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Why thinking about thinking is a core skill for the future.

We all know how much toddlers and small children love to ask questions and if you were to ask any parent, the questions most asked in those early years are “How?” and of course the all-time classic “Why?”. Teachers have been fostering critical thinking in their students for decades, but with a renewed emphasis on the importance of critical thinking, asking “how? and why?” is set to be on high rotation for students of all ages. This week on School Stream, we look at why critical thinking is important and also share some great resources from the online education world. 

Thinking about an update to your school communication? Get in touch to see how School Stream can support you to seamlessly and reliably communicate with your whole school community or keep reading for more on our guide to critical thinking.

What is critical thinking?

There are a lot of different ideas out there about what constitutes critical thinking. As a Lecturer at The University of Queensland and the Curriculum Director at the UQ Critical Thinking Project, it’s safe to say that Peter Ellerton knows a thing or two about critical thinking. He defines it as:

“Critical thinkers have the ability to evaluate their own thinking using standards of good reasoning. These include what we collectively call the values of inquiry such as precision, clarity, depth, and breadth of treatment, coherence, significance and relevance… They are also meta-cognitive – meaning they’re aware of their thought processes (or some of them) such as understanding how and why they arrive at particular conclusions – and have the tools and ability to evaluate and improve their own thinking.”  (The Conversation)

Or, if you like, critical thinking is consciously thinking about the act of thinking, while it’s happening. Something educators have already been fostering in their students for decades. 

Why is critical thinking important?

Research shows the capacity to think critically can make a positive impact on your life, education, career, and even your health.


“Critical thinking is the foundation of strategic thinking, creative thinking, good judgement and good decision making. Good critical thinking results in the ability to draw the right conclusions more often.” (Pearson Talent Lens)

It is generally understood that critical thinking leads to better educational outcomes across all areas of study. From an Australian perspective, there are evidence-based findings to demonstrate that developing critical thinking skills lead to an increase in NAPLAN scores. 


Employees who can engage in critical thinking are reflective, independent and competent. If you practice critical thinking, you logically connect ideas, scrutinize and evaluate arguments, find inconsistencies and errors in your work and the work of others, solve complex problems and engage in reflection. (Indeed.com)

Critical thinkers are very attractive candidates to employers when it comes to landing a job. In 2015, The Foundation for Young Australians claimed the demand for graduates with critical thinking skills had increased by 158% in three years. And while the world has changed radically in six years, even a cursory glance across the major employment websites shows critical thinking to be more in demand than ever. 


“The results showed that people with greater critical thinking skills had fewer negative life events than people who had a high degree of smarts. (Forbes)

Critical thinking is more important than intelligence when it comes to making good life decisions.  Research shows critical thinkers are more likely to avoid credit card debt and are less likely to declare bankruptcy. 


And finally, when it comes to health, studies have shown that healthcare professionals who use critical thinking skills in their workplace provide better health outcomes for patients. (Use of Critical Thinking to Improve Health Outcomes)

Can critical thinking be taught? Plus Resources!

The good news is yes, critical thinking can be taught and it’s never too late – or too early – to start! Most educators have (formal and/or informal) strategies in place to support critical thinking, but it’s always worth revisiting approaches that are proven to be effective. Here are some from around the web: 

Educator Brian Oshiro says we can harness the expertise young children already have when it comes to asking questions, and that we can begin to cultivate young critical thinkers with four questions: 

  • Go beyond “what?” and ask “how?” and “why?”
  • Follow it up with “How do you know this?”
  • Prompt them to think about how their perspective may differ from other people’s.”
  • Finally, ask them how to solve the problem. (TED Talk)

While this is a technique that can extend through every stage of education, older students can grapple with more complex questions and sophisticated problems. Let’s hear from Peter Ellerton again:

Teachers at one Brisbane school, who have extensive training in critical thinking pedagogies, developed a task that asked students to determine Australia’s greatest sportsperson. Students needed to construct their own criteria for greatness. To do so, they had to analyse the Australian sporting context, create possible evaluative standards, explain and justify why some standards would be more acceptable than others, and apply these to their candidates. (The Conversation)

If you’re looking for a reading list for younger students, there are some great suggestions in this list from Nurture and Thrive:

  • What Do You Do with an Idea? – Kobi Yamada
  • What do you Do with a problem? – Kobi Yamada
  • Sarabella’s Thinking Cap – Judy Schachner
  • Going Places – Peter H. Reynolds
  • Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain: Stretch it, Shape it – JoAnn Deak PhD
  • Not a Box – Antoinette Portis
  • Mistakes That Worked: The World’s Familiar Inventions and How They Came to Be
    – Charlotte Foltz Jones
  • Papa’s Mechanical Fish – Candace Fleming

We hope you’ve enjoyed our round-up of critical thinking. 

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