How to get teenagers to think critically

Anna Roslaniec
Anna Roslaniec
A group of young people sat at a table discussing with a woman stood up

Critical thinking is a 21st century skill that has been around for thousands of years. There are records of Socrates using critical thinking skills in his teaching in 4th century BC Greece. In recent years though, critical thinking has again become more prominent in education.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking requires students to do more than remember and repeat information. Instead, it encourages them to analyze, examine, evaluate and use their problem-solving abilities through questioning, theorizing and rationalizing to have a deeper understanding of the world around them, both inside the classroom and beyond.

Why is critical thinking so important?

In the past, success in education was largely based on the ability to remember facts and figures. However, the skills which our students need today go further than memorization. With our rapidly evolving technology, the internet, and the bewildering amount of information online, it is essential that our students can use higher-order thinking skills to analyze and assess the information they are presented with.

How can you incorporate critical thinking into your classes?

Devising long-term goals

We all know the importance of looking ahead and planning for the future. We can encourage this skill in our students and directly relate it to their learning.

At the start of the course, take a moment to chat with each student individually and ask them to identify an objective for the first part of the year. You may like to brainstorm possible objectives as a class first, but it’s important for students to determine their own personal objectives, rather than imposing objectives on them.

During the first half of the year you can talk to each student about their progress and ask them to assess to what extent they’re achieving their goals.

The key point comes at the end of the semester when students evaluate their progress and set a new objective for the following one.


The ability to analyze options, risks and opinions will help your students in the future in many situations, including when they decide which course to take at university or which job to take.

You can practice this skill by providing students with relatable situations and asking them to analyze and compare the options.

For example:

Imagine you are taking a trip with some friends this summer. You have a number of different options and want to discuss them before finalizing your plans. Talk to a partner about the different trips and decide which would be best:

  • Traveling around Europe by train for a month ($1,000)
  • A weekend hiking and camping in the countryside ($200)
  • A weekend break in a big city, with shopping, sightseeing and museum trips ($500)
  • A week-long trip to the beach in an all-inclusive resort ($650)

Anticipating consequences

Students also need to have an awareness of the consequences of their actions; this is a skill which is transferable to making business decisions, as well as being important in their everyday lives.

To practice this skill, put students into small groups and give them the first part of a conditional sentence. One student completes the sentence and then the next student adds a consequence to that statement.

For example:

Student A: If I don’t study for my English exam, I won’t pass.

Student B: If I don’t pass my English exam, my parents won’t let me go out this weekend.

Student C: If I can’t go out this weekend, I’ll miss the big football match.

Student D: My coach won’t let me play next year if I miss the big match.

Rearranging the class menu

By giving students more responsibility and having them feel invested in the development of the lesson, they will be much more motivated to participate in the class.

Occasionally, let students discuss the content of the day’s class. Give them a list of tasks for the day, including how long each will take and allow them to discuss the order in which they’ll complete them. For larger classes, first have them do it in pairs or small groups and then vote as a whole class.

Write on the board:

  • Class discussion (5 minutes)

The following tasks can be done in the order you decide as a class. You have five minutes to discuss and arrange the tasks as you choose. Write them on the board in order when you’re ready.

  • Check homework (5 minutes)
  • Vocabulary review (10 minutes)
  • Vocabulary game (5 minutes)
  • Reading activity (15 minutes)
  • Grammar review game (5 minutes)
  • Speaking activity (10 minutes)

Take this one step further by asking your students to rate each activity out of 10 at the end of the class. That way, you’ll easily see which tasks they enjoy, helping you plan more engaging lessons in the future.

More blogs from Pearson

  • Young children stood in a row clapping and celebrating with a christmas tree in the background

    Classroom tips: 12 days of Christmas

    By Pearson Languages

    With the holiday season approaching, it’s good to add some fun into teaching to keep your students engaged and motivated. We’ve created 12 simple classroom activities and tips that you can carry out with your primary class to encourage them to be good.

  • A teacher stood in front of a classroom in front of a whiteboard with stickynotes, talking to students

    Six of the most famous British stories for English teachers

    By Anna Roslaniec

    Sometimes, it’s nice to share cultural insights with our students so they can get a deeper understanding of the context of the language they are learning. However, without lots of time and money, it can be tough to travel to an English-speaking country yourself and experience what life is like first-hand.

    But what if you could learn about British history, customs and culture from the comfort of your sofa?

    That’s right - in an instant you could be transported back to the dark cobbled streets of 19th century London, to an industrial town in northern England or a rural village in Surrey.

    Today, we want to share six English stories set in Britain that provide cultural, historical and social aspects of British life, both past and present.

    So sit back, relax and let us take you on an adventure.

    1. Emma

    Written by Jane Austen (1775-1817)

    This story about the intelligent and beautiful Emma was first published at the end of 1815. The book, which takes place in a fictional village called Highbury (located in the charming county of Surrey), covers themes such as romance, social class and female empowerment.

    Emma is a social person who enjoys seeing people happy and contented. She spends her time arranging marriages between her friends but sometimes makes mistakes. Will the problems she causes upset people? And can she find love herself?

    2. The Picture of Dorian Gray

    Written by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

    This philosophical yet supernatural thriller, first published in 1890, is full of lies, secrets and mystery. The tale revolves around the main character, Dorian Gray, who after inheriting a property from his grandfather, travels to London and soon makes new friends. One of his new acquaintances paints a portrait of Dorian, who makes a dangerous wish that he would give anything - even his soul - to stay as young and good-looking as he appears in the painting.

    Soon, things start to go wrong and his life gets out of control. But he doesn’t seem to get older. Why? The terrible secret he’s hiding in his attic is the answer. What could it be? Allow yourself to travel back to Victorian times and see London through the eyes of this handsome and hedonistic young man.

    3. Middlemarch

    Written by Mary Anne Evans (1819-1880)

    Written under Mary’s pen name,George Elliott, this work of realism was first published in eight installments during 1871 and 1872. The story, set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch from 1829-1832, tells a tale of science and discovery. It follows Dorothea, a young woman determined to change the world and Dr. Lydgate, an ambitious man who wants to be a leader in science. Dorothea and Dr. Lydgate are both married, but soon their marriages go wrong.

    Can they ever be happy? Will they achieve their dreams? Although the central theme of the book revolves around the marriage of the two main characters, with many historical references such as the 1832 Reform Act, the beginnings of the railways and the death of King George IV, Middlemarch is great for those who are interested in history as well as provincial life. 

    4. Four Weddings and a Funeral

    Written by Richard Curtis (born 1956)

    Those looking for a more modern look at British life can learn plenty about customs and cultures in this contemporary book, which has been adapted from one of Britain’s funniest and most popular films. Released in 1994, Four Weddings and a Funeral is about Charles (played by Hugh Grant in the film), a charming man who is very unlucky in love.

    One day, during his friend’s wedding, he meets a beautiful girl called Carrie. Unfortunately, she does not plan to stay in England, and travels back to the United States. But they keep meeting each other, so maybe things can work out for the couple. Laugh while discovering the ins and outs of the British social scene in this romantic comedy.

    5. North and South

    Written by Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865)

    North and South, published in 1855, is about a young woman named Margaret Hale who moves with her parents from rural southern England to an industrial town called Milton in the north. There, she meets a wealthy mill owner named Mr. Thornton, and though she dislikes him, he immediately falls in love with her.

    During her time in Milton, she witnesses what it’s like to work in the mills where employers and workers constantly clash. As his workers go on strike, will Mr. Thornton be able to charm Margaret? This complex and provoking story follows the working class struggle during the Industrial Revolution.

    6. Oliver Twist

    Written by Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

    Published in 1832, Oliver Twist was Dickens’ second novel. The story tells the tale of a young orphan we can all feel for. Oliver is brought up in a workhouse where he is beaten, starved and poorly treated. With no parents to look after him, he decides to run away to London, where he joins a gang of thieves.

    His new friends look out for him, but can they protect him from a life of danger and crime? An interesting look at the darker side of Britain’s capital, Oliver Twist is still popular today with film, musical and TV adaptations.

    Want some more reading inspiration for your English lessons?

    Discover graded Readers featuring some of the world’s best-loved authors.

    Pearson has Readers adapted from classic English novels with audio files and a comprehensive teacher resources section, meaning you can use them in class with your students too. 

  • Business people in a group smiiling with their hands up in air

    Empowering employee success: establishing a learning culture

    By Pearson Languages

    In the fast-paced world of business, there is one undeniable fact that holds true: employees are the key to success. Their commitment and expertise propel organizations towards their objectives, which is why investing in a learning culture is essential. The advantages are numerous and include improved staff retention, increased productivity and the goal of higher employee engagement.