Critical Thinking Strategies for Adult Learners

Posted by on October 15th, 2015

In education, teachers and students rarely meet on the same plane. Motivations and objectives do not always match well. For example, adult students returning to school in pursuit of GED® exam recognition come loaded with complicated expectations and challenges. Good instructors know this and face the problem with critical thinking strategies.

Fortunately, the best of these instructors have learned to be flexible, resilient, and innovative. When you reach this stage of teaching, you have already changed your views on pedagogy and matured as a facilitator and mentor.

Think About Critical Thinking

Simply put, critical thinking is actively applying specific strategies to your thinking. It involves more than just reading something and regurgitating what was read word-for-word. It’s likely that your students won’t truly understand what it means to be critical thinkers. The good news is that anyone can be a critical thinker if you give them the right strategies. Your first challenge is to make them understand that critical thinking may not come naturally; it is a discipline that has to be practiced, assessed, and developed.

Explain Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a frame of mind, an infrastructure from which educated people approach problems. Their process of analysis, assessment, and re-activation becomes one of continuous process improvement. Critical thinking is not for people who expect things or answers handed to them. It is best when felt and owned by the thinker as a self-organized and developed process rather than as content consumption. And, it best serves those who have come to or are coming to understand that their thinking is part of a community of learning. Critical thinking becomes important when students discover that others want to know what they think.

Teach Critical Thinking Strategies

Your job is to share specific strategies with students to show exactly what it means to be a critical thinker.

  • Review text. Students benefit from familiarizing themselves with text before trying to explore and retain. If they have a sense of size, shape, and direction of the content, the work will intimidate less. Make this more relevant by using student-selected reading materials.
  • Summarize content orally. Help students highlight and outline to rebuild the content. Encourage them to have conversations with you or other students to practice summarizing orally. Once they are more comfortable summarizing, they can make presentations using bullets and talking points.
  • Offer real world examples. Nothing validates students more than their own problems or experience. Let them provide a work or life problem that eludes solution. Encouraging some group participation lets student know best thinking is often a community project and encourages dialog that solicits data, evidence, and, perhaps, some personal re-evaluation.
  • Make it visual. Critical thinking should not be an egocentric experience. Sooner or later, it will be externalized, so use graphics to provoke the process or direct it towards visualization as a metric for performance.
  • Analyze and assess. Thought is a process, a stream of elements with relationships. Critical thinkers are good at breaking the flow apart and reconstructing it to accomplish the desired objective. Teach your students to analyze information by looking at cause and effect, asking questions, connecting related ideas or interpreting given information.


Critical thinking skills are an important aspect of passing a high school equivalency exam and beyond that. The future depends on your adult learners’ abilities to analyze and manage the world that surrounds them. Help your students by exploring and exploiting your toolbox of teaching strategies that develop critical thinking strategies.

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