Teacher Learning Community

Fall 2016 TLC: Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills - Activity 4 Resources

Course leader:

Teacher Quality Standards

  • QS III: Teachers plan and deliver effective instruction and create an environment that facilitates learning for their students.
    • Element D: Teachers establish and communicate high expectations and use processes to support the development of critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

Handing the Thinking Over to Students

Essential Question: How do teachers support students in developing critical-thinking and problem solving skills and persisting in the application of these skills in their learning?

In this activity you will revisit the Grant Wiggins article, Great Teaching Means Letting Go. You will explore some new anchor resources as well that will encourage you to think about how you balance the ideas of “letting go”, providing students with voice and choice, while holding them to high expectations and mastery of standards and learning targets. We have intended for you to see throughout this TLC a progression from what the teacher does, to what students and teachers do together, to what we empower students to do in a less directed, yet intentional, way.



This website contains a large amount of information, including thinking ideas and routines that can be used in multiple ways in classrooms.


This article includes strategies for divergent thinking.

This article describes the difference between group work and cooperative learning with tips and examples on how to create positive cooperative learning opportunities in the classroom.  

The many different types of  "_____- based learning" teachers are exposed to could make one’s head spin. This article discusses the similarities and differences of all these, in particular project vs. problem-based learning.

This article is focused on maker education and has important applications for any kind of hands-on learning experience. It encourages teachers to frame lessons with goals and engage students in reflecting on those goals to make hands-on learning experiences meaningful.

This article explains four elements of an instructional framework that supports the use of inquiry instruction in the classroom.

In this blog post, Grant Wiggins discusses the importance of creating "scrimmages" and game-like settings for students so that they can show what know.

This tool provides teachers with an understanding of how inquiry can be scaffolded in different ways depending on the profile of your class's experience and initiative. The end goal is to allow students to engage in open-ended inquiry, but it can take months of work to get them there and this resource walks you through the different stages. Although this resource is specific to math, the levels of inquiry are applicable across many content areas.

In this brief article, teacher Tara Davis outlines her journey with Inquiry-Based Learning. She also includes some helpful resources for others who might be interested in getting started with IBL.

This website, developed by the West Virginia Department of Education, contains a bank of inquiry-based lesson plan examples.

This video highlights teacher Becki Cope's use of cooperative groups during a science lesson.

This article from Educational Leadership describes five key practices that make cooperative learning effective.

This video was created for the Inspring Science Education Project and describes the benefits of inquiry-based learning.

This video demonstrates cooperative learning, inquiry, and supporting students to use evidence-based reasoning during a science lesson.

In this video, teacher Monica Baines demonstrates how she uses questioning to scaffold learning for students and investigate and analyze thinking.

This fact sheet shares several questioning strategies to support deeper learning for students.

This video shows how teacher Julia Gelormino uses open-ended questions with first grades to encourage academic thinking and conversation during a math talk.

This ASCD Express post helps teachers to understand 3 levels of questions to take students deeper and guide them to higher-order thinking.

This article gives examples of question stems that might be used to promote and assess critical thinking with students.

This article addresses the essential question: "What does critical thinking look and sound like in the elementary classroom?" The author outlines several different strategies to support critical thinking including collaborative learning, inquiry, questioning, and problem solving.

This is a quick article that explains the five ways to get students to dive deeper into scientific concepts. There are some great tips and ways to get your students to start thinking like a scientist and be curious about the task at hand.

This video shows inquiry in an elementary classroom.  This classroom is part of a schoolwide focus on inquiry.

Inquiry driven science instruction using a central question.

This article is found on the Reading Rockets website.  The inquiry chart allows facilitates students' use of several sources of information to answer questions.  Templates and practical suggestions are included.

In this video, students read an informational text using inquiry and use their information to write a report.  In addition, this video illustrates the use of learning targets and the teaching of academic language.

This blog post provides practical suggestions for increasing students' thinking beyond basic recall.  This article is appropriate for teachers of students of all ages.

This video shows a class discussion in which students are analyzing text and posing questions to enhance understanding. Students cite text evidence to support their answers.

This article discusses the incorporation of thinking and problem-solving in a science classroom but is applicable to other content.

This tip sheet provides information for teachers to consider as they embed critical thinking in primary classrooms.  Included are suggested skills that students should be taught in order to be most effective in their thinking.

This sheet defines critical thinking, lists characteristics of critical thinkers, and skills needed for critical thinking.  Though the title notes that this resource is for social studies, there is no content specific information contained within.

This tip sheet provides information about when/how/why critical thinking is beneficial in an elementary math classroom.

This reference sheet provides examples of structures that can be used to facilitate student interaction and collaboration.

This tool is a rubric designed to help students self-assess their level of collaboration.  There is a focus on both interpersonal and intrapersonal aspects of group interaction.

The video features students' use of higher-order question stems in order to discuss text in more depth.  

This video features a secondary classroom environment and the teacher's role as the staff shifts to more inquiry-based teaching.  This is part of a collection of videos about inquiry-based instruction.

This video demonstrates how higher order thinking skills can be incorporated into a classroom by asking students to create a three-dimensional model to explain what they have learned.  

20Time provides students the opportunity to follow the three critical ingredients essential to innovation as described in the book Drive by Daniel Pink: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.  In this TEDx Talk, Kevin Brookhouser provides his justification for providing students this autonomous time in the classroom. Watch this video and then explore his website (also listed in the resources) where he gives a practical look at how to implement 20Time in your classroom.