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Building Critical Thinking Skills

What is most important in your child’s education? Grades? Extra-curriculars? Sports? All of these are, of course, relevant in a child’s school career. However, in our rapidly changing world, it is hard to deny the importance of educating a generation of life-long learners who can think critically and independently.

Critical thinking skills are what set top students apart. This means being able to think themselves, feel confident when faced with unfamiliar problems and work their way to creative solutions.

In my time teaching Critical Reading and Writing at i-Learner, I have been able to see which methods work best for building critical thinking skills in a child of any age. One of the best times to build new skills is in summer, when students are more open to exploring new ideas and ways of thinking. Below I have outlined some of my top tips for building critical thinking skills in children of any age.

Kindergarten and Lower Primary Students

At this age, children can build their independent thinking skills through art, storytelling and games. Some of my favourite activities include:

  • Encouraging younger students to express themselves through art. Tackling unfamiliar situations is one of the most important parts of critical thinking. Create artwork from unconventional materials, such as dried pasta or leaves, so your child can begin exploring their creative side.
  • Creating alternative story endings. Another key part of critical thinking is using information you have to create a solution that works for you. To build this skill, practise creating different endings or adding new scenes to your child’s favourite stories. You can write them down or act them out to enrich the experience.
  • Playing games that get students thinking in a different way. My students love to play What if? games where we take it in turns to imagine what life would be like if we were a king for a day, if we could travel back in time, or even if we were transformed into an object.

Upper Primary Students

As students enter the second half of primary school, it’s time to consolidate their thinking skills. Children can build on their foundational skills and apply their thinking to texts and language. At this level, it is important to:

  • Interact with knowledge in different ways. If your child is studying history at school, take them to the museum so they can see the exhibits and artefacts themselves and build a more personal understanding. This way, your child will be able to see where their school topics fit into the bigger picture. The Hong Kong History Museum often has special activities and sessions for children to interact with history.
  • Continue asking ‘why’ about the world. At this age, you may feel relieved that your child is growing out of the stage when they ask ‘why’ about everything. However, questioning the world around them is a great critical thinking tactic. As a parent, you can encourage your child to maintain their curiosity about the world around them by asking questions that make then think and encouraging them to explore new information: Why does a red traffic light mean ‘stop’? What could we replace the MTR with in the future? Would it matter if there were no more insects in the world?

Secondary Students

After students have left primary school, they can begin finding the deeper connections between the things they already know, while also seeking out material that challenges them to think about the world from a different perspective. They can do this through:

  • Connecting the dots. Students study a range of subjects at school and don’t always get the chance to see connections between different areas of knowledge. There are often stories or artworks that your child can explore to see how seemingly unrelated information is connected. At i-Learner, our experiential Summer Scholars Camps encourage students to explore cross-curricular connections, by, for example, visiting local communities in China, understanding the science behind their farming practices and examining the impact on their communities.
  • Deliberately engaging with challenging material. It is easy to continue reading only the books you already like or watching your favourite shows. As students mature and understand more about the world, they can begin reading books they would not normally choose, or watching documentaries about topics they have not covered in school. This way, they can come into contact with new ideas that challenge them to reflect on their own opinions.


i-Learner has two dedicated courses to teach critical thinking: Critical Reading and Writing (for K3-S3) and Applied Critical Thinking (for S4+).These courses prepare young learners for the challenges of deeper thinking and lead to long term success.