Teaching critical thinking skills is important for students of all ages.

Critical thinking skills are an increasingly important element of elementary education, but teaching them can often be a challenge for elementary school teachers.

From what critical thinking is to how to incorporate it into everyday lessons, we examine the essentials of this fundamental intellectual skill below.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking goes beyond memorization, encouraging students to connect the dots between concepts, solve problems, think creatively, and apply knowledge in new ways. Despite myths that critical thinking skills are only applicable to subjects like science and math, the reality is that these skills—which are based on the evaluation and application of knowledge—are not only vital for success in all subject areas, but everyday life as well.

Critical thinking exercises for elementary education

  • Ask questions
    Asking questions, especially open-ended questions, gives elementary school students a chance to apply what they’ve learned and build on prior knowledge. It also allows them to problem-solve and think on their feet, and boosts self-esteem by providing an opportunity for students to express themselves in front of their peers.
  • Encourage decision-making
    Since a large part of teaching critical thinking skills revolves around applying knowledge and evaluating solutions, elementary school teachers should encourage decision-making as much as possible. This enables students to apply what they’ve learned to different situations, weigh the pros and cons of a variety of solutions, then decide which ideas work best.
  • Work in groups
    Group projects and discussions are another excellent way for elementary school teachers to encourage critical thinking skills. Cooperative learning not only exposes students to the thought processes of their classmates, it expands their thinking and worldview by demonstrating that there’s no one right way to approach a problem.
  • Incorporate different points of view
    Some of the very best critical thinking exercises for elementary school students involve exploring a concept from multiple perspectives. This tactic not only establishes that an idea should be assessed from different points of view before an opinion is formed, it gives students a chance to share their own viewpoints while listening to and learning from others.
  • Connect different ideas
    Connecting different ideas is key to teaching critical thinking. For example, elementary school teachers can ask students if they know anyone who has to take a bus to work, and if so, why it would be important for that person to also have a train schedule. Questions like these help children consider different situations (delayed buses, for example) and potential solutions (taking the train instead), helping them apply prior knowledge to new contexts.
  • Inspire creativity
    Imagination is key to teaching critical thinking in elementary school. Teachers should seek out new ways for students to use information to create something new. Art projects are an excellent way to do this. Students can also construct inventions, write a story or poem, create a game, sing a song—the sky’s the limit.
  • Brainstorm
    Brainstorming, a time-honored tradition in elementary education, is an excellent learning tool. It’s also an excellent critical-thinking exercise, especially when paired with visual elements that bring original thinking and classroom discussions to life.

A BS in Elementary Education—Your Key to Reaching Students

Since children learn in different ways and can come from vastly different backgrounds, it’s essential that future elementary school teachers receive an education that helps them effectively reach various types of students so they can learn to think critically and meet the challenges of living in a diverse, complex world.

If you’re interested helping our children acquire these essential skills, a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Elementary Education can help you prepare to become a certified teacher with the skills and knowledge necessary to be an effective professional educator.

Walden University’s online BS in Elementary Education (Teacher Licensure) program not only aligns with national professional standards and licensure requirements, it can be earned completely online, making it ideal for those balancing work and family commitments.

Ready to become a certified elementary school teacher? Learn how Walden’s online BS in Elementary Education (Teacher Licensure) program can help you engage with children and families to foster healthy development and learning.


The BS in Elementary Education program leads to initial licensure and is approved by the Minnesota Board of Teaching (MBOT) and the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. This program does not qualify for teacher state licensure in Kentucky or North Carolina. Students who are interested in receiving teaching licensure in these states should not enroll in this program. Walden enrollment advisors can provide guidance on licensure issues; however, it remains the individual’s responsibility to understand and comply with all state licensure requirements. Walden makes no representation or guarantee that completion of Walden coursework or programs will permit an individual to obtain state licensure or endorsement.

The program learning outcomes are guided by the Minnesota Standards of Effective Practice and Minnesota Teachers of Elementary Education (K–6) Standards.

Prospective Alabama students: Contact the Teacher Education and Certification Division of the Alabama State Department of Education at 1-334-242-9935 or www.alsde.edu to verify that these programs qualify for teacher certification, endorsement, and/or salary benefits.

Prospective Washington state students are advised to contact the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction at 1-360-725-6400 or prof.educ@k12.wa.us to determine whether Walden’s programs in the field of education are approved for teacher certification or endorsements in Washington state. Additionally, teachers are advised to contact their individual school district as to whether this program may qualify for salary advancement.

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