By: Vinicius Nobre

In the realm of English language teaching (ELT), the cultivation of Critical Thinking (CT) skills has gained significant recognition as a vital 21st Century Skill. However, when it comes to young learners, the development of critical thinking often receives insufficient attention in ELT coursebooks and approaches. This blog post aims to shed light on the importance of integrating CT into the English learning curriculum for young learners because by nurturing critical thinking skills from an early age, educators can empower young learners to actively and skillfully analyze, evaluate, and apply information, equipping them with the essential tools for adaptability in today’s rapidly evolving world.


The Foundation of Critical Thinking:

The roots of critical thinking skills can be traced back to the early 20th century, primarily influenced by the work of philosopher John Dewey. Dewey emphasized the importance of reflective thought, which involves active and persistent consideration of beliefs and knowledge. Dewey’s ideas laid the groundwork for Bloom’s Taxonomy, a seminal framework that categorized thinking skills from lower-order to higher-order levels. Bloom’s Taxonomy has undergone revisions to align with the demands of the 21st-century context, providing educators with a scaffold to foster critical thinking skills in young learners.


The Role of Knowledge and Dispositions:

Knowledge serves as a foundation for developing critical thinking skills in young learners. It enables them to effectively apply CT across various domains, fostering the transferability of skills. While domain-specific knowledge is valuable, the ability to transfer knowledge from one context to another is equally important. Additionally, nurturing positive dispositions, such as empathy and open-mindedness, creates an environment conducive to fair judgment and exploration of abstract ideas. Encouraging such dispositions in the English learning classroom supports the growth of critical thinking skills in young learners.


Pedagogical Approaches for CT Instruction:

Integrating critical thinking instruction within the English learning curriculum is best achieved through pedagogical approaches that align with young learners’ cognitive abilities and interests. While explicit instruction can be valuable, there is an ongoing debate about whether CT should be taught as a standalone subject or embedded within other subject matter. In the context of young learners, incorporating critical thinking instruction into ELT can be realized through various effective pedagogical approaches. Guided discovery, process writing, and debates are examples of methods that engage young learners in higher-order thinking processes, enabling them to practice critical thinking in authentic and age-appropriate contexts.


Assessing Critical Thinking:

Assessing critical thinking skills in young learners within the ELT context presents unique challenges and the need to revisit our beliefs regarding testing and assessment. Traditional assessment methods often prioritize rote memorization and lower-order thinking skills, failing to capture the essence of critical thinking. However, alternative assessment approaches, such as performance-based assessments, portfolios, and project-based assessments, offer more comprehensive ways to evaluate young learners’ critical thinking abilities. Ongoing research focuses on developing reliable and valid assessment tools specifically tailored to assess critical thinking in the context of young English language learners.


Considerations for Online Collaboration Tools:

With the increasing prevalence of online learning, educators need to consider the integration of Online Collaboration Tools (OCTs) to promote critical thinking skills among young learners. OCTs provide platforms for collaborative problem-solving, information analysis, and developing critical thinking dispositions. However, educators must navigate challenges related to online communication, digital literacy skills, and the potential for information overload. Thoughtful implementation of OCTs can enhance critical thinking opportunities and foster meaningful collaboration among young learners in the online English learning environment.


By integrating critical thinking instruction into the English learning curriculum for young learners, educators play a crucial role in their intellectual and cognitive development. Cultivating critical thinking skills from an early age empowers young learners to become active, discerning, and adaptable individuals. Through a combination of pedagogical approaches, suitable assessment methods, and thoughtful integration of online collaboration tools, educators can create an environment that nurtures critical thinking abilities in young English language learners, equipping them with the essential skills for success in the 21st century.


English AcadeMe Junior

English AcadeMe Junior is Everybody Loves Languages’ latest resource for teaching English to young learners. This movie-based digital course is filled with strategies to promote the development of critical thinking in young learners. By guiding them to discover the world through the magic of their favorite stories, English AcadeMe Junior helps learners expand their knowledge about the most diverse topics in a fun, collaborative, and meaningful way. The activities in English AcadeMe Junior go beyond language and foster the development of cognitive abilities through authentic storytelling, including integrative assessment moments with exciting projects and suggestions for highly effective classroom dynamics. 


Further reading:

  1. Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York, NY: McKay.
  2. Dewey, J. (1933). How we think. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath.
  3. Ennis, R. H. (1987). A taxonomy of critical thinking dispositions and abilities. In J. Baron & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), Teaching thinking skills: Theory and practice (pp. 9-26). New York, NY: W.H. Freeman.
  4. Tsai, P.-S. (2019). The effects of process writing instruction on Taiwanese elementary students’ English achievement and critical thinking. International Journal of Instruction, 12(4), 107-120.
  5. Abrami, P. C., Bernard, R. M., Borokhovski, E., Wade, A., Surkes, M. A., Tamim, R., & Zhang, D. (2008). Instructional interventions affecting critical thinking skills and dispositions: A stage 1 meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 78(4), 1102-1134.
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