and Non Living Things DESCRIBING LIVING AND NON-LIVING THINGS Living things grow, need food, and reproduce.

  11. Think About It: Critical Thinking

    Critical thinking: Ask open-ended questions. Asking questions that don't have one right answer encourages children to respond creatively without being afraid of giving the wrong answer. Critical thinking: Categorize and classify. Classification plays an important role in critical thinking because it requires identification and sorting according ...

  12. Logic Puzzles for Kids: fun ways to teach critical thinking in 1st and

    There are a lot of different critical thinking skills used for solving analogies. Students must figure out the meaning of the words, the uses of the objects, how the words in the first comparison are related, and how the first relationship relates to the second comparison in the analogy! Below is an analogy that I would use with my students:

  13. Eight Instructional Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking

    At Avenues World School, critical thinking is one of the Avenues World Elements and is an enduring outcome embedded in students' early experiences through 12th grade. For instance, a ...

  14. Teaching, Measuring & Assessing Critical Thinking Skills

    Yes, We Can Define, Teach, and Assess Critical Thinking Skills. Critical thinking is a thing. We can define it; we can teach it; and we can assess it. While the idea of teaching critical thinking has been bandied around in education circles since at least the time of John Dewey, it has taken greater prominence in the education debates with the ...

  15. Tips to Improve Critical Thinking Skills with 1st Grade Math Word Problems

    In elementary school, first grade math word problems are a great place to start teaching critical thinking strategies. Here are some tips to help your first grader think through word problems with a critical mind. Create a Plan. To be a strong critical thinker, your child needs to take the time to plan and strategize before tackling a problem.

  16. 7 Ways to Teach Critical Thinking in Elementary Education

    Inspire creativity. Imagination is key to teaching critical thinking in elementary school. Teachers should seek out new ways for students to use information to create something new. Art projects are an excellent way to do this. Students can also construct inventions, write a story or poem, create a game, sing a song—the sky's the limit.

  17. Three Ways to Promote Higher Order Thinking in First Grade

    Students will likely suggest taking a vote and will need to decide on which options to put up on the board and how to collect and analyze the data. - Bring in a Hershey chocolate bar (or draw a rectangle on the board) and explain that you and 3 friends would like to share it equally.

  18. PDF 81 Critical (1-60

    This arrangement will help you and your students more clearly understand and identify the specific critical-thinking skills they are using. For each thinking skill in this book, there are two kinds of activities: (1) those that you, as the teacher, will lead, and (2) student reproducibles for indepen-dent work.

  19. Critical Thinking Activities That Get Students Moving

    Check out these critical thinking activities, adapted from Critical Thinking in the Classroom , a book with over 100 practical tools and strategies for teaching critical thinking in K-12 classrooms. Four Corners. In this activity, students move to a corner of the classroom based on their responses to a question with four answer choices.

  20. Technology Lesson Plans for First Grade

    Students build media literacy skills as they create a visual essay to share information about themselves. Creative Educator lesson plans for using technology to engage first grade students in the curriculum while building creativity, communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving.

  21. Higher Order Thinking Math in 1st Grade

    These talks got my students discussing their solutions to problems, defending their answers, and providing different ways to solve any given problem. They got my students THINKING! Over the years I created and collected tasks that are both challenging and fun for my first graders. Each task also has a challenge question that can be used when a ...

  22. Building Thinking Skills® Series

    K-1. Manipulatives. $11.99. Add to Cart. Building Thinking Skills® provides highly effective verbal and nonverbal reasoning activities to improve students' vocabulary, reading, writing, math, logic, and figural spatial skills, as well as their visual and auditory processing. This exceptional ser.

  23. 19 Short Stories and Questions For Critical Thinking

    This flexible resource features critical thinking questions and answers as well as writing and reading activities for students to explore Hurst's heartbreaking story. 15. "The Veldt" This science fiction story by Ray Bradbury was first published as "The World the Children Made" and it is quite fitting as a title!