Creative And Critical Thinking In Language Classrooms That Work

Prem Prasad Poudel

Mahendra Ratna Campus, Tribhuvan University

Learning is the continuous process of obtaining knowledge and skills. Language is the medium for learning and thinking. As Vygotsky said that learning proceeds from pre-intellectual speech that includes crying, cooing, babbling, bodily movements to the complete production of the linguistic utterances. Children learn better through sharing and playing. This is also true for language learning. There are various methods that focus on learners’ participation in the learning process. Children as well as adults learn through cooperation. In the countries like ours have inappropriate classroom management, which do not support learning through communication and cooperation. If the classroom situations and teachers help in learners thinking, they may develop decision and judgment skills.

Webster’s New World Dictionary (1988) defines the word ‘think’ as the general word which means to exercise the mental faculties so as to form ideas, arrive at conclusion, etc. If teachers foster thinking environment in the classroom, the learners will be the top class beneficiary. The most successful classrooms are those that encourage students to think for themselves and engage in critical thinking (Halpern, 1996, Kurland, 1995, Unrau, 1997). We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment that results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation and inference as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based. Critical thinking is essential as a tool of inquiry. As such, critical thinking is a liberating force in education and a powerful resource in one’s personal and civic life (Facione, 1990). Critical thinking has become a hot topic of discussion in the field of education today.

Critical thinking allows learners to think about their own thoughts and the reasons behind their points of view. It means that they reflect on their own ways of making decisions or solving problems. Thinking like this means that their thoughts are consciously directed to some goals. Their  thoughts and ideas are not only based on their biases or prejudices but also on logical or information they might gather and filter from many sources. As they think critically, they are always mindful of what and how they are thinking. When they detect an error or a different way to think about a problem, they explore it eagerly. Students who think critically are typically excited about their learning. They see challenges and opportunities for learning in even the most difficult intellectual tasks. Critical thinking methodology is useful in all the subject areas and it has been very much influential in the area of language teaching as well.

Language teaching classroom must foster critical thinking on the part of the learners. Some think that critical thinking is useful for only the adult learners, but there are a number of chances that we may engage children in wide range of thinking activities. Thinking activities depend on the objectives of teaching. The type of objectives and type of questions create active learning and thinking in the students. They may ask questions ranging from very lowest level to the highest level. The following list includes categories of question and objectives that range from the lowest level (simply remembering) to the highest level (creating).

Lower level activities:  drawing and coloring,  copying, reading aloud, silent reading and watching, memorizing, revising, simple comprehension, looking things up, etc.

Higher level activities: imaginative writing tasks, collecting evidence, problem solving, deducing, reasoning tasks, application tasks, analysis tasks, synthesis tasks, evaluation, creation, summarizing, etc.

In my reflection of my own teaching experience and observation of other language teachers’ (novice and experts) classroom presentations, I found the following problems-

  1. Teachers  don’t encourage students to think
  2. Their students do not want to spend time for thinking, if their teachers ask them to think for one or two minutes, they take it as a waste of time or an opportunity to make fuss.
  3. Teachers are not worried about students learning.
  4. Classrooms are not resourceful. The available resources are even not properly used.
  5. Most of the classroom situations do not favor group work or pair work activities.
  6. Teachers find difficulties in forming groups appropriately.
  7. The teaching is focused on some students only, teaching doesn’t cover whole class.
  8. Some students (especially shy and slow learners) get frustrated, humiliated and develop inferiority complex because of the class domination by some quick learners.
  9. Teachers teach the content more than the language. They do not realize ‘language focus’ in language classes.
  10. Students and teachers most often spend more time in single activity.
  11. Some teachers conduct group or pair work activities but they are ill-managed, not organized, etc.

To minimize most of the above mentioned problems, the critical thinking based activities will be more supportive.

Activities for generating critical thinking in the language classroom

  1. 1.      Jigsaw technique: Jigsaw is one of the highly influential techniques for generating students’ cooperative learning in the language classroom. This technique requires students to help each other learn some grammar topics or vocabulary items. It is equally useful in teaching listening, speaking, reading and writing. That means it can be used when students are reading a text, listening to presentations and even while carrying out a group investigation. This strategy of teaching learning employs both home groups and expert groups. This helps all the students to study and learn all of the materials. The learners may become experts as they teach each other parts of the material. Each student thus has an active role in teaching and learning and experience deep understanding and higher order thinking.


–          Teachers prepare beforehand. They review the learning materials, write questions to guide students’ learning.

–          Teachers assign students to groups. The students count the number one-two-three-four-five- six and students counting from one to the other number (the number may depend on the number of the students kept in a group)stay in one group. Other groups are formed in the same way. Each group includes the reasonable number of students. Groups are formed based on the nature of learning material and availability of the resources. The groups comprise of the boys and girls, more capable and less capable students.

–          The tasks are assigned, the tasks may be ‘reading stories, writing paragraphs, summarizing paragraphs, solving problems or project works’, etc. Each group is given a different task of the same teaching lesson.

–          Student work in their groups, they select their leader. Teachers need to control during the nomination of the group leader. In every next learning session, there will be a different leader so that all the student may be participating and working as a leader.

–          The teacher invites expert group and instructs the group about the activity. The  experts go to their respective group and help others do the task accordingly.

–          Students complete the task, come with an outcome within a stipulated timeframe. They become expert in the task provided to them.

–          Teacher monitors, assists and makes sure that they are engaged in the task assigned.

–          The students remix to form another type of group. The students counting number one stay in one group, two in another group and this continues until the last group is formed. Here, all the groups include the students having knowledge on the different task assigned to different groups before. There is information gap. They discuss each other and make complete information of the whole learning material.

–          Group leaders make presentations of the tasks one by one, other members of groups  comment on the presentation and finally they consolidate the learning outcome.

Let me discuss about a lesson I presented using this technique at grade eleven. The presentation was on reading a story that included five paragraphs, the number of students in the class was 32.

I prepared one day before I taught. I prepared separate reading texts breaking down the story into five paragraphs. I divided the student into five groups. Three groups consisted of six students and two groups consisted of seven students. In the class I asked the student speak out the numbers from one to five and asked students with the number one to five in one group and another one to five into another group and so on so the five groups were formed. After formation of the group, I asked each group to select one student to be an expert. I invited five experts in an expert group, instructed them about the learning task (the task that each had to do- it was reading a paragraph). The experts went back to their home group and instructed others about the task. They read the paragraph assigned to them. Again I asked each member of the group to form group of the similar numbers. For example, group A was formed of the students who had the number ‘one’. In the similar way, other groups were formed. Each group included students who were experts of all the paragraphs of the story. There was information gap among them. The student from the first group shared the information of the first paragraph; the student of second group shared the information of the second paragraph and so on. Finally the new groups made understanding of the whole story. If any of the members was confused, they discussed again in the group and finally came to the teacher with the summary of the story. There was a quick write exercise to check if they understood the story. Some comprehension questions were designed and they were further suggested to answer working in the pairs. Their queries were answered. They were also asked to make critical judgment of the story.


From this activity, I found that students experienced being teachers and also had developed a sense of being responsible for learning and sharing. They were more empowered and had to speak at least something. While sharing, they had good confidence and all of them were very much attentive and active in the learning process. From this activity, I found jigsaw to be useful for teaching language skills and vocabulary too.

  1. 2.      Pair reading-pair summarizing technique:  This technique is mostly used to practice reading and speaking. It can be used in the very beginning classes and the advanced levels also. The nature of the reading text will be different accordingly. This technique also allows students to take more initiative in their own and each other’s learning. It may take times more than simply reading aloud but there is more chance of making comprehension of the text more closely. It could be used in the large classes also.


–          Teachers choose more informative text with short paragraphs. If paragraphs are not available, they may indicate the limitation of the text for each pair to read.

–          Students pair up.

–          One student of the pair reads one paragraph or marked section of the text and provides summary of it.

–          Teachers ask some cross questions to other students in order to check understanding, some of them may report the summary they heard from their peer.

–          Other students are asked to make questions related to the paragraph if they have confusion.

–          The same procedure continues till all the paragraphs are finished and all pairs do the activity. If the text is short, some pairs may read and summarize and other pairs may re-summarize, ask questions and give opinion on what was mentioned in the text.

My own experience of using this:

I used the same procedure in class eight (it was a class presented as a model class during teacher training). At first students were hesitant doing this. They thought that they will be unable to do the task. I encouraged them and finally they did it. There were 46 students. I made 23 pairs. The pairs were heterogeneous. There was a reading passage of 35 lines. I instructed each pair read three to four lines. Once a student of the pair read the text, s/he immediately summarized. Other student of other pair summarized the text again, and another student of another pair asked questions related to the text. I asked other interested students to deliver their own opinion on the text information mentioned on the text too. It was very much interesting because students were acting and reacting, making judgment and giving their own logic. In the similar way, reading all the paragraphs of the text was finished successfully. Finally I asked all the students to summarize the whole story working in groups of five for five minutes. I requested two groups make presentations of the summary of the text. They shared and other added more information that were missing. At the end of the session, they said that it was really good way to practice.  


  1. 3.      Read- summarize-question technique: This technique of teaching and learning is useful for practicing reading, listening and speaking skill simultaneously. It also develops their thinking too. People find it more difficult to use at the very beginning level. It is certainly fruitful in the upper grades.


–          Teacher selects the reading passage or paragraphs.

–          S/he clarifies the way it takes place in the classroom.

–          One student reads the text, s/he points another student to summarize what    he read, the student summarizes it after making close listening to the       paragraph read by the first student and that student again asks another             student sitting little further in the class ask questions about the text    read     and summarized  before. The answer of the question may be given by          somebody other than those who participated.

–          This process continues until the whole task is finished. The teacher monitors            and guides in order to make sure that all students took part in the learning   process.

My experience of using this technique

When I used this technique in the classroom, my students were very much attentive on what was going on. They were so because they thought that they might need to say about it at any time. This worked well in the classes like ours where the benches are fixed in such a way that sometimes there is no space for the teacher to move around. Once I clarified the process, students themselves conducted it well. Finally I summarized the text following some questions asked to check their comprehension. To develop their higher order thinking skills, we may modify the questions and activities and relate them to synthesizing, evaluating and creating.



Thinking activities develop learner’s motivation. There are many other activities that generate critical thinking on the part of the learners. If the teachers are well-known and prepared, they may design their own activities that help the learners  develop lower level to higher level thinking skills. The three techniques I mentioned above develop integrated learning of language skills of aspects. All of these activities enhance learners’ readiness, feeling of responsibility and sharing. Finally they will be the critical thinkers. Many of the present classroom related problems could be solved and some of them could be minimized.

Like this:



This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 1st, 2013 at 01:05 and is filed under Critical Outlook, Scholarly Article. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Creative and Critical Thinking in Language Classrooms

Muhammad Kamarul Kabilan
mkamarul [at]
University Technology MARA (Kedah, Malaysia)
The communicative approach to language teaching emphasizes the use of language, meaning and language as a communication tool and hypothesizes that learners become proficient by using the language and not just by learning about the language. However, it is the view of this writer that merely using the language and knowing the meaning is not enough. To become proficient in a language, learners need to use creative and critical thinking through the target language. This paper explains what is needed and how it is achieved.


In this paper, Paulo Freire's ideas and approach are adopted, especially the concepts of "Pedagogy of Questions" and "Problem-posing". I will attend to the questions of what teachers need in order to develop creative and critical language learners, and how they could achieve it. A couple of sample activities are given to substantiate the explanations.


The communicative approach to language teaching began to overshadow the systematic approach in the 1950s. The latter outlined that if learners are to be proficient in the language, they must master the mechanism by which the language works, and learn the language system. On the contrary the communicative approach emphasized that learners become proficient by using the language, and not by just merely learning about the language.

However, by only using and knowing the meaning, learners do not become proficient in the target language. I strongly believe that learners can only become proficient language users if they, besides using the language and knowing the meaning, could display creative and critical thinking through the language. This implies that the learners must be creative in their production of ideas, and critically support them with logical explanation, details and examples. Nevertheless, creative and critical thinking skills should not be taught separately as an isolated entity, but embedded in the subject matter and "woven into the curriculum" (Mirman and Tishman, 1988).

Creative and Critical Language Learners

For the purpose of this paper, creative and critical language learners are defined in terms of the learners' cognitive abilities to carry out certain tasks effectively. The creative language learners should be able to combine responses or ideas in novel ways (Smith, Ward and Finke, 1995), and to use elaborate, intricate, and complex stimuli and thinking patterns (Feldman, 1997). As for the critical language learners, they must be able to carefully and deliberately determine to accept, reject or suspend judgment about a claim (Moore and Parker, 1986). Critical language learners must also be able to identify and cite good reasons for their opinions and answers, correct themselves and others' methods and procedures, and adapt to uniformities, regularities, irregular circumstances, special limitations, constraints and over-generalizations (Lipman, 1988).

What is Needed

Having said what is expected of creative and critical language learners, we ought to scrutinize the roles of the teachers as they have an enormous amount of responsibilities in classrooms. They determine and dictate the content, activities and processes of teaching and learning in classrooms. It is the teachers who decide on the aims, goals, and strategies of teaching to be implemented in classrooms. If teachers decide to produce learners who would obtain good results in their examinations, then their contents, activities and strategies of teaching would vastly differ from the ones who resolved to nurture creative and critical language learners. This has led me to conclude that the only element needed to address this issue is the change of teachers' attitudes towards of students, pedagogy, and themselves as teachers.

Attitude towards Students

There are teachers who regard learners as empty vessels, which need to be filled with knowledge. The teachers tend to assume that the learners do not have any, or little prior knowledge and experiences regarding the subject matter that is going to be taught in classrooms.These teachers ignore, knowingly or unknowingly, the individuality of students. They fail to understand and appreciate the learners' own unique experiences, and concepts, notions and views of the world. Teachers who do not acknowledge each learner's individuality will often lead a boring and unimaginative language classroom because of the minimal participation and involvement of learners. The learners will feel left out and assume their opinions and beliefs as not relevant or important enough to be heard in the classroom. Eventually, this would pave the way to a molding process of passive language learners, and be a cause to the detriment of creative and critical thinking.

Teachers could gain much by listening to the learners' opinions and beliefs. The obvious one being the enrichment of experience, ideas and thoughts in a discussion of an issue. For this to flow without hindrance, teachers should develop a mutual relationship with their learners. Freire (1973) described this relationship as "I-thou relationship between two subjects". This means that teachers need to consider learners as individuals who are equals in a situation of genuine two-way communication (Spener, 1990). Besides that, it must also involve respect (Smith, 1997) and characterizes the communication in a manner which is humble, open and focused on collaborative learning (Boyce, 1996). More importantly, the learners learn from the teacher, and the teacher learns from the learners.

Attitude towards Pedagogy

Producing critical and creative language learners is by no means an easy task, but it can be achieved by engaging the Pedagogy of Question, which was proposed by Freire (1970 & 1973). This pedagogy requires posing questions to learners and listening to learners' questions. This is a practice which forces and challenges the learners to think creatively and critically, and to adopt a critical attitude towards the world (Muhammad Kamarul Kabilan, 1999).

The current situation is that teachers widely practice the pedagogy of answers, whereby teachers provide the answers and solutions to learners. Most frequently, this is done subconsciously. They never realized that they are "spoon-feeding" the learners most of the time. By giving answers, teachers deny the learners the opportunities and the right to question, to doubt and to reject. In addition, the learners will not be exposed to challenges and stimulation of thoughts (Freire, in Bruss and Macedo, 1985). Freire added that teachers tend to adopt the pedagogy of answers because they are sometimes afraid of questions to which they are unsure of the answers, and also because maybe the questions do not correspond to the answers they already have. Thus, it is extremely vital that teachers have positive beliefs and attitudes towards questions. They should also be prepared to ask questions in different ways in order to enhance the cognitive development of learners. Costa and Marzano (1987) demonstrated this by using specific terminology, posing critical questions and creating new labels to structure perceptions (Appendix 1).

Attitude towards Themselves (as Teachers)

Teachers' beliefs and attitudes about themselves, and their functions in language classrooms have momentous implications for learners' ability to think creatively and critically. If the teachers think that their primary roles are to teach and provide answers and information, then the learners are exposed to the culture of "spoon-feeding". Eventually, the learners" ability to look for answers and solutions, and to inquire, to decide, to question, to reject and to accept ideas will greatly diminish.

Teachers need to believe that their major roles are to think, guide, initiate, facilitate and encourage the learners. This will put them in a right frame of mind and lead the learners into becoming a community of collaborative inquirers.

How It Is Achieved

I propose Freire's problem-posing methodology to develop critical and creative language learners. This method is based on the life situations and realities of learners whereby their life situations are made into problem-solving situations. It concentrates on showing learners that they have the right to ask questions. The process of problem-solving begins when the teacher listens to learners' issues. Next, the teacher selects and brings familiar situations to students in a pictorial form. Then, the teacher asks series of inductive questions (from concrete to analytical) regarding the discussion of the situation. In that discussion, the learners should experience five steps of the problem-posing methodology (Nixon-Ponder, 1995):
  1. Describe the content of discussion
  2. Define the problem
  3. Personalize the problem
  4. Discuss the problem
  5. Discuss the alternatives of the problem
In this method, the aspects of posing critical questions are very consequential. Both aspects spark the learners' ideas and thoughts, which are premised on their personal beliefs, concepts, experiences and views of the world (See Sample Activity A: Problem-posing ). In the sample activity, questions 1 and 2 need creative thinking skills on the part of the learners. Teachers should accept the learners' views, ideas and reasons why there are so many 'things' flying over the bin, and where could they have seen this situation. These questions would induce their creative thinking skills because the learners are challenged to produce their reasons, and they have to imagine that they are at the particular place. Furthermore, they need to figure out what makes the bin so attractive to the 'things'. I have not specified what the 'things' or 'the place' is because I would like to give the learners the chance to guess, and/or to interpret 'things' and 'the place' according to their own perceptions. In addition they could, and most probably, would use their own experiences to describe and interpret the situation presented in the picture. This gives them the chance to relate the discussion to the real situations that they might have encountered. Question 3 involves both the creative and critical thinking skills, as the learners would have to present their opinions whether the situation presented reflects cleanliness or not, and why it does or does not reflect cleanliness. As for Question 4, learners need to use their criticalthinking abilities. It probes the learners' abilities to find a solution on how cleanliness could be achieved.

Besides the above, decision making processes could also be used to sow the seeds of creative and critical thinking into language learners (See Sample Activity B: Decision-Making). First of all, the teacher needs to identify common but real situations or problems to be discussed by the learners. Then the three steps of decision-making strategies are used (Mirman and Tishman, 1988):

  1. Find creative options to the situations or problems
  2. List reasons for and against the most promising options, and
  3. Make a careful choice out of list of reasons
In the Sample Activity B, questions 1 and 2 need creative thinking; questions 3 and 4 require both creative and critical thinking. Questions 5 and 6 need critical thinking abilities in order to pass the verdict and the sentence. The learners, who act as the judges, analyze the evidence provided, rationalize the reasons, and weigh their judgments. These kinds of activities are the avenues for learners to voice their opinions, thoughts, beliefs and views, and more primarily, to strengthen their creative and critical thinking in relations to the real problems that are so often found in the real world.


The fundamental issue, which most teachers tend to ignore, is the capabilities of their learners. If teachers continue to disregard learners' views and opinions, or suppress them without ever giving the learners the chance to express themselves, then the learners would not be able to train and use their thinking skills. Teachers should facilitate and encourage creative and critical thinking skills by viewing their learners differently from what they had presumed. They also need to change their pedagogical views and adopt a more flexible attitude towards their teaching and not be too concentrated and dependent on textbooks and their schools' aspirations, which are usually exam-oriented. What is more important is the aspirations of the learners and how teachers could exploit the potentials of their learners. Also needed is the change of teachers' views of themselves. They are not providers but thinkers who constantly think of what could be done to encourage creative and critical thinking in their learners.


  • Boyce, M.E. (1996). Teaching Critically as an Act of Praxis and Resistance.
  • Bruss, N. & Macedo, D.P. (1985). Toward a Pedagogy of the Question: Conversations with Paulo Freire. Journal of Education. 167(2), 7-21.
  • Costa, A.L. & Marzano, R. (1987). Teaching the Language of Thinking. Educational Leadership. 45(2), 29-33.
  • Feldman, R.S. (1997). Essentials of Understanding Psychology. New york: The McGraw Hill Company.
  • Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: The Seabury Press.
  • Freire, P. (1973). Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: The Seabury Press.
  • Lipman, M. (1988). Critical Thinking: What It Can Be? Educational Leadership. 46(1), 38-43.
  • Mirman, , J. & Tishman, S. (1988). Infusing Thinking through 'Connections'. Educational Leadership. 45(7), 64-65.
  • Moore, B.N. & Parker, R. (1986). Critical Thinking. California: Mayfield Publishing Company.
  • Muhammad Kamarul Kabilan, A. (May, 1999). Developing the Critical ESL Learner: The Freire's Way. Paper presented at 5th MELTA International Conference, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia.
  • Nixon-Ponder, S. (1995). Using Problem-posing Dialogue in Adult Literacy Education. Teacher to Teacher. Washington: Department of Education. ERIC: 381677.
  • Smith, M.K. (1997). Paulo Freire. The Informal Education Homepage.
  • Spener, D. (1990). The Freirean Approach to Adult Literacy Education. National Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education (NCLE).
  • Smith, S.M., Ward, T.B. & Finke, R.A. (1995). The Creative Cognition Approach. Cambridge MA: Bradford.

Appendix 1

Using Precise Terminology to Encourage Thinking

Instead of Saying:
'Let's look at these two pictures.''Let's compare the two pictures'
'What do you think will happen when ...''What do you predict will happen when ...'
'What do you think of this story?''What conclusions can you draw about this story?'
'How can you explain ...?''What evidence do you have to support ...?'
'Let's work this problem.''Let's analyze this problem.'

Adapted from: Costa & Marzano (1987)

Encouraging Learners to Think About Thinking

When Learners Say
Teachers Say:
'The verdict is, guilty as charged.''Describe the steps you took to arrive at that answer.'
'I don't know how to solve this question.''What can you do to get started?'
'I am ready to begin.''Describe your plan of action.'
'I like the large one the best.''What criteria are you using to make your choice?'
'I am finished.''How do you know you're correct?'

Adapted from: Costa & Marzano (1987)

A Sample Activity A: Problem-posing

Topic: Cleanliness


  1. Think creatively and critically
  2. To find solutions to problems based on logical reasons
Task: Based on the picture (a picture of unattended waste bin) given,
  1. Why are there so many 'things' flying over the bin?
  2. Where have you seen this scenery?
  3. Do you feel that this picture reflects cleanliness? Why?
  4. What is the one thing that is needed to ensure cleanliness in the places that you have mentioned?

A Sample Activity B: Decision Making

Topic: Anwar Ibrahim's Corruption Trial


  1. Think creatively and critically
  2. Decision making based on logical reasons
Task: You are the judge for Anwar Ibrahim's corruption trial. You have heard the evidences and closing submissions by the prosecutors and the defense counselors. You have to give your verdict for this trial based on the evidences and submissions provided by both parties. (Note: Teachers need to provide the evidences. They also need to display impartiality on this issue).

But before you give your verdict, consider these procedures:

  1. Can this trial be thrown out? Why?
  2. Does this trial have to go on? Why?
  3. Is he guilty? Why?
  4. Is he innocent? Why?
  5. What is your verdict? Why?
  6. If found guilty, what is the sentence that you want to pass?

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VI, No. 6, June 2000

0 thoughts on “Creative And Critical Thinking In Language Classrooms That Work

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *