How to develop critical thinking skills?

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When a 13 year old by gives a speech that rivals that of an adult, he can be considered as a genius because it is unexpected for a child to think critically about serious issues. Is it really possible?

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Growing up, people are told to develop their critical thinking skills. It is hard for one to understand how that can happen, especially not knowing how the brain works. However, research has shown that young adolescents are the ones that go through significant brain development and growth. This gives them greater cognitive development and thus, this stage is the beginning of critical thinking.

The prefrontal cortex is the main center in the brain that facilitates critical thinking. Its structure and location in the brain is shown in the figure below. It gives people the potential of consideration and voluntary control of emotional responses, thinking and behavior. Humans have the highest percentage volume of the prefrontal cortex compared to other animals, giving them a higher potential of critical thinking. It is the last part of the brain to mature rapidly changing between 8 and 16 years and continuing into the 20s. The networks in this area are stimulated during these ages, strongly influencing the development of socio-emotional control and high thinking skills, developing into adulthood.

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In the book Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky, PhD, gives an articulate revelation that it is important for parents to build on the emotional and social skills as well as intellectual competencies in children during their preschool years. This ensures that they grow up with full potential for their thinking skills to develop. At this stage, there is a lot of curiosity. Curiosity develops when there are new things and a child does not know or understand what these things entail. This is also the same for adolescents and adults. In the video below, Dr. Craig Childress gives a brief description of how critical thinking skills can be developed in children noting that it is important to improve communication with children as they grow.

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Teachers play a significant role of facilitating thinking, opening the door to discourse using open-ended assignments, performance tasks and problem-solving opportunities, which can be used in the application of knowledge through creativity.

Therefore, it becomes important to develop critical thinking skills through the evaluation of evidence, learning the concept of cause and effect, separating fact from fiction and learning from personal experiences and other reliable resources. Experiments and tests can be made up and then hypotheses created and tested where a person can ask questions and evaluate the available information to come up with conclusions. This requires having critical thinking skills where the issue can possibly be identified.

Wenyu Zhao


Galinsky, Ellen. “Mind in the making.” National Association for the Education of Young Children: Washington, DC 124 (2010).


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