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Critical thinking in the classroom


Being a good geographer means thinking critically about the world. Pupils who have been supported to think critically are able to challenge, question and think more deeply about all aspects of geography and become more capable and independent learners.


Critical thinking: a model for achievement

A key starting point is that effective critical thinking is neither an isolated skill, nor a generalised opportunity for thought. Rather it combines capability, the tools to think deeper and the curriculum context to do so – centred on geographical thought. It is a process, but a means of developing understanding and raising achievement in relation to the content of the curriculum. From that starting point we can begin to identify the different ingredients of critical thinking:

  • becoming better at thinking
  • making better sense of information
  • becoming a more open thinker


The diagram shows these three ingredients together, with disciplinary thinking at the core. Although individual teachers may put more emphasis on one aspect or another, linking them together helps highlight that paying attention to all three aspects is helpful.

Setting out the different aspects of critical thinking out like this may also help us get a fix on progression: the natural starting point for younger pupils is likely to be ‘becoming better at thinking’, especially through developing questioning, perhaps moving anticlockwise through ‘making better sense of information’ and ‘becoming a more open thinker’. Moreover there is a strong link between critical thinking and the enquiry process.

Finally, a key characteristic of critical thinking is that it is organised. Being systematic, for example by introducing and developing strategies and ways of thinking over the longer term, helps teachers plan and pupils to become more capable and independent. Attention to all three aspects is helpful across the curriculum in supporting pupils’ current learning, future employment and lives as knowledgeable and active citizens.

The following sections provide practical ideas and case studies which will develop your pupils’ ability to ask good questions, reflect on their learning and strengthen curiosity during investigations.

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