Pedagogy

Teaching critical thinking using Bloom’s Taxonomy

Carolyn Westbrook

In her previous posts, Unlock author Carolyn Westbrook introduced the basics of teaching Critical Thinking in ELT. Today, she explores Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives classifies a number of skills which can be used to teach critical thinking. The six skills are often depicted as the triangle shows.

Boom's Taxonomy

However, representing the skills like this gives the impression of a hierarchical approach to critical thinking. It seems to suggest that the Lower Order Thinking Skills (remember, understand and apply) must be acquired before the Higher Order Thinking Skills (analyze, evaluate and create) can be learnt.

This is not necessarily the case, however. The different skills can and should be used in a more integrated way. For this reason, it can be helpful to consider them as a circle, with no start or finish, and where the skills can be integrated in any order, as laid out on this useful poster from the More Than English blog.

But what do the six skills really mean?

Remember:
  • can students recall information they have read or heard?

 

Understand:
  • can students explain the ideas or concepts they have read or heard about?

 

Apply:
  • can students use the information in another context or a different situation or for a different task?

 

Analyse:
  • can students break the information down into its component parts?

 

Evaluate:
  • can students assess the value of the input information?

 

Create:
  • can students use the input to create something new?

 

As can be seen from the two diagrams, a number of verbs are associated with each of the six skills. These can be used by teachers as a guide when designing tasks to promote critical thinking. By using the verbs, we can take any kind of input – for example, a listening or reading text – and create critical thinking tasks around those verbs.

Furthermore, by taking a task-based approach to teaching critical thinking, we can design a range of integrated tasks which will enable students to do what is necessary to achieve the output. (One example of such an output might be a project analysing the use of public transport in a given city.) We just need to ask ourselves ‘What do students need to do to produce this output?’ Once we know which steps they need to go through to achieve the target, we can design a range of tasks for them which will address those steps. For instance:

1. The causes and solutions of the recent financial crisis

      • list the main causes of the recent financial crisis;
      • explain the causes of the recent financial crisis;
    • prioritise the fiscal measures which should be taken to reduce the budget deficit;

 

2. The advantages and disadvantages of testing primary school children

  • categorise the arguments into advantages and disadvantages of testing primary school children;
  • compare the opinions of the two authors;
  • decide whether you are in favour of or against testing primary school children and why (based on the arguments provided);
  • tell your partner your opinion and justify your reasons.

 

3. The problem of obesity in developed and developing countries

  • name the countries presented in the text;
  • complete the table with the percentages of obese people in the different countries;
  • create a graph showing the percentage of obese people in the different countries;
  • compare the causes of obesity in developing and developed countries;
  • identify the solutions of obesity presented in the text;
  • recommend the measures which should be taken to reduce obesity in developed countries;
  • design an information leaflet for students / schoolchildren to encourage them to eat more healthily;
  • compose a poem about healthy eating;

 

By scaffolding critical thinking skills and at the same time informing students explicitly that these tasks are developing their critical thinking skills, we guide our students towards critical thinking. We do this with the intention that, in the longer term, this will enable them to develop their critical thinking skills beyond the length of the course, empowering them to think openly and critically in everything they do, not just English.

In the next post, we will look at using Bloom’s Taxonomy to teach critical thinking in Unlock.

We regret that Unlock is not available in North America.

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  • J Gavigan

    Excuse me, Ms Ostrowska… One or two things come to mind here. Are you seriously suggesting that this picture might be the first one used when discussing the topic of food? Secondly, “it gives the teacher a chance to learn about…” Just what use is this to a student?
    I would welcome your views.

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