Common Core and Critical Thinking: Helping Students Hone This Important Skill

By Huntington Learning Center

Common Core and Critical Thinking: Helping Students Hone This Important Skill

The Common Core State Standards are intended to help students prepare for college and the working world, wherein they must think critically and apply the skills they learn in the classroom to a variety of real-world scenarios. The “buzz” about the standards is that they go much deeper into all math and English-language arts areas and emphasize comprehension and building understanding more so than rote memorization. The standards are meant to strengthen students’ ability to think, analyze, comprehend, defend and support one’s ideas, and much more. According to the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core State Standards weave such aptitudes throughout the standards. Here are a few examples:


Reading comprehension is top of mind at all levels. As students read a variety of texts—both literature and nonfiction—they will be expected to make logical inferences, express their insights, explore ideas, and think about topics from many different viewpoints, among other objectives.

Speaking and listening

Through speaking and listening (and through media), students must assess and offer complex information and ideas. The classroom will focus on smaller group discussions as well as one-on-one discussions as a way to encourage students to think critically, work together to develop ideas and answer questions, and more.


Students are expected to write thoughtful, logical arguments, express their opinions, reason, and conduct focused and in-depth research.

Media and Technology

A huge part of 21st-century learning is knowing how to use, critically analyze and produce media and technology. Technology and media are woven throughout the standards—from teaching students to present ideas and knowledge in various media formats to using technology to develop mathematical models that link classroom math to everyday decision making.


High school students will be expected to apply mathematical ways of thinking to real-world issues and challenges and think and reason their way through math problems. The elementary and middle school standards help prepare students for this type of thinking.

There are many things you can do to help your student build his or her critical thinking skills, thereby equipping him or her for the curricular changes resulting from Common Core. Here are a few simple ideas to help your student engage in critical thinking each and every day.

  • Ask your student questions that confirm his or her understanding of the texts that he or she reads.
  • Encourage your child to analyze what he reads—whether that’s newspaper or magazine articles or fiction stories and books. Ask questions about the main idea of the story such as what the author’s purpose is (to entertain or persuade, for example), whether a piece is opinion or fact and how he or she can tell, and what clues he or she can identify about a story’s plot, main message or takeaway.
  • Ask your child how he or she feels about texts and readings and why. Why does he or enjoy a story or not? Why does he or she think a certain event or point is the most important in a passage or story? Why does he or she like certain characters?
  • When using measurement in math homework, encourage your child to think about how and where measurements are used in life.
  • As your child completes math problems, have him or her explain how he or she reached an answer and why he or she thinks that approach makes sense.
  • When using graphs in homework, encourage your child to carefully interpret data, think about how graphs make it easier to represent data (versus communicating data in a different way), and consider how he or she might collect and show data in a different way.
  • In math word problems, have your child talk you through the information provided and explain how he or she will use such information to solve problems (as well as what information might be missing).
  • Encourage your child to notice patterns in the real world.
  • Have your child point out the use of fractions in everyday use.

Critical thinking is an important life skill that is now becoming a focal point in math and English-language arts curriculum. Talk with your child’s teacher about how you can support his or her development of such higher order thinking abilities. Also, throughout your child’s daily life, encourage him or her to think, reflect, make decisions and develop opinions.


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