How to teach critical thinking skills to adults

Updated April 17, 2017

Critical thinking skills are beneficial to both young and old students. They help both in and outside of the classroom. While young students can often approach the learning of critical thinking in a more theoretical manner, many adult students appreciate a more hands-on and realistic approach to learning critical thinking skills. Teaching critical thinking skills to adults should be grounded in reality and should illustrate the benefits of critical thinking in everyday life.

Establish a set of common critical thinking and logical concepts. Include terms such as value assumption, descriptive assumption, fallacy, argument, premises, conclusion, validity, soundness and other such concepts. Define each concept and provide clear examples.

Introduce common and accessible problems for discussion that require your students to either pick a side or make a decision. For example, should men and women receive equal treatment in the military? The issue or problem should be divisive and lend itself to a discussion which can be propelled by continuous introduction of subtler variations of the initial problem. For example, if men and women should receive equal treatment, does that mean they should also be required to complete the same physical challenges?

Challenge every assertion your students make by asking them how they reached their conclusions. While doing this, be respectful of your adult audience and tell them that the purpose of your questioning is not to belittle or diminish them or their ideas but rather to challenge them to generate support for their ideas.

Ask your students to write down a step-by-step description of their position on the divisive issue. Insist that they include any outside knowledge or research that does not fall within the realm of logical or critical analysis. This can be done either in class or as homework.

Challenge your students to analyse their writing. Have them highlight examples of the common critical thinking and logic concepts you outlined at the beginning of the course. They should write marginal comments on their writing that explains why each highlighted portion represents the logical concept they identify it as.

Instruct your students to share their writing with a classmate, and ask each pair to read through their peer's work with the same eye towards identifying the critical thinking and logic concepts.

Instruct your students to share their comments with the authors of the writing they read.

Challenge your students to correct any logical errors or assumptions in the step-by-step description of their position.

Challenge your students to write down a step-by-step description on the antithesis of their position on the divisive issue.


Maintain civility and respect during any classroom discussions.


Avoid overly sensitive divisive issues, particularly those pertaining to the regulation of the body or those that often fall along political lines.

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About the Author

Samuel Hamilton has been writing since 2002. His work has appeared in “The Penn,” “The Antithesis,” “New Growth Arts Review" and “Deek” magazine. Hamilton holds a Master of Arts in English education from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Arts in composition from the University of Florida.