Planning Questions for Critical Thinking and Learning | Steve Barkley

Planning Questions for Critical Thinking and Learning

The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as an “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” The process tends to help us judge and evaluate situations based on understanding the related data, analyze it, build a clear understanding of the problem, choose the proper solution, and take actions based on the established solution. (Rafiq Elmansy)

I was recently asked to create an illustration using the Questions for Life format in planning questions that guide students’ critical thinking. You might find this example helpful when working with a PLC that is planning instruction or when coaching an individual teacher.

The Questions for Life book and introduction video can be found here and the cue words for each of the 11 question types here.

Row one questions are used to gather information:

Perception – Literal sensory information: what do you see, her, feel, smell, taste?

Induction – Finding patterns, generalizations and conclusions from instances and experiences.

Analysis – Categorizing, sorting, and mind-mapping information.

Same/Different – Comparing instances and perceptions: supports induction and analysis.

  • Students take a walk and record what they see, hear, feel, smell. (Perception)
  • Students organize their observations into a chart of Nature/Man-made. (Analysis)
  • Students discuss the similarities and differences among the items under each column and across the columns. (Same/Different)
  • Students are asked to make generalizations about nature and man-made impacts in the area where they walked. (Induction)

The second row of questions are used to “work with information” that is available and has been gathered from row one thinking.

Insight – (Induction to the second power.) Generalizations connect to uncover overlapping patterns and relationships.

Appraisal – Rank and prioritize the information.

Summary – Condense information: “in a nutshell’ or “on the whole”.

Evaluation – Beliefs, opinions, and/or judgement.

Having completed the nature/man-made discussions above, students explore:

  • What overlapping relationships are found between nature and man-made impacts? (Insight)
  • Summarize how nature has been impacted by man in this environment. (Summary)
  • What grade would you give this community regarding the protection of nature? (Appraisal)
  • Do you believe that steps should be taken to change the impact of man on this community? Why? (Evaluation)

The questions in row three, guide thinking to action.

Ideas – Generate options, changes, or possibilities.

Prediction – Explore the positive and negative consequences of an idea.

Action – Implement the idea.

After a study of man’s impact on nature in their community, students decided they wanted to generate a local community event to raise funds to restore a local waterfall area.

  • Students begin creating a list of ideas for fundraiser event. (Ideas)
  • Considering the most interesting three or four ideas, students break into groups and examine the pros and cons of each idea. (prediction) Changes or additions might be considered as they decide on an action to take. (Action)



As action is taken, students should be encouraged to raise Row One questions that will be used to guide thinking and assessing the plan as they implement:


  • What are you hearing as you tell others about the plan? (Perception)
  • What patterns emerge? (Induction)
  • List the kinds of support you are gathering (Analysis)
  • How successful do you believe the fundraiser will be? Why? (Evaluation)

Our goal in using questions to guide students’ critical thinking is to create opportunities for students to learn to create questions that will empower them as critical thinkers and problem-solvers.


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