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Critical thinking is a 21st-century essential — here’s how to help kids learn it



If we want children to thrive in our complicated world, we need to teach them how to think, says educator Brian Oshiro. And we can do it with 4 simple questions.


This post is part of TED’s “How to Be a Better Human” series, each of which contains a piece of helpful advice from someone in the TED community; browse through all the posts here.

We all want the young people in our lives to thrive, but there’s no clear consensus about what will best put them on the path to future success. Should every child be taught to code? Attain fluency in Mandarin, Spanish, Hindi and English?


Those are great, but they’re not enough, says educator and teacher trainer Brian Oshiro. If we want our children to have flexible minds that can readily absorb new information and respond to complex problems, he says, we need to develop their critical thinking skills.


In adult life, “we all have to deal with questions that are a lot more complicated than those found on a multiple-choice test,” he says in a TEDxXiguan talk. “We need to give students an opportunity to grapple with questions that don’t necessarily have one correct answer. This is more realistic of the types of situations that they’re likely to face when they get outside the classroom.”


How can we encourage kids to think critically from an early age? Through an activity that every child is already an expert at — asking questions.


1. Go beyond “what?” — and ask “how?” and “why?”


Let’s say your child is learning about climate change in school. Their teacher may ask them a question like “What are the main causes of climate change?” Oshiro says there are two problems with this question — it can be answered with a quick web search, and being able to answer it gives people a false sense of security; it makes them feel like they know a topic, but their knowledge is superficial.


At home, prompt your kid to answer questions such as “How exactly does X cause climate change?” and “Why should we worry about it?” To answer, they’ll need to go beyond the bare facts and really think about a subject.


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