Digital Job Aid for New Teachers

Strategies for Developing Critical Thinking and Creativity

By Zachary S. Ferguson

for MED 560

Creativity Strategy #1: Use Questioning--Student Generated and Socratic Questions to Challenge Assumptions

Use questioning in the classroom to help students overcome preconceptions and challenge them to generate new ideas, ways of approaching or solving a problem or topic. Instead of introducing factual content for students to memorize and replicate on a test, challenge them to use higher-order thinking skills by generating open-ended, discussion questions about the topic.

How Questioning Enhances Creativity:

Model this process for them in the classroom by posing Socratic-style questions to them when working in groups. This can help challenge their assumptions and beliefs and also help them understand how to discuss and evaluate the significance of the content, as well as asking open-ended questions like how or why is something in your content area accepted. This will help them use higher-order thinking skills like analyzing and evaluating. It will also allow them to think more openly about possibilities once their preconceptions have been challenged. This is a key foundation for creativity.

It will also help them take charge of their own learning experience, once they are shown that your role as their teacher is not simply to provide them with information that they need to memorize. Instead, you are there to facilitate their learning so that they can use the content they find in the classroom.

Creative Strategy #2: Open-Ended Assignments: Let Students Define and Re-Define their Final Products

Create open ended projects and assignments that allow students to define for themselves how to address a the problem or guiding question posed or select their topic of focus within your the learning objective. This shouldn't mean a free-for-all, but rather the opportunity for students to critically engage with the subject matter and to select their own method for demonstrating a high-level of engagement with the topic. This requires careful planning and guidance from you as their instructor.

How this helps encourage creativity:

This will help alter your classroom learning environment from one where the teacher assigns a specific task and assesses how effectively the students completed the narrowly focused instructions. Rather, it will require students to take ownership of their own learning and reduce intellectual barriers to creating a truly unique final product that genuinely reveals their personal connection to the topic.

In these assignments, the teacher is no longer placed at the center of the classroom as the "lecturer." Instead, students are encouraged to engage critically with the course material and use higher-order thinking skills like analyzing and evaluating.

How Socrates can stimulate your brain activity: Matthew Stoltzfus at TEDxOhioStateUniversity

Creativity Strategy #3 Encourage Brainstorming and Allocate Time for Idea Generation

Open-ended assignments that allow students to customize or design their final products require allocating time for them to brainstorm and generate ideas without the pressure of being judged. By removing the barrier of immediate feedback or criticism, this will free students to come up with a range of ideas with the fear of being "right" or "wrong."

Encourage them to narrow ideas based on their relevance to the topic. This means rather than assigning a task, your role in the learning process is to facilitate their learning and help them steer their ideas in a creative, but relevant direction for their learning objectives. This will enable them to come up with new possibilities while also ensuring that their final products are relevant to the course material.

How this encourages Creativity:

By taking away the immediate "right" versus "wrong" feedback while they are coming up with potential solutions, this will open them up to explore options that they might otherwise ignore or fear suggesting. This process will help open up your classroom and transform it into a more student centered learning environment.

Creativity Strategy #4: Promote Self-Regulation and Personal Responsibility

Many students are accustomed to being assigned to complete, like worksheets, in many of their courses. Allowing them more open-ended or self-directed assignments without helping them learn to keep themselves accountable will merely set them up for failure. In the past, it was solely the teacher's job to hold them accountable. Instead of simply throwing them into self-directed assignments, provide them opportunities to self-regulate and build this into their assignments.

For instance, once they have spent time brainstorming and selected an idea to pursue, have them develop a plan for completing the assignment which should include how and where they will get the necessary information and materials and provide a timeline for completion. This will be an opportunity for them to receive guidance and feedback from you as the instructor without squelching their ideas.

You could also have them create a learning log or journal where they record progress, jot down ideas, or simply keep up with notes about the project. This can help them see where they are in relation to the timeline and plan they created.

How does this encourage creativity:

Self-regulation helps encourage creativity by giving students the necessary structure to keep from getting "lost" in open-ended assignments. In other words, it is a strategy that will encourage them to take ownership of their own learning experience and teach them how to take abstract ideas and implement them. One important part of the creative process is actually taking an idea and turning it into reality. Self-Regulation is one way to help them achieve this goal.

With time and encouragement, students will be able to self-police and revise much of their ideas to make them workable. It is your job in this environment to encourage and suggest revisions or changes in direction. If successful, you are likely to hear "No we shouldn't" as the group discusses their product rather than you as the teacher having to intervene and tell them to start over. This means that they, "We," have taken ownership of their product.

Creativity Strategy #5: Encourage Students to think Across Disciplines

One strategy that can help students overcome intellectual hurdles or to come up with fresh ideas is to encourage them to borrow ideas from other disciplines. For instance, encourage them to borrow ideas from their English, science, math, or social studies class to deal with complex problems in your own classroom.

How this encourages creativity:

The boundaries of academic disciplines are something that typically dissolves when students get out into the workforce. Many of the big problems that they might face, in any career, will draw on content from multiple disciplines. Cross-disciplinary thinking can encourage creativity by helping students come at problems within one subject area with fresh eyes. This also encourages them to break down intellectual boundaries rather than merely accepting divisions between disciplines.

Critical Thinking Strategy #1: Use Questioning, Discussion and Debate

If you want to develop a classroom environment that encourages critical thinking, using questioning and discussion is vital tool for this purpose. Even during your "lecture" where you provide background information needed for more hands-on activities, you can pose questions along the way that challenge assumptions of your students or help clarify confusing concepts. This will require the students to articulate or clarify the meaning of a term or arrive at the answer for themselves rather than simply asking you as the instructor.

How this encourages critical thinking:

Posing questions can help students to move beyond simply memorizing information and require them to engage critically with the topic. This will help move students' thinking from lower-order skills like remembering and understanding and give them the foundation to address more challenging analytical or evaluative questions. Modeling effective questioning for them, even during lecture, can help give them the skills needed to debate or engage in a Socratic seminar effectively.

(See Link below for an example of how debate can enrich your classroom environment)

Critical Thinking Strategy #2: Use Socratic Questioning as classroom facilitator

Using the Socratic method in your classroom to encourage dialogue and challenge student assumptions can be a powerful learning tool. This discussion structure challenges students to evaluate the logical consistency of their peers to help the group arrive at greater understanding of a topic or issue. Students generate questions about the meaning and significance and applications in their on lives, while also addressing ideas that their peers come up with.

How this encourages critical thinking:

By having students challenge the logic and assumptions of their peers through a series of questions, students will challenge each other to arrive at a greater sense of understanding. This will encourage students to evaluate arguments with precision, a vital part of critical thinking.

Critical Thinking Strategy #3:Pose a Provocative Question and then Help Students Break Down an Argument

Posing a provocative question, like "Should the United States abolish the Death Penalty?" or "Is Capital Punishment a preferable method for punishing criminals than the life in prison?" energize student discussion.

How it stimulates critical thinking:

Whatever the question you use, which will vary by subject area. You can help encourage critical thinking by clarifying problematic or vague terms-- in this example, capital punishment could be defined and also we might want to address what the question means by "a preferable method for punishing." This is an instance where you can inject an additional question like, "Well what do we mean by capital punishment?" This will take pressure off of students who were confused or who didn't know the term. It will also allow everyone to engage with the question with a more level playing field than simply giving them the question and asking them to argue for or against. This step is vital to helping students engage critically with the question to the best ability.

Critical Thinking Strategy #4: Provide "Sentence Starters" Early On To Help Structure Discussion

Often, students will arrive in your class accustomed to "task" oriented classes, where they are simply given tasks to complete, without truly being asked to engage with the course material critically. Emphasizing dialogue, debate, and Socratic questioning can help challenge students to think critically. But without the proper preparation, this may hinder student willingness to participate.

How this encourages critical thinking:

Many students will not be accustomed to being challenged to in this manner and may feel uncomfortable opening up and sharing their views. Likewise students may need a model of the difference between providing analysis and merely summarizing, or an appropriate manner to disagree with their peers. This small step encourages critical thinking by giving all students the structure they need to move their discussion to higher-order thinking, like evaluating rather than merely summarizing.

Critical Thinking Strategy #5 Encourage Different Methods of Assessing their Reasoning

One important way to help gauge and guide critical thinking is by using a variety of methods of assessing their reasoning. Offering them different methods to communicate their ideas can challenge them to think critically and articulate their ideas in different venues, and using different formats.

How using different methods of assessing their reasoning works:

This can also encourage students to interact with one another in different ways and provide different forms of feedback. For instance, using a Socratic seminar or fishbowl discussion format will result in a different kind of collaboration among students than having them write an argumentative essay and peer edit among themselves. This is also another way to differentiate student instruction. By offering students a variety of opportunities to challenge their intellectual boundaries, this will give students with different learning styles more variety in how they communicate their ideas. For instance, your student how doesn't really engage during a Socratic Seminar might craft an excellent argumentative essay or write an excellent speech. Variety will open them up to possibilities, which is essential to critical thinking.

Works Cited

Active Learning Strategies to Promote Critical Thinking. (2003, Summer). Journal of Athletic Training, 38(3), 263-267.

Edutopia. (2015). Retrieved from

Stoltzfus, M. (2014, May 13). How Socrates can stimulate your brain activity [Video file]. Retrieved from YouTube website:

The Center for Development and Learning. (2015). Retrieved from

The Learning Channel. (2015). Retrieved from

By Zachary S. Ferguson