Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking [noun]

Oxford Dictionary  

‘The objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.’

Cambridge Dictionary

 ‘The process of thinking carefully about a subject or idea, without allowing feelings or opinions to affect you.’

Critical Thinking is an important skill that all online users, but especially young people, need in order to navigate the internet safely and find the latest news headlines or facts and information. With the amount of content that is now online, it’s increasingly possible for a young person to be reading something that is inaccurate without realising.

Being a critical thinker doesn’t mean rejecting all information you encounter, it merely means not accepting information immediately at face value. Instead young people should think critically about the information that is in front of them, weighing up what they know to be true, asking questions, forming judgements and checking with others if they are unclear.

How can I teach young people about this?

Critical Thinking is a key skill in many different aspects of life and you may be surprised at how adept your pupils already are at using it. However it’s important young people know how to adapt this skill when they’re online. It can be easy for young people to consume online content with no consideration as to how reliable it really is. They may need support in learning to question websites, reviews, the profiles of mutual friends and more.

For primary pupils, the SMART rules offer straightforward memorable safety messages including specific guidance on how to find reliable content. You can also support pupils by modelling critical thinking during lessons. Speaking aloud whilst looking at online content and asking questions like ‘can that really be true?’ or ‘does this match up with what I already know about this topic?’ can help pupils grasp what critical thinking means in practical terms.

For secondary pupils you may want to look more closely at the idea of ‘Fake News’ as well as reliability of information found on social media. For resources on Fake News have a look at the BBC School Report or for social media try Media Smart. Older children may also benefit from discussion around online propaganda.

Top tips to share with pupils:

  1. Always check the source: No matter where the information has been shared (social media, website, blog etc) be clear on who shared the original content.
  2. Try to check at least 3 different websites when looking for information or news online. This will allow you to compare the information you are reading and decide whether it is reliable.
  3. Compare with what you already know: Use your own knowledge to help decide whether information is reliable or check in a book!
  4. Check the date: Some information online is out of date or might have been reshared after an event. Always check the date to see if you have the most up to date information.
  5. Talk to someone: Ask your friends, family, teachers etc about the information you have found online and talk to someone if ever you see something worrying or upsetting being shared online.

Useful Resources

Trust Me is a resource designed to support primary and secondary school teachers in exploring critical thinking online.

Developed in partnership with the London Grid for Learning to address the emerging area of online extremism and propaganda, this practical resource aims to provoke discussion among pupils so as to challenge them to think critically about what they see on websites and social media as well as the communication they have with others online.