Teaching Students Creative and Critical Thinking

It might seem impossible to add one more thing to your teaching agenda, but have you taught your students creative and critical thinking? Read this post for inspiration on how to teach these skills--and for insight on how these two types of thinking are different.

Life is full of adventures! You never know what wonderful twists or turns lie ahead.  A few weeks ago, I had applied to be a guest writer on Rachel Lynette’s blog, Minds in Bloom. With so many other applicants, I never thought I would even be considered! I was absolutely floored when I received an email from Maggie, Rachel’s assistant, letting me know that they were ready for me to submit my post! Whaaat??  So cool!  So, here I am…writing as a guest blogger for Rachel Lynette!

It might seem impossible to add one more thing to your teaching agenda, but have you taught your students creative and critical thinking? Read this post for inspiration on how to teach these skills--and for insight on how these two types of thinking are different.

One of my greatest passions as a teacher is to create an excitement…a buzz…a quest for learning in students.  There is nothing more exciting than to see that “Aha!” moment in a child’s eyes, the realization that he/she “gets it” and now knows how to share it with others.  Creative and critical thinking enables the student to better understand the world around them.  The concepts taught, combined with different kinds of thinking strategies can create a fabulous feast for the mind while training the brain to have the know-how to fearlessly meet real-world problems head on!

What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking requires fluidity!  It is divergent AND convergent. It is finding a solution to a problem–a solution that works best for that particular situation, time, and experience.  Critical thinking is active, not passive.  It engages the student in complex thinking, wherein they are forced to make choices, defend their choices, and harder yet, change their choices as needed when better or more complete information is found and understood.  Critical thinking is essential for solving complex problems as logic and reasoning skills are put to the test.

What is Creative Thinking?

Creative thinking is very similar to critical thinking in that it also requires fluidity and is essential for problem solving.  Creative thinking can be taught with practice and typically produces something unique, original, and fresh.  SCAMPER is a mnemonic device I use quite frequently with my students; it stands for substitute, combine, adapt, minify/modify/magnify, put to other uses, eliminate, and rearrange. SCAMPER is a great way to help a student understand what is needed to spark creativity from within.

How to Teach Your Students to Think…About Thinking

Just so you know…I get it!  I really do!  There just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to teach creative and critical thinking!  Right? Testing is sucking the very life out of us all!  I know…I get it!  But, WAIT! Maimonides, the ancient philosopher, once said, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  The same could be said about thinking!  If we teach our students how to be critical and creative thinkers, we teach them how to be successful far longer than just till the end of the school year.  So, how do we do this AND complete the curriculum for math, reading, language arts, science, social studies, history, etc.?  I believe the trick is not seeing these thinking skills as something MORE to teach but merely as a different WAY to teach that enhances the curriculum already being taught in your classroom. Here are a few ideas:


It might seem impossible to add one more thing to your teaching agenda, but have you taught your students creative and critical thinking? Read this post for inspiration on how to teach these skills--and for insight on how these two types of thinking are different.
Teaching with Webb’s Depth of Knowledge

Ask Good Questions

Using Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge higher-level question stems, students can better understand and eventually master inquiry-based questioning skills.  Incorporate these kinds of questions stems when discussing a wide variety of concepts with your students. Questioning activities:  Try them out!

1.  Bubble Gum vs. Cotton Candy Questioning Grabber

Treat your students to a “taste” of questions!  Give each student a piece of gum and a serving of cotton candy.  Talk about the properties of each and how they relate to questioning strategies.  Cotton candy questions are lower level thinking questions and can usually be answered with a “yes” or a “no.”  On the other hand, bubble gum questions require the student to consider different kinds of answers, a mulling or “chewing” of answers.  These questions simply require more work! Just as your jaws get tired from chewing gum, your brain gets a workout when using just the right kind of questions!

2.  Mystery Objects

Bring a “mystery” object for the class to see, feel, and/or smell.  Students ask questions about the object and try to identify what the object is, where it came from, how it is made, how it is used, etc.  I had a friend bring a piece of sea glass to class one day.  Being from Utah, we don’t get a lot of sea glass, so this was something I had never seen or felt.  Believe me, I had a lot of questions about this object. Really fun!


Tips, Tricks and Ideas

The following list of ideas can be used across the curriculum, as well as with team or class building.  Try just a couple of these in one of your lessons and see how it goes!

Go Noodle

The Learning Station
The Learning Station

Be Physically Active

Get your students moving around the classroom when working on projects.  Have them take a break and stretch or move to pre-made workouts found on different websites like  The Learning Station and Go Noodle.

Brainstorm/List Ideas

Take time to have your students generate solutions, ideas, reasons, etc.  Be careful not to judge!  Accept everything, and then have your students apply what fits or works for the given situation.

Make Connections…Create Extensions…Welcome Challenges

Encourage your students to make connections to the topic.  They should always be looking for how the conversation, topic, or concept affects them personally.  Create learning environments that extend their thinking.  Have them interview, create, decide, judge, combine, research, examine, re-examine, tweak!  Empower the students to welcome challenges with an “I’ve got this!” type of attitude.  No wimps allowed!

Consider the Opinion of Others


Students can be very territorial of their opinions and answers to a question.  It’s important that they learn to consider what others are saying, as well.  One of my favorite activities to practice this skill is called “Lost at Sea!  A Critical Thinking Adventure.”  Students are given the task of choosing 20 items to take with them as they swim to a deserted island for safety.  Once they choose, they must compare their list with their partner’s list. If the items match, great!  If they don’t match, students must try to convince each other why their choice is better for the situation at hand, or they must change their mind and agree with their partner’s choice. FREEBIE ALERT!  I love this activity, so it is my gift to you!  This resource will be free for you to download until August 1st, 2015.  Yay!  Prizes!

Establish a Positive Classroom Community

Students will be more likely to participate in discussions, class projects, activities, and assignments if they feel they play an active role and are an important element in their classroom.  Team building and class building activities are essential!

Communicate and Collaborate

I have yet to meet someone who is a master of everything!  But, I have met several who are masters of at least something!  Communication and collaboration will spur on critical and creative thinking.  Students are more successful by sharing their ideas and talents with a group.  Give your students time to work together.  Encourage them to find the solution to a problem together as a team of workers.  There is nothing better than a classroom involved in “controlled chaos.”

Invite Students to Question Their Thinking and Reflect Often on Their Learning

Einstein thought questioning and curiosity were the key elements to learning.  He constantly questioned his own thinking and was eager to find those cracks, those mistakes in his theories because it was one step closer to proving what didn’t work and finding the solution for what did.  Students should  question their thinking often, welcome the mistakes, and celebrate the successes.  Find time for critical, reflective learning moments.  Take time for students to soak in learning, as well as recognize what still needs to be done better.

Help Students Learn How to Justify Beliefs or Be Willing to Change Them

The way we think, including how we think, is largely based upon our personal experience.  It stems from the environment in which we live.  Guide students to recognize their beliefs and whether or not those beliefs are based on facts or emotions.  Students need to understand that it is okay to change their minds about previously held notions.  To think critically and creatively requires great flexibility.

Activities to Enhance Critical and Creative Thinking

Here are a few sites and activities I’ve used with my students to increase and enhance critical and creative thinking skills.  Although these activities may not align exactly to your curriculum, they are fabulous for teaching these important skills to your students! I hope you find them very helpful!


Teaching Students Creative and Critical Thinking
Hour or CodeTeach critical and creative thinking skills with coding activities.


Teaching Students Creative and Critical Thinking

Actively Learn: Add your own questions to enhance your student’s reading experience!

Teaching Students Creative and Critical Thinking

Graphite from Common Sense Media: One of my favorite sites…ever!  Great for finding lesson plans, apps, sites, and game-based activities perfect for developing critical and creative thinking.


Teaching Students Creative and Critical Thinking
Cinderella!  A Critical Thinking Activity: Take a look at the traditional story in a new way.


Teaching Students Creative and Critical Thinking
I Need a Hero! WebQuest: This three-week unit of study will have your students working together to save the day!
 Teaching Students Creative and Critical Thinking
Teaching with Bloom’s TaxonomyPosters, Task Cards, Apps and Sites
Teaching Students Creative and Critical Thinking
Teaching with Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Posters, Task Cards, Apps and Sites


Teaching Students Creative and Critical Thinking
Logic Line-ups:  BUGS!: Work together as a team to solve each logic line-up problem.

Grow WisePamela Moeai is an Educational Technology Specialist, a trainer, a coach, a teacher, a mom, Grammy Pammy, and a baker of pies!  She is passionate about critical and creative thinking and loves to bring out the very best in students and teachers.  She received her B.A. in Elementary Education and her M.Ed in Instructional Technology. For more resources by Pamela Moeai, please visit her Teachers Pay Teachers store, Grow Wise with Pamela Moeai.  Connect with Pamela on TwitterInstagram, and Grow Wise blog.
72 Creative Ways to show what students know

1 thought on “Teaching Students Creative and Critical Thinking”

  1. What a great post. I couldn't agree more with the importance of critical and creative thinking. We arm our students for life when they learn to think this way. Thank you for the wonderful resources.

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