Building Critical Thinking Skills in Children & Adolescents

The majority of children and adolescents with language disorders struggle immensely with critical thinking skills that are essential to make effective decisions. They do not have the linguistic skills necessary for analytical thinking or adequate expressive language skills that are crucial for higher order language tasks. This requires comprehension of vocabulary, an ability to process language, background knowledge, and effective reasoning skills. When should you work on critical thinking skills in speech-language therapy?

It is important to work on these skills with upper elementary, middle, and high school students who have mastered learning tier 1 vocabulary words, answering literal wh questions, and have a basic understanding of a variety of vocabulary such as synonyms, antonyms, and multiple meaning words. If they have a language foundation in these areas they will be better equipped to answer more advanced language processing questions such as problem/solution, compare/contrast, cause/effect, making inferences, making predictions, and verbally expressing opinions and reasons.

As speech-language pathologists, it’s best to provide visual supports to help teach these skills. You may use pictures or videos to help children and adolescents identify problems, determine plausible solutions, or make inferences. You may give them written sentence starters to help them compare and contrast. The level of the support that is required for each student will vary based on his or her foundational skills. Remember, that they will need plenty of language scaffolding and prompts to understand these tasks initially. Over time, they should require less prompts and cues to answer critical thinking questions.

Here are a few suggested resources with activities that you may use to address developing higher order language skills in speech language therapy:

1. DOT Reasoning and Problem Solving – Speech Corner
2. Reasoning Workbook- Speech Corner
3. No Glamour Inferences- Super Duper Publications
4. Inferences Card Deck- Speech Corner
5. Treasure Trove Auditory Inferences- Speech Corner
6. Critical Thinking Quick Take Along Mini-Book – Super Duper Publications
7. Elementary Photo cards- LinguiSystems/Pro-ed
8. Language Empires App- Smarty Ears
9. Use your favorite picture books!
10. The Foundation for Critical Thinking Resources
K-3: http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/elementary-educators-k-3/802/
4-6: http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/elementary-educators-4-6/809

Are you not sure where to begin language therapy to address increasing critical thinking skills in children and adolescents?

I suggest using my informal Critical Thinking Progress Monitoring Tool. This will give you information about the child’s strengths and weaknesses with a variety of critical thinking skills.

Do you need more formal measures to assess these skills? I recommend the following standardized measures:

Test of Problem Solving 3 Elementary (TOPS-3)

Test of Problem Solving Adolescent (TOPS)

CELF 5: Semantic Relationships, Reading Comprehension subtests

CELF 5 Metalinguistics

CASL (Supralinguistic Subtests)

What are some resources that you enjoy using with success to increase critical thinking skills of children and adolescents with language disorders? I welcome your suggestions in the comments section.

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