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Root Cause Analysis with 5 Whys Technique (With Examples)

Sebastian Traeger

By Sebastian Traeger

Updated: April 23, 2024

Reading Time: 7 minutes

What Is the 5 Whys Technique?

Example of the 5 whys technique, how to conduct a 5 whys analysis in 5 steps, when to use a 5 whys analysis, using 5 whys template, tips for mastering the 5 whys technique, frequently asked questions about 5 whys.

With over two decades in business – spanning strategy consulting, tech startups and executive leadership – I am committed to helping your organization thrive.

At Reliability, we’re on a mission to help enhance strategic decision-making and operational excellence through the power of Root Cause Analysis, and I hope this article will be helpful! 

Our goal is to help you better understand 5 whys techniques by offering insights and practical tips based on years of experience. Whether you’re new to doing RCAs or a seasoned pro, we trust this will be useful in your journey towards working hard and working smart.

The 5 Whys Technique is like peeling an onion – it helps you uncover the underlying reasons behind a problem, layer by layer. By repeatedly asking “why” at least five times, this method digs deep to reveal the root cause of an issue. It’s a simple yet powerful problem-solving approach that aims to get to the heart of the matter rather than just addressing surface-level symptoms.

5 Whys Technique: A method that involves iteratively asking “why” five times to unveil the fundamental cause of a problem.

5 Why Example

In essence, the 5 Whys Technique is not just about fixing what’s broken on the surface; it’s about understanding and addressing the deeper issues that lead to problems in the first place.

The 5 Whys Technique is like a detective, uncovering the truth behind recurring problems. Let’s take a look at how this method works in two different scenarios.

Case Study: Manufacturing Defects

Imagine a company that keeps encountering the same manufacturing defects despite various attempts to fix them. By using the 5 Whys Technique, they discovered that the defects were not caused by faulty machinery, as previously assumed, but rather by human error due to unclear operating instructions. This realization led to improved training procedures and clear work guidelines, ultimately eliminating the defects.

Application in Service Industry

Now, consider a service industry struggling with frequent customer complaints and service failures. Through the 5 Whys Technique, it was revealed that these issues stemmed from inadequate staffing levels during peak hours. By addressing this root cause, such as hiring additional staff or adjusting schedules, the service quality can significantly improve, leading to higher customer satisfaction.

These examples illustrate how the 5 Whys Technique can be applied across different sectors to identify and address underlying issues effectively.

Step 1: Identify the Problem

Before diving into a 5 Whys analysis, it’s crucial to clearly identify the problem or issue at hand . This step sets the stage for the entire process and ensures that the focus remains on addressing the right concern. Take the time to gather relevant data, observe patterns, and consult with team members or stakeholders to gain a comprehensive understanding of the problem.

Step 2: Ask ‘Why’ Five Times

Once the problem is clearly defined, it’s time to start peeling back the layers. The process involves asking “why” five times, not necessarily limited to five questions but enough to delve deeper into the underlying causes of the problem . Each “why” serves as a gateway to uncovering additional factors contributing to the issue. This iterative approach helps in identifying not just one cause, but multiple interconnected elements that may be at play.

By consistently probing deeper with each “why,” you can reveal hidden complexities and nuances that may have been overlooked initially. This method allows for a more thorough understanding of the situation, paving the way for effective solutions that address root causes rather than surface-level symptoms.

This structured approach encourages critical thinking and enables teams to move beyond quick fixes towards sustainable improvements.

The 5 Whys Technique is a versatile problem-solving approach that can be applied in various scenarios to uncover root causes and drive continuous improvement. Here are two key situations where the 5 Whys Analysis can be particularly beneficial:

Recurring Issues

  • The 5 Whys Technique is especially useful when dealing with recurring issues. Whether it’s a manufacturing defect that keeps resurfacing or a persistent customer complaint in the service industry, this method helps identify the underlying reasons behind these repetitive problems. By repeatedly asking “why,” it becomes possible to trace the issue back to its root cause, allowing for targeted solutions that prevent reoccurrence.

Process Improvement

  • Organizations constantly strive to enhance their processes and workflows for increased efficiency and quality. When seeking to improve existing procedures, the 5 Whys Technique serves as a valuable tool. By systematically analyzing the factors contributing to inefficiencies or bottlenecks, teams can gain insights into how processes can be optimized at their core. This method enables organizations to make informed decisions about process improvements based on a deep understanding of the underlying issues.

In both cases, the 5 Whys Analysis offers a structured yet flexible approach to delve into complex problems, making it an indispensable tool for driving meaningful change and progress within organizations.

When it comes to conducting a 5 Whys analysis, utilizing a structured template can greatly facilitate the process and ensure a comprehensive investigation into the root cause identification. Using RCA software such as EasyRCA can benefit the team by streamlining your 5-why process. Here’s how organizations can benefit from using a template:

Screenshot of 5 Why Root Cause Analysis Software - EasyRCA 5 Why Template

Benefits of Using a Template

  • Streamlined Process: A well-designed 5 Whys template provides a clear framework for conducting the analysis, guiding teams through the iterative questioning process. This streamlines the investigation, making it easier to navigate and ensuring that no crucial aspects are overlooked.
  • Thorough Investigation: By following a predefined template, teams are prompted to explore various facets of the problem systematically. This ensures that all relevant factors are considered, leading to a more thorough and insightful investigation into the underlying causes.
  • Consistent Approach: Templates offer a standardized approach to conducting 5 Whys analyses within an organization. This consistency promotes uniformity in problem-solving methods across different teams or departments, enhancing overall efficiency and effectiveness.

Customizing the Template

Organizations have the flexibility to customize 5 Whys templates according to their specific needs and industry requirements. This adaptability allows for tailoring the template to address unique challenges and incorporate industry-specific considerations. Customization may include:

  • Adding Industry-Specific Prompts: Tailoring the template by incorporating prompts or questions relevant to particular industries or types of issues being analyzed.
  • Incorporating Visual Aids: Enhancing the template with visual aids such as flow charts or diagrams can help teams better understand and communicate complex causal relationships.
  • Iterative Refinement: Regularly reviewing and refining the template based on feedback and evolving organizational needs ensures that it remains aligned with current processes and challenges.

Customizing the template empowers organizations to harness the full potential of the 5 Whys Technique in addressing diverse problems while aligning with their unique operational contexts.

Encouraging Open Communication

In mastering the 5 Whys Technique as a problem-solving method, creating an environment that fosters open communication is paramount. When team members feel comfortable expressing their perspectives and insights, it leads to a more comprehensive exploration of the underlying causes of a problem. Encouraging open communication allows for diverse viewpoints to be considered, providing a holistic understanding of the issue at hand.

By promoting an atmosphere where individuals are empowered to voice their observations and concerns, the 5 Whys analysis can benefit from a rich tapestry of ideas and experiences. This inclusive approach not only enhances the depth of the analysis but also cultivates a sense of ownership and collective responsibility for addressing root causes within the team or organization.

Continuous Improvement Mindset

A key aspect of mastering the 5 Whys Technique is embracing a continuous improvement mindset. Rather than viewing problems as isolated incidents, this approach encourages teams to see them as opportunities for growth and development. By instilling a culture of continuous improvement, organizations can leverage the insights gained from 5 Whys analyzes to drive positive change across various aspects of their operations.

Fostering a mindset focused on continuous improvement entails actively seeking feedback, evaluating processes, and implementing iterative enhancements based on the findings. It involves an ongoing commitment to learning from past experiences and leveraging that knowledge to proactively address potential issues before they escalate. Embracing this mindset ensures that the 5 Whys Technique becomes ingrained in the organizational ethos, leading to sustained progress and resilience in problem-solving efforts.

As we wrap up our exploration of the 5 Whys Technique, let’s address some common questions that may arise regarding this powerful problem-solving method.

What is the primary goal of the 5 Whys Technique?

The primary goal of the 5 Whys Technique is to uncover the root cause of a problem by iteratively asking “why” at least five times. This approach aims to move beyond surface-level symptoms and address the underlying issues that lead to recurring problems.

Is the 5 Whys Technique limited to specific industries or sectors?

No, the 5 Whys Technique is versatile and can be applied across various industries and sectors. Whether it’s manufacturing, healthcare, service, or technology, this method offers a structured yet flexible approach to identifying root causes and driving continuous improvement.

How does the 5 Whys Technique contribute to continuous improvement?

By delving into the fundamental reasons behind problems, the 5 Whys Technique provides organizations with valuable insights for driving continuous improvement. It not only helps in resolving immediate issues but also fosters a culture of ongoing enhancement and development within an organization.

Can the 5 Whys Technique be used for complex problems with multiple contributing factors?

Yes, while initially designed as a simple and straightforward method, the 5 Whys Technique can certainly be applied to complex problems with multiple interconnected factors. By systematically probing deeper into each layer of causality, this technique enables a comprehensive understanding of intricate issues.

I hope you found this guide to 5 whys technique insightful and actionable! Stay tuned for more thought-provoking articles as we continue to share our knowledge. Success is rooted in a thorough understanding and consistent application, and we hope this article was a step in unlocking the full potential of Root Cause Analysis for your organization.

Reliability runs initiatives such as an online learning center focused on the proprietary PROACT® RCA methodology and EasyRCA.com software. For additional resources, visit Reliability Resources .

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Washington Monument Problem Solving 5 Why

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The 5 Why Problem-Solving Technique | Root Cause Analysis

  • 7 mins to read
  • July 13, 2018
  • By Reagan Pannell

By using the 5-why analysis, you can get to the root cause of a problem, rather than just treating its symptoms.n help.

One of the most famous and straightforward problem-solving methodologies introduced by Toyota has become known as the “Five Why’s”. It’s a tool where you simply keep asking “Why” 5 times to identify the root cause of the problem and potentially a simple solution. It’s at the heart of lean thinking and our Lean training courses .

Did you know that kids ask around 90 questions a day and many of them are just “Why”!

We all naturally ask, “Why” all the time? The last figure I heard is that kids ask around 90 questions a day, and many of them are “Why?” style questions.

And the best way to imagine how the ‘Five Whys’ work is to imagine children asking “why”… again and again. As adults, we ask “Why?” once or maybe twice. If you are at a dinner party, asking your friends “Why?” more than twice, may make us look like petulant children. To ask your boss “Why?” once may not even be possible in case it comes across threatening or disrespectful, or perhaps you will feel that its a sign of your lack of knowledge.

But asking “why” without the threatening and undermining tone is an essential way we all began to learn. Asking “why” almost gets kicked out of us at school and with it the questioning mind that we all need if we want to do something different.

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The ‘Five Whys’ is this simple in theory.

It asks us to take an open mind to a problem and to not be afraid to keep asking why five times (plus or minus a couple depending on the situation). And what is the goal? Well, our goal is to keep drilling down until we feel that “A-HA!” moment when things suddenly make more sense, and we have uncovered a root cause.

So let’s bring this to life with a real-life example regarding the Washington Monument.

The Washington Monument and others for that matter were deteriorating quite severely in the early ’90s. The specialists were sure why. However, on the desk of Don Messersmith, an esteemed Entomologist (the scientific study of insects) was what has become one of the most famous examples of the five whys approach to problem-solving .

Just for the curious:  Messersmith, Donald H. 1993.  Lincoln Memorial Lighting and Midge Study . Unpublished report prepared for the National Park Service. CX-2000-1-0014. N.p

Washington Monument 5 Why

Idea Summary: The problem was simple: The Washington Monument in Washington D.C. is deteriorating.

Why #1 – Why is the monument deteriorating? Because harsh chemicals are being frequently used to clean the monument

Why #2 – Why are harsh chemicals needed? To clean off the large number of bird droppings being left on the monument

Why #3 – Why are there a large number of bird droppings on the monument? Because of the large number of spiders and other insects which are a food source of the birds

Why #4 – Why are there large numbers of spiders and other insects around the monument? Because the insects get drawn to the monument at dusk

Why #5 – Why are the insects attracted to the monument at dusk? Because the lighting in the evening attracts the local insects

This classic five why example shows how the goal of the “five why problem-solving” approach is to move past the first level inquiry. It would have been quite easy to change the chemical, which was causing the apparent issue or investigate different cleaning methods which may slow the deterioration but nothing more.

The solution implemented was simply to delay turning on the lights at night. The result was a dramatic 85% reduction in the midges and consequently, a massive drop in bird droppings and the level of cleaning required. The bonus was also a reduction in energy costs.*

Five Why application to Customer / User Experience

The five why problem-solving technique can be used in almost all scenarios where you are trying to resolve an identified problem. So in the example below, let’s look at customer behaviour.

In the book “Hooked (How to Build Habit-Forming Products)”, the author Nir Eyal ( www.nirandfar.com ), uses the five whys approach to dig into users behaviour and tries to identify the underlying root cause of the behaviour. He points out that “one method is to try asking the question “Why?” as many times as it takes to get to anemotion.” The emotion behind the behaviour is often the driving force and the trigger which forms habits.

Idea Summary: Problem: What drives people to use email?

Why #1 – Why would Julie want to use email? So she can send and receive messages.

Why #2 – Why does she want to do that? Because she wants to share and receive information quickly?

Why #3 – Why does she want to do that? To know what’s going on in the lives of her coworkers, friends, and family.

Why #4 – Why does she need to know that? To know if someone needs her.

Why #5 – Why would she care about that? She fears to be out of the loop

While the final “why” appears to point to something very different than the Washington Monument example they both uncover a root cause. 

The first example is that the lighting is attracting the midges.

In the second example – its finding the root emotion that drives people to use a particular product and knowing that this emotion can help business connect with their customers at a deeper level to build successful products that a customer wants to engage with.

Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it. Winnie the Pooh Tweet

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Reagan Pannell is a highly accomplished professional with 15 years of experience in building lean management programs for corporate companies. With his expertise in strategy execution, he has established himself as a trusted advisor for numerous organisations seeking to improve their operational efficiency.

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The Power of the Five Whys: Drilling Down to Effectively Problem-Solve

What is the “5 whys” method, the power of asking “why”, when the 5 whys should be used, how to utilize the 5 whys technique, five whys examples, other ways of improving problem-solving.

It’s a fact of life that things don’t always go according to plan. When facing mistakes or challenges, asking “why”—especially if you do it repeatedly—can help uncover deeper layers of understanding so you can identify potential solutions.

The question “why” can be used in problem-solving as a powerful technique that helps us dig deeper, challenge assumptions, and think critically. After all, if you’re not sure why a problem exists in the first place, it’s very difficult to solve it.

The “Five Whys” method (also called “5 Whys Root Cause Analysis”) can specifically help in examining beliefs, behaviors, and patterns to shine a light on areas for improvement. The Five Whys have other benefits too, including encouraging collaboration and communication since this strategy promotes open dialogue among team members or partners. It also helps generate effective and lasting solutions that can prevent similar issues from resurfacing in the future.

In this article, learn how to use the Five Whys to save yourself or your company from wasting time and money and to address important issues at their source before they escalate.

The “Five Whys” is a technique commonly used in problem-solving to find the root causes of problems . This type of analysis can be applied to various situations, including within companies and relationships, to gain deeper insights and understandings of challenges and obstacles. The method involves “drilling down” by repeatedly asking “why”—typically five times or more—to get to the underlying causes or motivations behind a particular issue. Overall, it’s a way to figure out causes and effects related to a situation so that solutions can be uncovered.

“Effective problem solving can help organizations improve in every area of their business, including product quality, client satisfaction, and finances.” Jamie Birt , Career Coach

Here are a few reasons why asking “why,” or practicing the Five Whys, is important in problem-solving:

  • Identifies underlying issues and root causes: Repeatedly asking “why” helps peel back the layers of a problem to get closer to the heart of what’s not working well. The goal is to define the real issue at hand to address its underlying causes. Understanding root causes is crucial because it enables you to address issues at their source rather than simply dealing with surface-level effects.
  • Promotes critical thinking: Critical thinking refers to the process of objectively and analytically evaluating information, arguments, or situations. To engage in critical thinking and analysis, we need to ask “why,” usually over and over again. This encourages us to develop a more nuanced understanding of a problem by evaluating different factors, examining relationships, and considering different perspectives. Doing so helps lead to well-reasoned judgments and informed decisions.
  • Uncovers assumptions: The opposite of assuming something is remaining open-minded and curious about it. Albert Einstein once said , “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Asking “why” prompts you to challenge preconceived notions you may not even realize you have. Often, we make assumptions about a problem or its causes without having all the information we need. By gaining a fresh perspective, we can consider alternative solutions.
  • Generates insights: The Five Whys can lead to valuable discoveries and potential fixes by uncovering hidden connections. These insights can guide us toward innovative solutions that prevent similar problems from worsening or happening again.
“Curiosity has been identified as a characteristic of high-performing salespeople, and having a tool and system that fosters curiosity in your team is extremely helpful.” Alexander Young, Forbes

Any time a problem needs to be clarified and solved, the Five Whys can help. This flexible technique can be adapted to different situations, including personal and professional ones. For example, it’s useful when there are complications within businesses that are causing a loss of profits or when arguments occur among family members or partners. Eric Ries from Harvard Business Review points out that start-ups can especially benefit from the Five Whys to test and refine procedures, ideas, products, and processes.

To get the most out of the Five Whys, include people with personal knowledge of the problem, processes, and systems involved in the analysis, such as employees and customers. This means that if a leadership team, for example, wants to use the Five Whys to improve customer engagement, actual customers and customer service representatives would be ideal people to include in the discussion. 

Here are examples of situations in which the Five Whys can be utilized:

  • Troubleshooting business processes or operations issues, such as delivery or customer service concerns.
  • Identifying the reasons behind personal challenges or recurring problems, such as disputes between bosses and employees.
  • Analyzing project failures or setbacks, such as missed deadlines, to find underlying causes.
  • Understanding customer complaints or dissatisfaction to improve products or services.
  • Improving communication, teamwork, and client relationships.

Sakichi Toyoda (1867–1930) was a Japanese inventor and industrialist known for his business ventures, including founding the Toyota Motor Corporation. Toyoda is credited with developing the Five Whys method in the 1930s, which he used to support continuous improvement within his companies . 

For example, within Toyota Production System (TPS), key goals included eliminating waste, improving efficiency, and ensuring quality. Toyoda used the Five Whys to identify problems within his company and to find ways to resolve them to improve production and customer satisfaction. He once stated , “By repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.”

“The beauty of the [Five Whys] tool is in its simplicity. Not only is it universally applicable, it also ensures that you don’t move to action straight away without fully considering whether the reason you’ve identified really is the cause of the problem.” Think Design

The Five Whys works by drilling down to a main underlying cause. The answer to the first “why” should prompt another “why,” and then the answer to the second “why” should continue to prompt more “whys” until a root cause is identified.

Follow these steps to implement the Five Whys:

1. Identify the Initial Problem: Clearly define the problem you want to address. Be specific, such as by including details that help with the analysis. Make sure to clearly articulate the issue by breaking it down into smaller components to ensure everyone involved has a thorough understanding of the situation.

2. Ask “Why?”: Start by asking why the problem occurred. Answer your own question. The answer becomes the basis for the next “why” question.

3. Repeat the Process Five or More Times: Continue asking “why” about the previous answer, iterating at least five times or until you reach a point where the root cause of the problem becomes apparent.

4. Analyze and Take Action: Once you have identified the root cause, analyze potential solutions and take appropriate action.

Here’s a template that you can use to make the process simple:

Problem Statement: (One sentence description of the main problem)

  • Why is the problem happening? (Insert answer)
  • Why is the answer above happening? (Insert answer)

Root Cause(s) 

To test if the root cause is correct, ask yourself the following: “If you removed this root cause, would this problem be resolved?”

Potential Solutions:

List one or more ways you can resolve the root cause of the problem.

The Five Whys method is not a rigid rule but rather a flexible framework that can be adjusted based on the complexity of the problem. You may need to ask “why” only three times or more than five times, such as 7 to 9 times, to nail down the main underlying cause. It’s not the exact amount of “whys” you ask that matters, more so that you’re really investigating the situation and getting to the root of the issue.

Here are two examples of how the Five Whys technique can be used to problem-solve:

Example 1: Machine Breakdown

  • Problem Statement: A machine in a manufacturing facility keeps breaking down.
  • Why did the machine break down? The motor overheated.
  • Why did the motor overheat? The cooling system failed.
  • Why did the cooling system fail? The coolant pump malfunctioned.
  • Why did the coolant pump malfunction? It wasn’t properly maintained.
  • Why wasn’t the coolant pump properly maintained? There was no regular maintenance schedule in place.
  • Root Cause: The lack of a regular maintenance schedule led to the coolant pump malfunction and subsequent machine breakdown.
  • Solution: Implement a scheduled maintenance program for all machines to ensure proper upkeep and prevent breakdowns.

Example 2: Orders Not Being Fulfilled On Time

  • Problem Statement: The order fulfillment process in an e-commerce company is experiencing delays.
  • Why are there delays in the order fulfillment process? The warehouse staff is spending excessive time searching for products.
  • Why are they spending excessive time searching for products? The products are not organized efficiently in the warehouse.
  • Why are the products not organized efficiently? There is no standardized labeling system for product placement.
  • Why is there no standardized labeling system? The inventory management software does not support it.
  • Why doesn’t the inventory management software support a labeling system? The current software version is outdated and lacks the necessary features.
  • Root Cause: The use of outdated inventory management software lacking labeling functionality leads to inefficient product organization and delays in the order fulfillment process.
  • Solution: Upgrade the inventory management software to a newer version that supports a standardized labeling system, improving product organization and streamlining the order fulfillment process.
“Great leaders are, at their core, great problem-solvers. They take proactive measures to avoid conflicts and address issues when they arise.” Alison Griswold , Business and Economics Writer

Problem-solving is a skill that can be developed and improved over time. The Five Whys method is most effective when used in conjunction with other problem-solving tools and when utilized in a collaborative environment that encourages open communication and a willingness to honestly explore underlying causes. For the method to work well, “radical candor” needs to be utilized, and constructive feedback needs to be accepted.

Here are other strategies to assist in problem-solving, most of which can be used alongside the Five Whys:

  • Gather and analyze information: Collect relevant data, facts, and information related to the problem. This could involve conducting research, talking to experts, or analyzing past experiences. Examine the information you’ve gathered and identify patterns, connections, and potential causes of the problem. Look for underlying factors and consider both the immediate and long-term implications.
  • Have a brainstorming session: Collaborate with colleagues, seek advice from experts, or gather input from stakeholders. Different perspectives can bring fresh ideas. Gather a group of teammates and get out a whiteboard and a marker. Create a list of opportunities or problems and potential solutions. Encourage creativity and think outside the box. Consider different perspectives and approaches.
  • Draw a cause-and-effect diagram: Make a chart with three columns, one each for challenges, causes, and effects. Use this to come up with solutions, then assess the pros and cons of each potential solution by considering the feasibility, potential risks, and benefits associated with each option. 
  • Develop an action plan: Once you’ve selected the best solution(s), create a detailed action plan. Define the steps required to implement the solution, set timelines, and then track your progress.

Want to learn more about problem-solving using critical thinking? Check out this article:

Use Critical Thinking Skills to Excel at Problem-Solving

Leaders Media has established sourcing guidelines and relies on relevant, and credible sources for the data, facts, and expert insights and analysis we reference. You can learn more about our mission, ethics, and how we cite sources in our editorial policy .

  • American Institute of Physics. Albert Einstein Image and Impact . History Exhibit. https://history.aip.org/exhibits/einstein/ae77.htm
  • Indeed. 5 Whys Example: A Powerful Problem-Solving Tool for Career Development. Indeed Career Guide. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/5-whys-example
  • Entrepreneur. 3 Steps to Creating a Culture of Problem Solvers . Entrepreneur – Leadership. https://www.entrepreneur.com/leadership/3-steps-to-creating-a-culture-of-problem-solvers/436071
  • Harvard Business Review. (2010, April). The Five Whys for Startups. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2010/04/the-five-whys-for-startups
  • Forbes. (2021, June 7). Understanding The Five Whys: How To Successfully Integrate This Tool Into Your Business . Forbes – Entrepreneurs. https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2021/06/07/understanding-the-five-whys-how-to-successfully-integrate-this-tool-into-your-business/?sh=5eda43675c18
  • Think Design. Five Whys: Get to the Root of Any Problem Quickly. Think Design – User Design Research. https://think.design/user-design-research/five-whys
  • Business Insider. (2013, November). The Problem-Solving Tactics of Great Leaders. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/problem-solving-tactics-of-great-leaders-2013-11

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The five whys method: how to unlock innovative ideas   

July 13, 2023 by MindManager Blog

In this article, we’ll delve into the powerful method of the five whys, which seamlessly combines brainstorming and problem-solving techniques . Find out how this method can help you determine the reasons behind problems, untangle issues, and devise clever solutions.  

What is the five whys root cause analysis?  

The five whys root cause analysis is a problem-solving technique used to identify the causes of an issue by asking, “Why?” repeatedly. It aims to uncover factors contributing to a problem rather than addressing surface-level details.   

The process involves starting with a problem statement and asking “Why?” to understand the immediate cause. The answer to the first “Why?” is then used to ask the second “Why?”. This recurring questioning continues until you reach the root cause of the problem or until it is no longer productive.  

The five whys method is used to dig deeper into a problem. By repeatedly asking “Why?” you can uncover apparent causes and less obvious factors contributing to the issue.  

Why use the five whys method? 

The five whys approach is effective for several reasons: 

  • It promotes a thorough investigation of the problem, preventing rash conclusions and superficial explanations.  
  • It encourages you to investigate underlying causes rather than surface level ideas. This helps you to address the problem at its core and leads to more effective and sustainable solutions.  
  • It stimulates critical thinking and analysis because it requires individuals to think objectively about each answer to determine if it’s a symptom or a real cause. This mindset helps find the root causes and prevent the problem from reoccurring. 
  • It facilitates learning and continuous improvement. By understanding the problem in full, organizations can enforce targeted actions. This improves processes, systems, and decision-making to prevent similar issues in the future.  

Overall, the five whys root cause analysis is a powerful tool for problem-solving. By promoting detailed investigation, critical thinking, and learning, the method helps to develop effective strategies for improvement.    

The five whys method in ten steps 

The five whys methodology typically requires a team of individuals with diverse expertise and perspectives. This can include stakeholders, subject matter experts, and individuals responsible for enforcing the solutions. 

The result of the five whys method is the ability to label a problem’s root cause and create a road map for action. By addressing the root cause, the five whys technique also prevents se recurrence of the problem, improve processes, and foster a culture of continuous improvement within the organization. 

The key steps in the five whys methodology are as follows: 

Step 1: State the problem 

Clearly articulate the problem or issue that needs to be addressed.   

Step 2: Build a team of brainstormers 

Gather a cross-functional team of individuals with knowledge and experience related to the problem.   

Step 3: Ask “Why?” at least five times 

Begin by asking why the problem occurred, and then continue asking “Why?” for each successive answer, delving deeper into the causes of the problem. Aim to reach the root cause by the fifth “Why?”.   

Step 4: Analyze, examine, and brainstorm 

Once the team identifies the root cause, analyze it and brainstorm to explore potential solutions.   

Step 5: Confirm the root cause of the issue 

Validate the identified root cause by assessing its alignment with the problem and the available evidence. Ensure that it is a genuine cause and not just a symptom. 

Step 6: Enforce corrective actions 

Develop and implement appropriate corrective actions that directly address the root cause. These actions should prevent the problem from recurring.   

Step 7: Monitor, observe, and evaluate the results 

Continuously monitor the effectiveness of the implemented solutions and assess their impact on resolving the problem. 

Step 8: Revise and repeat 

If the problem persists or new issues arise, repeat the five whys process to reassess and adjust the analysis and solutions accordingly.   

Step 9: Communicate and document your findings 

Maintain clear communication within the team and document the problem, root cause, and implemented solutions for future reference and organizational learning.   

Step 10: Encourage continuous improvement 

Encourage a culture of ongoing problem-solving and learning within the organization. Use the five whys process insights to improve processes, systems, and decision-making. 

Five whys example: Identifying a root cause problem  

As stated, the five whys method helps identify the root cause of an issue. In this example, the five whys help a team get to the bottom of a production problem. 

The problem : The production line in a manufacturing company is experiencing frequent breakdowns, leading to delays and reduced productivity. The team uses the five whys to understand the problem from the inside out.  

Q: Why did the production line break down?  

A: Because a critical machine overheated and shut down. 

Q: Why did the machine overheat and shut down?  

A: Because the cooling system failed to function properly. 

Q: Why did the cooling system fail to function properly?  

A: Because the coolant levels were consistently low. 

Q: Why were the coolant levels consistently low?  

A: Because there was a leak in the coolant reservoir. 

Q: Why was there a leak in the coolant reservoir?  

A: Because the reservoir was damaged due to improper maintenance. 

Root Cause : The root cause of the production line breakdown is the lack of proper maintenance, resulting in a damaged coolant reservoir and a coolant leakage. 

Based on this analysis, the company can now focus on implementing corrective actions that address the root cause. This may involve improving the maintenance schedule, conducting regular inspections, and repairing or replacing damaged equipment.  

By addressing the root cause, the company can prevent future breakdowns and improve the overall efficiency and productivity of the production line. 

Five whys example: Brainstorming a solution  

The five whys technique can be used to brainstorm to find the best solution to a problem. Below is a brainstorming example of how the five whys can be used: 

Problem : The sales of a new product have been declining rapidly. The team uses the five why method to brainstorm and find a solution.   

Q: Why are the sales of the new product declining?  

A: Because customers are finding the price too high compared to similar products in the market.   

Q: Why do customers find the price too high?  

A: Because they perceive the value provided by the product to be lower than its price.   

Q: Why do customers perceive the value to be low?  

A: Because the product lacks certain features that competitors’ products offer. 

Q: Why does the product lack those features?  

A: Because the development team did not conduct thorough market research to identify customer needs and preferences.   

Q: Why didn’t the development team conduct thorough market research?  

A: Because there was a lack of resources and time allocated for proper market analysis.   

Solution : Based on the five whys analysis, increasing sales of the new product could involve the following: 

  • Conducting comprehensive market research to identify customer needs and preferences. 
  • Incorporating the missing features that competitors’ products offer. 
  • Reevaluating the pricing strategy to align with the perceived value of customers. 
  • Allocating adequate resources and time for market analysis and product development. 

By addressing these solutions, the company can improve the product’s competitiveness, better meet customer expectations, and potentially increase sales. 

The five whys method helps in brainstorming by revealing the underlying causes and guiding the identification of appropriate solutions. 

The five whys tips checklist   

If you’re looking to use the five whys method for brainstorming or solving a problem, use these tips to help:   

  • Dig deeper with “How?”. In addition to repeatedly asking “Why?”, incorporate “How?” questions to explore the process that led to the problem.    
  • Encourage participation from all team members. Ensure that all team members have an opportunity to add their insights and perspectives. 
  • Avoid assigning blame. The method is not about finding fault or blaming individuals. Instead, focus on understanding the systemic causes and identifying solutions collaboratively.   
  • Use visual aids. Utilize visual aids such as flowcharts, diagrams, or mind maps to visualize cause-and-effect relationships.  
  • Seek outside perspectives. If necessary, involve external experts or advisors who can provide fresh insights and challenge existing ideas.   
  • Consider multiple root causes. Be open to the possibility that there may not be a definitive root cause. Explore multiple causes to gain a complete understanding. 

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Elevate your ideation sessions and maximize your team’s potential. Sign up for a free trial  now and unleash the power of the five whys brainstorming method with MindManager! 

Five whys frequently asked questions (FAQs) 

Below are three commonly asked questions about the five whys technique and how you and your team can use it to solve problems.   

What is the five whys root cause analysis?   

The five whys root cause analysis is a method that involves asking “Why?” over and over to uncover the underlying cause of a problem.  

By continuously diving deeper into the causes, you can identify the actual root cause and provide insights for problem-solving and preventive measures. 

What are the key steps in the five whys method?  

The ten key steps in the five whys method include: 

  • State the problem. 
  • Build a team of brainstormers. 
  • Ask “Why” at least five times. 
  • Analyze, examine, and brainstorm. 
  • Confirm the root cause of the issue. 
  • Enforce corrective actions. 
  • Monitor, observe, and evaluate the results. 
  • Revise and repeat. 
  • Communicate and document your findings. 
  • Encourage continuous improvement.   

What types of problems can five whys help solve?  

The five whys method can help solve various problems across many domains. It is particularly effective for addressing complex or recurring issues that require deeper understanding and systematic problem-solving.  

It can be applied to problems related to: 

  • Product defects 
  • Process inefficiencies 
  • Customer complaints 
  • Service failures 
  • Project delays 
  • Interpersonal conflicts.  

By identifying the underlying causes and root issues, the five whys method enables organizations to implement targeted solutions and prevent the problems from recurring. 

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Root Cause Analysis – The 5 Whys Technique

This elementary and often effective approach to problem-solving promotes deep thinking through questioning, and can be adapted quickly and applied to most problems. For example, asking “Why?” may be a favorite technique of your three-year-old child in driving you crazy, but it could teach you a valuable problem-solving technique.

“If you don’t ask the right questions, you don’t get the right answers. A question asked in the right way often points to its answer. Asking questions is the ABC of diagnosis. Only the inquiring mind solves problems.” – Edward Hodnett

The “5 Whys” is a simple problem-solving technique that helps you to get to the root of a problem quickly, which was originally developed by Sakichi Toyota. It was used within the Toyota Motor Corporation during the evolution of its manufacturing methodologies. It is a critical component of problem-solving training, delivered as part of the induction into the Toyota Production System.

How to Conduct 5 Whys Analysis?

When you’re looking to solve a problem, start at the result and work backward (toward the root cause), continually asking: “Why?” You’ll need to repeat this over and over until the root cause of the problem becomes apparent.

Root Cause Analysis

The 5 Whys strategy involves looking at any problem and asking: “Why?” and “What caused this problem?” Very often, the answer to the first “why” will prompt another “why” and the answer to the second “why” will prompt another and so on; hence the name the 5 Whys strategy.

The 5 Whys exercise is vastly improved when applied by a team and there are five basic steps to conducting it:

  • Write down the specific problem. Writing the issue helps you formalize the problem and describe it completely. It also helps a team focus on the same problem.
  • Ask “Why” the problem happens and write the answer down below the problem.
  • If the answer you just provided doesn’t identify the root cause of the problem that you wrote down in Step 1, ask “Why” again and write that answer down.
  • Loopback to step 3 until the team is in agreement that the problem’s root cause is identified. Again, this may take fewer or more times than five Whys.
  • After settling on the most probable root cause of the problem and obtaining confirmation of the logic behind the analysis, develop appropriate corrective actions to remove the root cause from the system.

Five Whys worksheet

Edit this Diagram

5 Whys Example

The vehicle will not start. (The problem)

  • Why? – The battery is dead. (First why)
  • Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (Second why)
  • Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (Third why)
  • Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (Fourth why)
  • Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (Fifth why, a root cause)

Note: A 5 Whys analysis sometime could be taken further to a sixth, seventh, or higher level, but five iterations of asking why are generally sufficient to get to a root cause.

5-Whys Criticisms

Here are each of the criticisms as listed on the Wikipedia:

  • Stopping at symptoms, not the root cause
  • Limited by the investigator’s knowledge.
  • Not asking the right Why questions.
  • Not repeatable – Different people build different 5 Whys.
  • The tendency to isolate a single root cause

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What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally, understanding the logical connection between ideas.  Critical thinking has been the subject of much debate and thought since the time of early Greek philosophers such as Plato and Socrates and has continued to be a subject of discussion into the modern age, for example the ability to recognise fake news .

Critical thinking might be described as the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking.

In essence, critical thinking requires you to use your ability to reason. It is about being an active learner rather than a passive recipient of information.

Critical thinkers rigorously question ideas and assumptions rather than accepting them at face value. They will always seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments and findings represent the entire picture and are open to finding that they do not.

Critical thinkers will identify, analyse and solve problems systematically rather than by intuition or instinct.

Someone with critical thinking skills can:

Understand the links between ideas.

Determine the importance and relevance of arguments and ideas.

Recognise, build and appraise arguments.

Identify inconsistencies and errors in reasoning.

Approach problems in a consistent and systematic way.

Reflect on the justification of their own assumptions, beliefs and values.

Critical thinking is thinking about things in certain ways so as to arrive at the best possible solution in the circumstances that the thinker is aware of. In more everyday language, it is a way of thinking about whatever is presently occupying your mind so that you come to the best possible conclusion.

Critical Thinking is:

A way of thinking about particular things at a particular time; it is not the accumulation of facts and knowledge or something that you can learn once and then use in that form forever, such as the nine times table you learn and use in school.

The Skills We Need for Critical Thinking

The skills that we need in order to be able to think critically are varied and include observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem solving, and decision making.

Specifically we need to be able to:

Think about a topic or issue in an objective and critical way.

Identify the different arguments there are in relation to a particular issue.

Evaluate a point of view to determine how strong or valid it is.

Recognise any weaknesses or negative points that there are in the evidence or argument.

Notice what implications there might be behind a statement or argument.

Provide structured reasoning and support for an argument that we wish to make.

The Critical Thinking Process

You should be aware that none of us think critically all the time.

Sometimes we think in almost any way but critically, for example when our self-control is affected by anger, grief or joy or when we are feeling just plain ‘bloody minded’.

On the other hand, the good news is that, since our critical thinking ability varies according to our current mindset, most of the time we can learn to improve our critical thinking ability by developing certain routine activities and applying them to all problems that present themselves.

Once you understand the theory of critical thinking, improving your critical thinking skills takes persistence and practice.

Try this simple exercise to help you to start thinking critically.

Think of something that someone has recently told you. Then ask yourself the following questions:

Who said it?

Someone you know? Someone in a position of authority or power? Does it matter who told you this?

What did they say?

Did they give facts or opinions? Did they provide all the facts? Did they leave anything out?

Where did they say it?

Was it in public or in private? Did other people have a chance to respond an provide an alternative account?

When did they say it?

Was it before, during or after an important event? Is timing important?

Why did they say it?

Did they explain the reasoning behind their opinion? Were they trying to make someone look good or bad?

How did they say it?

Were they happy or sad, angry or indifferent? Did they write it or say it? Could you understand what was said?

What are you Aiming to Achieve?

One of the most important aspects of critical thinking is to decide what you are aiming to achieve and then make a decision based on a range of possibilities.

Once you have clarified that aim for yourself you should use it as the starting point in all future situations requiring thought and, possibly, further decision making. Where needed, make your workmates, family or those around you aware of your intention to pursue this goal. You must then discipline yourself to keep on track until changing circumstances mean you have to revisit the start of the decision making process.

However, there are things that get in the way of simple decision making. We all carry with us a range of likes and dislikes, learnt behaviours and personal preferences developed throughout our lives; they are the hallmarks of being human. A major contribution to ensuring we think critically is to be aware of these personal characteristics, preferences and biases and make allowance for them when considering possible next steps, whether they are at the pre-action consideration stage or as part of a rethink caused by unexpected or unforeseen impediments to continued progress.

The more clearly we are aware of ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, the more likely our critical thinking will be productive.

The Benefit of Foresight

Perhaps the most important element of thinking critically is foresight.

Almost all decisions we make and implement don’t prove disastrous if we find reasons to abandon them. However, our decision making will be infinitely better and more likely to lead to success if, when we reach a tentative conclusion, we pause and consider the impact on the people and activities around us.

The elements needing consideration are generally numerous and varied. In many cases, consideration of one element from a different perspective will reveal potential dangers in pursuing our decision.

For instance, moving a business activity to a new location may improve potential output considerably but it may also lead to the loss of skilled workers if the distance moved is too great. Which of these is the more important consideration? Is there some way of lessening the conflict?

These are the sort of problems that may arise from incomplete critical thinking, a demonstration perhaps of the critical importance of good critical thinking.

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In Summary:

Critical thinking is aimed at achieving the best possible outcomes in any situation. In order to achieve this it must involve gathering and evaluating information from as many different sources possible.

Critical thinking requires a clear, often uncomfortable, assessment of your personal strengths, weaknesses and preferences and their possible impact on decisions you may make.

Critical thinking requires the development and use of foresight as far as this is possible. As Doris Day sang, “the future’s not ours to see”.

Implementing the decisions made arising from critical thinking must take into account an assessment of possible outcomes and ways of avoiding potentially negative outcomes, or at least lessening their impact.

  • Critical thinking involves reviewing the results of the application of decisions made and implementing change where possible.

It might be thought that we are overextending our demands on critical thinking in expecting that it can help to construct focused meaning rather than examining the information given and the knowledge we have acquired to see if we can, if necessary, construct a meaning that will be acceptable and useful.

After all, almost no information we have available to us, either externally or internally, carries any guarantee of its life or appropriateness.  Neat step-by-step instructions may provide some sort of trellis on which our basic understanding of critical thinking can blossom but it doesn’t and cannot provide any assurance of certainty, utility or longevity.

Continue to: Critical Thinking and Fake News Critical Reading

See also: Analytical Skills Understanding and Addressing Conspiracy Theories Introduction to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

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Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. Its definition is contested, but the competing definitions can be understood as differing conceptions of the same basic concept: careful thinking directed to a goal. Conceptions differ with respect to the scope of such thinking, the type of goal, the criteria and norms for thinking carefully, and the thinking components on which they focus. Its adoption as an educational goal has been recommended on the basis of respect for students’ autonomy and preparing students for success in life and for democratic citizenship. “Critical thinkers” have the dispositions and abilities that lead them to think critically when appropriate. The abilities can be identified directly; the dispositions indirectly, by considering what factors contribute to or impede exercise of the abilities. Standardized tests have been developed to assess the degree to which a person possesses such dispositions and abilities. Educational intervention has been shown experimentally to improve them, particularly when it includes dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring. Controversies have arisen over the generalizability of critical thinking across domains, over alleged bias in critical thinking theories and instruction, and over the relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking.

2.1 Dewey’s Three Main Examples

2.2 dewey’s other examples, 2.3 further examples, 2.4 non-examples, 3. the definition of critical thinking, 4. its value, 5. the process of thinking critically, 6. components of the process, 7. contributory dispositions and abilities, 8.1 initiating dispositions, 8.2 internal dispositions, 9. critical thinking abilities, 10. required knowledge, 11. educational methods, 12.1 the generalizability of critical thinking, 12.2 bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, 12.3 relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking, other internet resources, related entries.

Use of the term ‘critical thinking’ to describe an educational goal goes back to the American philosopher John Dewey (1910), who more commonly called it ‘reflective thinking’. He defined it as

active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends. (Dewey 1910: 6; 1933: 9)

and identified a habit of such consideration with a scientific attitude of mind. His lengthy quotations of Francis Bacon, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill indicate that he was not the first person to propose development of a scientific attitude of mind as an educational goal.

In the 1930s, many of the schools that participated in the Eight-Year Study of the Progressive Education Association (Aikin 1942) adopted critical thinking as an educational goal, for whose achievement the study’s Evaluation Staff developed tests (Smith, Tyler, & Evaluation Staff 1942). Glaser (1941) showed experimentally that it was possible to improve the critical thinking of high school students. Bloom’s influential taxonomy of cognitive educational objectives (Bloom et al. 1956) incorporated critical thinking abilities. Ennis (1962) proposed 12 aspects of critical thinking as a basis for research on the teaching and evaluation of critical thinking ability.

Since 1980, an annual international conference in California on critical thinking and educational reform has attracted tens of thousands of educators from all levels of education and from many parts of the world. Also since 1980, the state university system in California has required all undergraduate students to take a critical thinking course. Since 1983, the Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking has sponsored sessions in conjunction with the divisional meetings of the American Philosophical Association (APA). In 1987, the APA’s Committee on Pre-College Philosophy commissioned a consensus statement on critical thinking for purposes of educational assessment and instruction (Facione 1990a). Researchers have developed standardized tests of critical thinking abilities and dispositions; for details, see the Supplement on Assessment . Educational jurisdictions around the world now include critical thinking in guidelines for curriculum and assessment.

For details on this history, see the Supplement on History .

2. Examples and Non-Examples

Before considering the definition of critical thinking, it will be helpful to have in mind some examples of critical thinking, as well as some examples of kinds of thinking that would apparently not count as critical thinking.

Dewey (1910: 68–71; 1933: 91–94) takes as paradigms of reflective thinking three class papers of students in which they describe their thinking. The examples range from the everyday to the scientific.

Transit : “The other day, when I was down town on 16th Street, a clock caught my eye. I saw that the hands pointed to 12:20. This suggested that I had an engagement at 124th Street, at one o’clock. I reasoned that as it had taken me an hour to come down on a surface car, I should probably be twenty minutes late if I returned the same way. I might save twenty minutes by a subway express. But was there a station near? If not, I might lose more than twenty minutes in looking for one. Then I thought of the elevated, and I saw there was such a line within two blocks. But where was the station? If it were several blocks above or below the street I was on, I should lose time instead of gaining it. My mind went back to the subway express as quicker than the elevated; furthermore, I remembered that it went nearer than the elevated to the part of 124th Street I wished to reach, so that time would be saved at the end of the journey. I concluded in favor of the subway, and reached my destination by one o’clock.” (Dewey 1910: 68–69; 1933: 91–92)

Ferryboat : “Projecting nearly horizontally from the upper deck of the ferryboat on which I daily cross the river is a long white pole, having a gilded ball at its tip. It suggested a flagpole when I first saw it; its color, shape, and gilded ball agreed with this idea, and these reasons seemed to justify me in this belief. But soon difficulties presented themselves. The pole was nearly horizontal, an unusual position for a flagpole; in the next place, there was no pulley, ring, or cord by which to attach a flag; finally, there were elsewhere on the boat two vertical staffs from which flags were occasionally flown. It seemed probable that the pole was not there for flag-flying.

“I then tried to imagine all possible purposes of the pole, and to consider for which of these it was best suited: (a) Possibly it was an ornament. But as all the ferryboats and even the tugboats carried poles, this hypothesis was rejected. (b) Possibly it was the terminal of a wireless telegraph. But the same considerations made this improbable. Besides, the more natural place for such a terminal would be the highest part of the boat, on top of the pilot house. (c) Its purpose might be to point out the direction in which the boat is moving.

“In support of this conclusion, I discovered that the pole was lower than the pilot house, so that the steersman could easily see it. Moreover, the tip was enough higher than the base, so that, from the pilot’s position, it must appear to project far out in front of the boat. Moreover, the pilot being near the front of the boat, he would need some such guide as to its direction. Tugboats would also need poles for such a purpose. This hypothesis was so much more probable than the others that I accepted it. I formed the conclusion that the pole was set up for the purpose of showing the pilot the direction in which the boat pointed, to enable him to steer correctly.” (Dewey 1910: 69–70; 1933: 92–93)

Bubbles : “In washing tumblers in hot soapsuds and placing them mouth downward on a plate, bubbles appeared on the outside of the mouth of the tumblers and then went inside. Why? The presence of bubbles suggests air, which I note must come from inside the tumbler. I see that the soapy water on the plate prevents escape of the air save as it may be caught in bubbles. But why should air leave the tumbler? There was no substance entering to force it out. It must have expanded. It expands by increase of heat, or by decrease of pressure, or both. Could the air have become heated after the tumbler was taken from the hot suds? Clearly not the air that was already entangled in the water. If heated air was the cause, cold air must have entered in transferring the tumblers from the suds to the plate. I test to see if this supposition is true by taking several more tumblers out. Some I shake so as to make sure of entrapping cold air in them. Some I take out holding mouth downward in order to prevent cold air from entering. Bubbles appear on the outside of every one of the former and on none of the latter. I must be right in my inference. Air from the outside must have been expanded by the heat of the tumbler, which explains the appearance of the bubbles on the outside. But why do they then go inside? Cold contracts. The tumbler cooled and also the air inside it. Tension was removed, and hence bubbles appeared inside. To be sure of this, I test by placing a cup of ice on the tumbler while the bubbles are still forming outside. They soon reverse” (Dewey 1910: 70–71; 1933: 93–94).

Dewey (1910, 1933) sprinkles his book with other examples of critical thinking. We will refer to the following.

Weather : A man on a walk notices that it has suddenly become cool, thinks that it is probably going to rain, looks up and sees a dark cloud obscuring the sun, and quickens his steps (1910: 6–10; 1933: 9–13).

Disorder : A man finds his rooms on his return to them in disorder with his belongings thrown about, thinks at first of burglary as an explanation, then thinks of mischievous children as being an alternative explanation, then looks to see whether valuables are missing, and discovers that they are (1910: 82–83; 1933: 166–168).

Typhoid : A physician diagnosing a patient whose conspicuous symptoms suggest typhoid avoids drawing a conclusion until more data are gathered by questioning the patient and by making tests (1910: 85–86; 1933: 170).

Blur : A moving blur catches our eye in the distance, we ask ourselves whether it is a cloud of whirling dust or a tree moving its branches or a man signaling to us, we think of other traits that should be found on each of those possibilities, and we look and see if those traits are found (1910: 102, 108; 1933: 121, 133).

Suction pump : In thinking about the suction pump, the scientist first notes that it will draw water only to a maximum height of 33 feet at sea level and to a lesser maximum height at higher elevations, selects for attention the differing atmospheric pressure at these elevations, sets up experiments in which the air is removed from a vessel containing water (when suction no longer works) and in which the weight of air at various levels is calculated, compares the results of reasoning about the height to which a given weight of air will allow a suction pump to raise water with the observed maximum height at different elevations, and finally assimilates the suction pump to such apparently different phenomena as the siphon and the rising of a balloon (1910: 150–153; 1933: 195–198).

Diamond : A passenger in a car driving in a diamond lane reserved for vehicles with at least one passenger notices that the diamond marks on the pavement are far apart in some places and close together in others. Why? The driver suggests that the reason may be that the diamond marks are not needed where there is a solid double line separating the diamond lane from the adjoining lane, but are needed when there is a dotted single line permitting crossing into the diamond lane. Further observation confirms that the diamonds are close together when a dotted line separates the diamond lane from its neighbour, but otherwise far apart.

Rash : A woman suddenly develops a very itchy red rash on her throat and upper chest. She recently noticed a mark on the back of her right hand, but was not sure whether the mark was a rash or a scrape. She lies down in bed and thinks about what might be causing the rash and what to do about it. About two weeks before, she began taking blood pressure medication that contained a sulfa drug, and the pharmacist had warned her, in view of a previous allergic reaction to a medication containing a sulfa drug, to be on the alert for an allergic reaction; however, she had been taking the medication for two weeks with no such effect. The day before, she began using a new cream on her neck and upper chest; against the new cream as the cause was mark on the back of her hand, which had not been exposed to the cream. She began taking probiotics about a month before. She also recently started new eye drops, but she supposed that manufacturers of eye drops would be careful not to include allergy-causing components in the medication. The rash might be a heat rash, since she recently was sweating profusely from her upper body. Since she is about to go away on a short vacation, where she would not have access to her usual physician, she decides to keep taking the probiotics and using the new eye drops but to discontinue the blood pressure medication and to switch back to the old cream for her neck and upper chest. She forms a plan to consult her regular physician on her return about the blood pressure medication.

Candidate : Although Dewey included no examples of thinking directed at appraising the arguments of others, such thinking has come to be considered a kind of critical thinking. We find an example of such thinking in the performance task on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+), which its sponsoring organization describes as

a performance-based assessment that provides a measure of an institution’s contribution to the development of critical-thinking and written communication skills of its students. (Council for Aid to Education 2017)

A sample task posted on its website requires the test-taker to write a report for public distribution evaluating a fictional candidate’s policy proposals and their supporting arguments, using supplied background documents, with a recommendation on whether to endorse the candidate.

Immediate acceptance of an idea that suggests itself as a solution to a problem (e.g., a possible explanation of an event or phenomenon, an action that seems likely to produce a desired result) is “uncritical thinking, the minimum of reflection” (Dewey 1910: 13). On-going suspension of judgment in the light of doubt about a possible solution is not critical thinking (Dewey 1910: 108). Critique driven by a dogmatically held political or religious ideology is not critical thinking; thus Paulo Freire (1968 [1970]) is using the term (e.g., at 1970: 71, 81, 100, 146) in a more politically freighted sense that includes not only reflection but also revolutionary action against oppression. Derivation of a conclusion from given data using an algorithm is not critical thinking.

What is critical thinking? There are many definitions. Ennis (2016) lists 14 philosophically oriented scholarly definitions and three dictionary definitions. Following Rawls (1971), who distinguished his conception of justice from a utilitarian conception but regarded them as rival conceptions of the same concept, Ennis maintains that the 17 definitions are different conceptions of the same concept. Rawls articulated the shared concept of justice as

a characteristic set of principles for assigning basic rights and duties and for determining… the proper distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation. (Rawls 1971: 5)

Bailin et al. (1999b) claim that, if one considers what sorts of thinking an educator would take not to be critical thinking and what sorts to be critical thinking, one can conclude that educators typically understand critical thinking to have at least three features.

  • It is done for the purpose of making up one’s mind about what to believe or do.
  • The person engaging in the thinking is trying to fulfill standards of adequacy and accuracy appropriate to the thinking.
  • The thinking fulfills the relevant standards to some threshold level.

One could sum up the core concept that involves these three features by saying that critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking. This core concept seems to apply to all the examples of critical thinking described in the previous section. As for the non-examples, their exclusion depends on construing careful thinking as excluding jumping immediately to conclusions, suspending judgment no matter how strong the evidence, reasoning from an unquestioned ideological or religious perspective, and routinely using an algorithm to answer a question.

If the core of critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking, conceptions of it can vary according to its presumed scope, its presumed goal, one’s criteria and threshold for being careful, and the thinking component on which one focuses. As to its scope, some conceptions (e.g., Dewey 1910, 1933) restrict it to constructive thinking on the basis of one’s own observations and experiments, others (e.g., Ennis 1962; Fisher & Scriven 1997; Johnson 1992) to appraisal of the products of such thinking. Ennis (1991) and Bailin et al. (1999b) take it to cover both construction and appraisal. As to its goal, some conceptions restrict it to forming a judgment (Dewey 1910, 1933; Lipman 1987; Facione 1990a). Others allow for actions as well as beliefs as the end point of a process of critical thinking (Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b). As to the criteria and threshold for being careful, definitions vary in the term used to indicate that critical thinking satisfies certain norms: “intellectually disciplined” (Scriven & Paul 1987), “reasonable” (Ennis 1991), “skillful” (Lipman 1987), “skilled” (Fisher & Scriven 1997), “careful” (Bailin & Battersby 2009). Some definitions specify these norms, referring variously to “consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends” (Dewey 1910, 1933); “the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning” (Glaser 1941); “conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication” (Scriven & Paul 1987); the requirement that “it is sensitive to context, relies on criteria, and is self-correcting” (Lipman 1987); “evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations” (Facione 1990a); and “plus-minus considerations of the product in terms of appropriate standards (or criteria)” (Johnson 1992). Stanovich and Stanovich (2010) propose to ground the concept of critical thinking in the concept of rationality, which they understand as combining epistemic rationality (fitting one’s beliefs to the world) and instrumental rationality (optimizing goal fulfillment); a critical thinker, in their view, is someone with “a propensity to override suboptimal responses from the autonomous mind” (2010: 227). These variant specifications of norms for critical thinking are not necessarily incompatible with one another, and in any case presuppose the core notion of thinking carefully. As to the thinking component singled out, some definitions focus on suspension of judgment during the thinking (Dewey 1910; McPeck 1981), others on inquiry while judgment is suspended (Bailin & Battersby 2009, 2021), others on the resulting judgment (Facione 1990a), and still others on responsiveness to reasons (Siegel 1988). Kuhn (2019) takes critical thinking to be more a dialogic practice of advancing and responding to arguments than an individual ability.

In educational contexts, a definition of critical thinking is a “programmatic definition” (Scheffler 1960: 19). It expresses a practical program for achieving an educational goal. For this purpose, a one-sentence formulaic definition is much less useful than articulation of a critical thinking process, with criteria and standards for the kinds of thinking that the process may involve. The real educational goal is recognition, adoption and implementation by students of those criteria and standards. That adoption and implementation in turn consists in acquiring the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker.

Conceptions of critical thinking generally do not include moral integrity as part of the concept. Dewey, for example, took critical thinking to be the ultimate intellectual goal of education, but distinguished it from the development of social cooperation among school children, which he took to be the central moral goal. Ennis (1996, 2011) added to his previous list of critical thinking dispositions a group of dispositions to care about the dignity and worth of every person, which he described as a “correlative” (1996) disposition without which critical thinking would be less valuable and perhaps harmful. An educational program that aimed at developing critical thinking but not the correlative disposition to care about the dignity and worth of every person, he asserted, “would be deficient and perhaps dangerous” (Ennis 1996: 172).

Dewey thought that education for reflective thinking would be of value to both the individual and society; recognition in educational practice of the kinship to the scientific attitude of children’s native curiosity, fertile imagination and love of experimental inquiry “would make for individual happiness and the reduction of social waste” (Dewey 1910: iii). Schools participating in the Eight-Year Study took development of the habit of reflective thinking and skill in solving problems as a means to leading young people to understand, appreciate and live the democratic way of life characteristic of the United States (Aikin 1942: 17–18, 81). Harvey Siegel (1988: 55–61) has offered four considerations in support of adopting critical thinking as an educational ideal. (1) Respect for persons requires that schools and teachers honour students’ demands for reasons and explanations, deal with students honestly, and recognize the need to confront students’ independent judgment; these requirements concern the manner in which teachers treat students. (2) Education has the task of preparing children to be successful adults, a task that requires development of their self-sufficiency. (3) Education should initiate children into the rational traditions in such fields as history, science and mathematics. (4) Education should prepare children to become democratic citizens, which requires reasoned procedures and critical talents and attitudes. To supplement these considerations, Siegel (1988: 62–90) responds to two objections: the ideology objection that adoption of any educational ideal requires a prior ideological commitment and the indoctrination objection that cultivation of critical thinking cannot escape being a form of indoctrination.

Despite the diversity of our 11 examples, one can recognize a common pattern. Dewey analyzed it as consisting of five phases:

  • suggestions , in which the mind leaps forward to a possible solution;
  • an intellectualization of the difficulty or perplexity into a problem to be solved, a question for which the answer must be sought;
  • the use of one suggestion after another as a leading idea, or hypothesis , to initiate and guide observation and other operations in collection of factual material;
  • the mental elaboration of the idea or supposition as an idea or supposition ( reasoning , in the sense on which reasoning is a part, not the whole, of inference); and
  • testing the hypothesis by overt or imaginative action. (Dewey 1933: 106–107; italics in original)

The process of reflective thinking consisting of these phases would be preceded by a perplexed, troubled or confused situation and followed by a cleared-up, unified, resolved situation (Dewey 1933: 106). The term ‘phases’ replaced the term ‘steps’ (Dewey 1910: 72), thus removing the earlier suggestion of an invariant sequence. Variants of the above analysis appeared in (Dewey 1916: 177) and (Dewey 1938: 101–119).

The variant formulations indicate the difficulty of giving a single logical analysis of such a varied process. The process of critical thinking may have a spiral pattern, with the problem being redefined in the light of obstacles to solving it as originally formulated. For example, the person in Transit might have concluded that getting to the appointment at the scheduled time was impossible and have reformulated the problem as that of rescheduling the appointment for a mutually convenient time. Further, defining a problem does not always follow after or lead immediately to an idea of a suggested solution. Nor should it do so, as Dewey himself recognized in describing the physician in Typhoid as avoiding any strong preference for this or that conclusion before getting further information (Dewey 1910: 85; 1933: 170). People with a hypothesis in mind, even one to which they have a very weak commitment, have a so-called “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998): they are likely to pay attention to evidence that confirms the hypothesis and to ignore evidence that counts against it or for some competing hypothesis. Detectives, intelligence agencies, and investigators of airplane accidents are well advised to gather relevant evidence systematically and to postpone even tentative adoption of an explanatory hypothesis until the collected evidence rules out with the appropriate degree of certainty all but one explanation. Dewey’s analysis of the critical thinking process can be faulted as well for requiring acceptance or rejection of a possible solution to a defined problem, with no allowance for deciding in the light of the available evidence to suspend judgment. Further, given the great variety of kinds of problems for which reflection is appropriate, there is likely to be variation in its component events. Perhaps the best way to conceptualize the critical thinking process is as a checklist whose component events can occur in a variety of orders, selectively, and more than once. These component events might include (1) noticing a difficulty, (2) defining the problem, (3) dividing the problem into manageable sub-problems, (4) formulating a variety of possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (5) determining what evidence is relevant to deciding among possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (6) devising a plan of systematic observation or experiment that will uncover the relevant evidence, (7) carrying out the plan of systematic observation or experimentation, (8) noting the results of the systematic observation or experiment, (9) gathering relevant testimony and information from others, (10) judging the credibility of testimony and information gathered from others, (11) drawing conclusions from gathered evidence and accepted testimony, and (12) accepting a solution that the evidence adequately supports (cf. Hitchcock 2017: 485).

Checklist conceptions of the process of critical thinking are open to the objection that they are too mechanical and procedural to fit the multi-dimensional and emotionally charged issues for which critical thinking is urgently needed (Paul 1984). For such issues, a more dialectical process is advocated, in which competing relevant world views are identified, their implications explored, and some sort of creative synthesis attempted.

If one considers the critical thinking process illustrated by the 11 examples, one can identify distinct kinds of mental acts and mental states that form part of it. To distinguish, label and briefly characterize these components is a useful preliminary to identifying abilities, skills, dispositions, attitudes, habits and the like that contribute causally to thinking critically. Identifying such abilities and habits is in turn a useful preliminary to setting educational goals. Setting the goals is in its turn a useful preliminary to designing strategies for helping learners to achieve the goals and to designing ways of measuring the extent to which learners have done so. Such measures provide both feedback to learners on their achievement and a basis for experimental research on the effectiveness of various strategies for educating people to think critically. Let us begin, then, by distinguishing the kinds of mental acts and mental events that can occur in a critical thinking process.

  • Observing : One notices something in one’s immediate environment (sudden cooling of temperature in Weather , bubbles forming outside a glass and then going inside in Bubbles , a moving blur in the distance in Blur , a rash in Rash ). Or one notes the results of an experiment or systematic observation (valuables missing in Disorder , no suction without air pressure in Suction pump )
  • Feeling : One feels puzzled or uncertain about something (how to get to an appointment on time in Transit , why the diamonds vary in spacing in Diamond ). One wants to resolve this perplexity. One feels satisfaction once one has worked out an answer (to take the subway express in Transit , diamonds closer when needed as a warning in Diamond ).
  • Wondering : One formulates a question to be addressed (why bubbles form outside a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , how suction pumps work in Suction pump , what caused the rash in Rash ).
  • Imagining : One thinks of possible answers (bus or subway or elevated in Transit , flagpole or ornament or wireless communication aid or direction indicator in Ferryboat , allergic reaction or heat rash in Rash ).
  • Inferring : One works out what would be the case if a possible answer were assumed (valuables missing if there has been a burglary in Disorder , earlier start to the rash if it is an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug in Rash ). Or one draws a conclusion once sufficient relevant evidence is gathered (take the subway in Transit , burglary in Disorder , discontinue blood pressure medication and new cream in Rash ).
  • Knowledge : One uses stored knowledge of the subject-matter to generate possible answers or to infer what would be expected on the assumption of a particular answer (knowledge of a city’s public transit system in Transit , of the requirements for a flagpole in Ferryboat , of Boyle’s law in Bubbles , of allergic reactions in Rash ).
  • Experimenting : One designs and carries out an experiment or a systematic observation to find out whether the results deduced from a possible answer will occur (looking at the location of the flagpole in relation to the pilot’s position in Ferryboat , putting an ice cube on top of a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , measuring the height to which a suction pump will draw water at different elevations in Suction pump , noticing the spacing of diamonds when movement to or from a diamond lane is allowed in Diamond ).
  • Consulting : One finds a source of information, gets the information from the source, and makes a judgment on whether to accept it. None of our 11 examples include searching for sources of information. In this respect they are unrepresentative, since most people nowadays have almost instant access to information relevant to answering any question, including many of those illustrated by the examples. However, Candidate includes the activities of extracting information from sources and evaluating its credibility.
  • Identifying and analyzing arguments : One notices an argument and works out its structure and content as a preliminary to evaluating its strength. This activity is central to Candidate . It is an important part of a critical thinking process in which one surveys arguments for various positions on an issue.
  • Judging : One makes a judgment on the basis of accumulated evidence and reasoning, such as the judgment in Ferryboat that the purpose of the pole is to provide direction to the pilot.
  • Deciding : One makes a decision on what to do or on what policy to adopt, as in the decision in Transit to take the subway.

By definition, a person who does something voluntarily is both willing and able to do that thing at that time. Both the willingness and the ability contribute causally to the person’s action, in the sense that the voluntary action would not occur if either (or both) of these were lacking. For example, suppose that one is standing with one’s arms at one’s sides and one voluntarily lifts one’s right arm to an extended horizontal position. One would not do so if one were unable to lift one’s arm, if for example one’s right side was paralyzed as the result of a stroke. Nor would one do so if one were unwilling to lift one’s arm, if for example one were participating in a street demonstration at which a white supremacist was urging the crowd to lift their right arm in a Nazi salute and one were unwilling to express support in this way for the racist Nazi ideology. The same analysis applies to a voluntary mental process of thinking critically. It requires both willingness and ability to think critically, including willingness and ability to perform each of the mental acts that compose the process and to coordinate those acts in a sequence that is directed at resolving the initiating perplexity.

Consider willingness first. We can identify causal contributors to willingness to think critically by considering factors that would cause a person who was able to think critically about an issue nevertheless not to do so (Hamby 2014). For each factor, the opposite condition thus contributes causally to willingness to think critically on a particular occasion. For example, people who habitually jump to conclusions without considering alternatives will not think critically about issues that arise, even if they have the required abilities. The contrary condition of willingness to suspend judgment is thus a causal contributor to thinking critically.

Now consider ability. In contrast to the ability to move one’s arm, which can be completely absent because a stroke has left the arm paralyzed, the ability to think critically is a developed ability, whose absence is not a complete absence of ability to think but absence of ability to think well. We can identify the ability to think well directly, in terms of the norms and standards for good thinking. In general, to be able do well the thinking activities that can be components of a critical thinking process, one needs to know the concepts and principles that characterize their good performance, to recognize in particular cases that the concepts and principles apply, and to apply them. The knowledge, recognition and application may be procedural rather than declarative. It may be domain-specific rather than widely applicable, and in either case may need subject-matter knowledge, sometimes of a deep kind.

Reflections of the sort illustrated by the previous two paragraphs have led scholars to identify the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a “critical thinker”, i.e., someone who thinks critically whenever it is appropriate to do so. We turn now to these three types of causal contributors to thinking critically. We start with dispositions, since arguably these are the most powerful contributors to being a critical thinker, can be fostered at an early stage of a child’s development, and are susceptible to general improvement (Glaser 1941: 175)

8. Critical Thinking Dispositions

Educational researchers use the term ‘dispositions’ broadly for the habits of mind and attitudes that contribute causally to being a critical thinker. Some writers (e.g., Paul & Elder 2006; Hamby 2014; Bailin & Battersby 2016a) propose to use the term ‘virtues’ for this dimension of a critical thinker. The virtues in question, although they are virtues of character, concern the person’s ways of thinking rather than the person’s ways of behaving towards others. They are not moral virtues but intellectual virtues, of the sort articulated by Zagzebski (1996) and discussed by Turri, Alfano, and Greco (2017).

On a realistic conception, thinking dispositions or intellectual virtues are real properties of thinkers. They are general tendencies, propensities, or inclinations to think in particular ways in particular circumstances, and can be genuinely explanatory (Siegel 1999). Sceptics argue that there is no evidence for a specific mental basis for the habits of mind that contribute to thinking critically, and that it is pedagogically misleading to posit such a basis (Bailin et al. 1999a). Whatever their status, critical thinking dispositions need motivation for their initial formation in a child—motivation that may be external or internal. As children develop, the force of habit will gradually become important in sustaining the disposition (Nieto & Valenzuela 2012). Mere force of habit, however, is unlikely to sustain critical thinking dispositions. Critical thinkers must value and enjoy using their knowledge and abilities to think things through for themselves. They must be committed to, and lovers of, inquiry.

A person may have a critical thinking disposition with respect to only some kinds of issues. For example, one could be open-minded about scientific issues but not about religious issues. Similarly, one could be confident in one’s ability to reason about the theological implications of the existence of evil in the world but not in one’s ability to reason about the best design for a guided ballistic missile.

Facione (1990a: 25) divides “affective dispositions” of critical thinking into approaches to life and living in general and approaches to specific issues, questions or problems. Adapting this distinction, one can usefully divide critical thinking dispositions into initiating dispositions (those that contribute causally to starting to think critically about an issue) and internal dispositions (those that contribute causally to doing a good job of thinking critically once one has started). The two categories are not mutually exclusive. For example, open-mindedness, in the sense of willingness to consider alternative points of view to one’s own, is both an initiating and an internal disposition.

Using the strategy of considering factors that would block people with the ability to think critically from doing so, we can identify as initiating dispositions for thinking critically attentiveness, a habit of inquiry, self-confidence, courage, open-mindedness, willingness to suspend judgment, trust in reason, wanting evidence for one’s beliefs, and seeking the truth. We consider briefly what each of these dispositions amounts to, in each case citing sources that acknowledge them.

  • Attentiveness : One will not think critically if one fails to recognize an issue that needs to be thought through. For example, the pedestrian in Weather would not have looked up if he had not noticed that the air was suddenly cooler. To be a critical thinker, then, one needs to be habitually attentive to one’s surroundings, noticing not only what one senses but also sources of perplexity in messages received and in one’s own beliefs and attitudes (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Habit of inquiry : Inquiry is effortful, and one needs an internal push to engage in it. For example, the student in Bubbles could easily have stopped at idle wondering about the cause of the bubbles rather than reasoning to a hypothesis, then designing and executing an experiment to test it. Thus willingness to think critically needs mental energy and initiative. What can supply that energy? Love of inquiry, or perhaps just a habit of inquiry. Hamby (2015) has argued that willingness to inquire is the central critical thinking virtue, one that encompasses all the others. It is recognized as a critical thinking disposition by Dewey (1910: 29; 1933: 35), Glaser (1941: 5), Ennis (1987: 12; 1991: 8), Facione (1990a: 25), Bailin et al. (1999b: 294), Halpern (1998: 452), and Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo (2001).
  • Self-confidence : Lack of confidence in one’s abilities can block critical thinking. For example, if the woman in Rash lacked confidence in her ability to figure things out for herself, she might just have assumed that the rash on her chest was the allergic reaction to her medication against which the pharmacist had warned her. Thus willingness to think critically requires confidence in one’s ability to inquire (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Courage : Fear of thinking for oneself can stop one from doing it. Thus willingness to think critically requires intellectual courage (Paul & Elder 2006: 16).
  • Open-mindedness : A dogmatic attitude will impede thinking critically. For example, a person who adheres rigidly to a “pro-choice” position on the issue of the legal status of induced abortion is likely to be unwilling to consider seriously the issue of when in its development an unborn child acquires a moral right to life. Thus willingness to think critically requires open-mindedness, in the sense of a willingness to examine questions to which one already accepts an answer but which further evidence or reasoning might cause one to answer differently (Dewey 1933; Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b; Halpern 1998, Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). Paul (1981) emphasizes open-mindedness about alternative world-views, and recommends a dialectical approach to integrating such views as central to what he calls “strong sense” critical thinking. In three studies, Haran, Ritov, & Mellers (2013) found that actively open-minded thinking, including “the tendency to weigh new evidence against a favored belief, to spend sufficient time on a problem before giving up, and to consider carefully the opinions of others in forming one’s own”, led study participants to acquire information and thus to make accurate estimations.
  • Willingness to suspend judgment : Premature closure on an initial solution will block critical thinking. Thus willingness to think critically requires a willingness to suspend judgment while alternatives are explored (Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Halpern 1998).
  • Trust in reason : Since distrust in the processes of reasoned inquiry will dissuade one from engaging in it, trust in them is an initiating critical thinking disposition (Facione 1990a, 25; Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001; Paul & Elder 2006). In reaction to an allegedly exclusive emphasis on reason in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, Thayer-Bacon (2000) argues that intuition, imagination, and emotion have important roles to play in an adequate conception of critical thinking that she calls “constructive thinking”. From her point of view, critical thinking requires trust not only in reason but also in intuition, imagination, and emotion.
  • Seeking the truth : If one does not care about the truth but is content to stick with one’s initial bias on an issue, then one will not think critically about it. Seeking the truth is thus an initiating critical thinking disposition (Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). A disposition to seek the truth is implicit in more specific critical thinking dispositions, such as trying to be well-informed, considering seriously points of view other than one’s own, looking for alternatives, suspending judgment when the evidence is insufficient, and adopting a position when the evidence supporting it is sufficient.

Some of the initiating dispositions, such as open-mindedness and willingness to suspend judgment, are also internal critical thinking dispositions, in the sense of mental habits or attitudes that contribute causally to doing a good job of critical thinking once one starts the process. But there are many other internal critical thinking dispositions. Some of them are parasitic on one’s conception of good thinking. For example, it is constitutive of good thinking about an issue to formulate the issue clearly and to maintain focus on it. For this purpose, one needs not only the corresponding ability but also the corresponding disposition. Ennis (1991: 8) describes it as the disposition “to determine and maintain focus on the conclusion or question”, Facione (1990a: 25) as “clarity in stating the question or concern”. Other internal dispositions are motivators to continue or adjust the critical thinking process, such as willingness to persist in a complex task and willingness to abandon nonproductive strategies in an attempt to self-correct (Halpern 1998: 452). For a list of identified internal critical thinking dispositions, see the Supplement on Internal Critical Thinking Dispositions .

Some theorists postulate skills, i.e., acquired abilities, as operative in critical thinking. It is not obvious, however, that a good mental act is the exercise of a generic acquired skill. Inferring an expected time of arrival, as in Transit , has some generic components but also uses non-generic subject-matter knowledge. Bailin et al. (1999a) argue against viewing critical thinking skills as generic and discrete, on the ground that skilled performance at a critical thinking task cannot be separated from knowledge of concepts and from domain-specific principles of good thinking. Talk of skills, they concede, is unproblematic if it means merely that a person with critical thinking skills is capable of intelligent performance.

Despite such scepticism, theorists of critical thinking have listed as general contributors to critical thinking what they variously call abilities (Glaser 1941; Ennis 1962, 1991), skills (Facione 1990a; Halpern 1998) or competencies (Fisher & Scriven 1997). Amalgamating these lists would produce a confusing and chaotic cornucopia of more than 50 possible educational objectives, with only partial overlap among them. It makes sense instead to try to understand the reasons for the multiplicity and diversity, and to make a selection according to one’s own reasons for singling out abilities to be developed in a critical thinking curriculum. Two reasons for diversity among lists of critical thinking abilities are the underlying conception of critical thinking and the envisaged educational level. Appraisal-only conceptions, for example, involve a different suite of abilities than constructive-only conceptions. Some lists, such as those in (Glaser 1941), are put forward as educational objectives for secondary school students, whereas others are proposed as objectives for college students (e.g., Facione 1990a).

The abilities described in the remaining paragraphs of this section emerge from reflection on the general abilities needed to do well the thinking activities identified in section 6 as components of the critical thinking process described in section 5 . The derivation of each collection of abilities is accompanied by citation of sources that list such abilities and of standardized tests that claim to test them.

Observational abilities : Careful and accurate observation sometimes requires specialist expertise and practice, as in the case of observing birds and observing accident scenes. However, there are general abilities of noticing what one’s senses are picking up from one’s environment and of being able to articulate clearly and accurately to oneself and others what one has observed. It helps in exercising them to be able to recognize and take into account factors that make one’s observation less trustworthy, such as prior framing of the situation, inadequate time, deficient senses, poor observation conditions, and the like. It helps as well to be skilled at taking steps to make one’s observation more trustworthy, such as moving closer to get a better look, measuring something three times and taking the average, and checking what one thinks one is observing with someone else who is in a good position to observe it. It also helps to be skilled at recognizing respects in which one’s report of one’s observation involves inference rather than direct observation, so that one can then consider whether the inference is justified. These abilities come into play as well when one thinks about whether and with what degree of confidence to accept an observation report, for example in the study of history or in a criminal investigation or in assessing news reports. Observational abilities show up in some lists of critical thinking abilities (Ennis 1962: 90; Facione 1990a: 16; Ennis 1991: 9). There are items testing a person’s ability to judge the credibility of observation reports in the Cornell Critical Thinking Tests, Levels X and Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). Norris and King (1983, 1985, 1990a, 1990b) is a test of ability to appraise observation reports.

Emotional abilities : The emotions that drive a critical thinking process are perplexity or puzzlement, a wish to resolve it, and satisfaction at achieving the desired resolution. Children experience these emotions at an early age, without being trained to do so. Education that takes critical thinking as a goal needs only to channel these emotions and to make sure not to stifle them. Collaborative critical thinking benefits from ability to recognize one’s own and others’ emotional commitments and reactions.

Questioning abilities : A critical thinking process needs transformation of an inchoate sense of perplexity into a clear question. Formulating a question well requires not building in questionable assumptions, not prejudging the issue, and using language that in context is unambiguous and precise enough (Ennis 1962: 97; 1991: 9).

Imaginative abilities : Thinking directed at finding the correct causal explanation of a general phenomenon or particular event requires an ability to imagine possible explanations. Thinking about what policy or plan of action to adopt requires generation of options and consideration of possible consequences of each option. Domain knowledge is required for such creative activity, but a general ability to imagine alternatives is helpful and can be nurtured so as to become easier, quicker, more extensive, and deeper (Dewey 1910: 34–39; 1933: 40–47). Facione (1990a) and Halpern (1998) include the ability to imagine alternatives as a critical thinking ability.

Inferential abilities : The ability to draw conclusions from given information, and to recognize with what degree of certainty one’s own or others’ conclusions follow, is universally recognized as a general critical thinking ability. All 11 examples in section 2 of this article include inferences, some from hypotheses or options (as in Transit , Ferryboat and Disorder ), others from something observed (as in Weather and Rash ). None of these inferences is formally valid. Rather, they are licensed by general, sometimes qualified substantive rules of inference (Toulmin 1958) that rest on domain knowledge—that a bus trip takes about the same time in each direction, that the terminal of a wireless telegraph would be located on the highest possible place, that sudden cooling is often followed by rain, that an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug generally shows up soon after one starts taking it. It is a matter of controversy to what extent the specialized ability to deduce conclusions from premisses using formal rules of inference is needed for critical thinking. Dewey (1933) locates logical forms in setting out the products of reflection rather than in the process of reflection. Ennis (1981a), on the other hand, maintains that a liberally-educated person should have the following abilities: to translate natural-language statements into statements using the standard logical operators, to use appropriately the language of necessary and sufficient conditions, to deal with argument forms and arguments containing symbols, to determine whether in virtue of an argument’s form its conclusion follows necessarily from its premisses, to reason with logically complex propositions, and to apply the rules and procedures of deductive logic. Inferential abilities are recognized as critical thinking abilities by Glaser (1941: 6), Facione (1990a: 9), Ennis (1991: 9), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 99, 111), and Halpern (1998: 452). Items testing inferential abilities constitute two of the five subtests of the Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (Watson & Glaser 1980a, 1980b, 1994), two of the four sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), three of the seven sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), 11 of the 34 items on Forms A and B of the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992), and a high but variable proportion of the 25 selected-response questions in the Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Experimenting abilities : Knowing how to design and execute an experiment is important not just in scientific research but also in everyday life, as in Rash . Dewey devoted a whole chapter of his How We Think (1910: 145–156; 1933: 190–202) to the superiority of experimentation over observation in advancing knowledge. Experimenting abilities come into play at one remove in appraising reports of scientific studies. Skill in designing and executing experiments includes the acknowledged abilities to appraise evidence (Glaser 1941: 6), to carry out experiments and to apply appropriate statistical inference techniques (Facione 1990a: 9), to judge inductions to an explanatory hypothesis (Ennis 1991: 9), and to recognize the need for an adequately large sample size (Halpern 1998). The Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) includes four items (out of 52) on experimental design. The Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) makes room for appraisal of study design in both its performance task and its selected-response questions.

Consulting abilities : Skill at consulting sources of information comes into play when one seeks information to help resolve a problem, as in Candidate . Ability to find and appraise information includes ability to gather and marshal pertinent information (Glaser 1941: 6), to judge whether a statement made by an alleged authority is acceptable (Ennis 1962: 84), to plan a search for desired information (Facione 1990a: 9), and to judge the credibility of a source (Ennis 1991: 9). Ability to judge the credibility of statements is tested by 24 items (out of 76) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) and by four items (out of 52) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). The College Learning Assessment’s performance task requires evaluation of whether information in documents is credible or unreliable (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Argument analysis abilities : The ability to identify and analyze arguments contributes to the process of surveying arguments on an issue in order to form one’s own reasoned judgment, as in Candidate . The ability to detect and analyze arguments is recognized as a critical thinking skill by Facione (1990a: 7–8), Ennis (1991: 9) and Halpern (1998). Five items (out of 34) on the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992) test skill at argument analysis. The College Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) incorporates argument analysis in its selected-response tests of critical reading and evaluation and of critiquing an argument.

Judging skills and deciding skills : Skill at judging and deciding is skill at recognizing what judgment or decision the available evidence and argument supports, and with what degree of confidence. It is thus a component of the inferential skills already discussed.

Lists and tests of critical thinking abilities often include two more abilities: identifying assumptions and constructing and evaluating definitions.

In addition to dispositions and abilities, critical thinking needs knowledge: of critical thinking concepts, of critical thinking principles, and of the subject-matter of the thinking.

We can derive a short list of concepts whose understanding contributes to critical thinking from the critical thinking abilities described in the preceding section. Observational abilities require an understanding of the difference between observation and inference. Questioning abilities require an understanding of the concepts of ambiguity and vagueness. Inferential abilities require an understanding of the difference between conclusive and defeasible inference (traditionally, between deduction and induction), as well as of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions. Experimenting abilities require an understanding of the concepts of hypothesis, null hypothesis, assumption and prediction, as well as of the concept of statistical significance and of its difference from importance. They also require an understanding of the difference between an experiment and an observational study, and in particular of the difference between a randomized controlled trial, a prospective correlational study and a retrospective (case-control) study. Argument analysis abilities require an understanding of the concepts of argument, premiss, assumption, conclusion and counter-consideration. Additional critical thinking concepts are proposed by Bailin et al. (1999b: 293), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 105–106), Black (2012), and Blair (2021).

According to Glaser (1941: 25), ability to think critically requires knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning. If we review the list of abilities in the preceding section, however, we can see that some of them can be acquired and exercised merely through practice, possibly guided in an educational setting, followed by feedback. Searching intelligently for a causal explanation of some phenomenon or event requires that one consider a full range of possible causal contributors, but it seems more important that one implements this principle in one’s practice than that one is able to articulate it. What is important is “operational knowledge” of the standards and principles of good thinking (Bailin et al. 1999b: 291–293). But the development of such critical thinking abilities as designing an experiment or constructing an operational definition can benefit from learning their underlying theory. Further, explicit knowledge of quirks of human thinking seems useful as a cautionary guide. Human memory is not just fallible about details, as people learn from their own experiences of misremembering, but is so malleable that a detailed, clear and vivid recollection of an event can be a total fabrication (Loftus 2017). People seek or interpret evidence in ways that are partial to their existing beliefs and expectations, often unconscious of their “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998). Not only are people subject to this and other cognitive biases (Kahneman 2011), of which they are typically unaware, but it may be counter-productive for one to make oneself aware of them and try consciously to counteract them or to counteract social biases such as racial or sexual stereotypes (Kenyon & Beaulac 2014). It is helpful to be aware of these facts and of the superior effectiveness of blocking the operation of biases—for example, by making an immediate record of one’s observations, refraining from forming a preliminary explanatory hypothesis, blind refereeing, double-blind randomized trials, and blind grading of students’ work. It is also helpful to be aware of the prevalence of “noise” (unwanted unsystematic variability of judgments), of how to detect noise (through a noise audit), and of how to reduce noise: make accuracy the goal, think statistically, break a process of arriving at a judgment into independent tasks, resist premature intuitions, in a group get independent judgments first, favour comparative judgments and scales (Kahneman, Sibony, & Sunstein 2021). It is helpful as well to be aware of the concept of “bounded rationality” in decision-making and of the related distinction between “satisficing” and optimizing (Simon 1956; Gigerenzer 2001).

Critical thinking about an issue requires substantive knowledge of the domain to which the issue belongs. Critical thinking abilities are not a magic elixir that can be applied to any issue whatever by somebody who has no knowledge of the facts relevant to exploring that issue. For example, the student in Bubbles needed to know that gases do not penetrate solid objects like a glass, that air expands when heated, that the volume of an enclosed gas varies directly with its temperature and inversely with its pressure, and that hot objects will spontaneously cool down to the ambient temperature of their surroundings unless kept hot by insulation or a source of heat. Critical thinkers thus need a rich fund of subject-matter knowledge relevant to the variety of situations they encounter. This fact is recognized in the inclusion among critical thinking dispositions of a concern to become and remain generally well informed.

Experimental educational interventions, with control groups, have shown that education can improve critical thinking skills and dispositions, as measured by standardized tests. For information about these tests, see the Supplement on Assessment .

What educational methods are most effective at developing the dispositions, abilities and knowledge of a critical thinker? In a comprehensive meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental studies of strategies for teaching students to think critically, Abrami et al. (2015) found that dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring each increased the effectiveness of the educational intervention, and that they were most effective when combined. They also found that in these studies a combination of separate instruction in critical thinking with subject-matter instruction in which students are encouraged to think critically was more effective than either by itself. However, the difference was not statistically significant; that is, it might have arisen by chance.

Most of these studies lack the longitudinal follow-up required to determine whether the observed differential improvements in critical thinking abilities or dispositions continue over time, for example until high school or college graduation. For details on studies of methods of developing critical thinking skills and dispositions, see the Supplement on Educational Methods .

12. Controversies

Scholars have denied the generalizability of critical thinking abilities across subject domains, have alleged bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, and have investigated the relationship of critical thinking to other kinds of thinking.

McPeck (1981) attacked the thinking skills movement of the 1970s, including the critical thinking movement. He argued that there are no general thinking skills, since thinking is always thinking about some subject-matter. It is futile, he claimed, for schools and colleges to teach thinking as if it were a separate subject. Rather, teachers should lead their pupils to become autonomous thinkers by teaching school subjects in a way that brings out their cognitive structure and that encourages and rewards discussion and argument. As some of his critics (e.g., Paul 1985; Siegel 1985) pointed out, McPeck’s central argument needs elaboration, since it has obvious counter-examples in writing and speaking, for which (up to a certain level of complexity) there are teachable general abilities even though they are always about some subject-matter. To make his argument convincing, McPeck needs to explain how thinking differs from writing and speaking in a way that does not permit useful abstraction of its components from the subject-matters with which it deals. He has not done so. Nevertheless, his position that the dispositions and abilities of a critical thinker are best developed in the context of subject-matter instruction is shared by many theorists of critical thinking, including Dewey (1910, 1933), Glaser (1941), Passmore (1980), Weinstein (1990), Bailin et al. (1999b), and Willingham (2019).

McPeck’s challenge prompted reflection on the extent to which critical thinking is subject-specific. McPeck argued for a strong subject-specificity thesis, according to which it is a conceptual truth that all critical thinking abilities are specific to a subject. (He did not however extend his subject-specificity thesis to critical thinking dispositions. In particular, he took the disposition to suspend judgment in situations of cognitive dissonance to be a general disposition.) Conceptual subject-specificity is subject to obvious counter-examples, such as the general ability to recognize confusion of necessary and sufficient conditions. A more modest thesis, also endorsed by McPeck, is epistemological subject-specificity, according to which the norms of good thinking vary from one field to another. Epistemological subject-specificity clearly holds to a certain extent; for example, the principles in accordance with which one solves a differential equation are quite different from the principles in accordance with which one determines whether a painting is a genuine Picasso. But the thesis suffers, as Ennis (1989) points out, from vagueness of the concept of a field or subject and from the obvious existence of inter-field principles, however broadly the concept of a field is construed. For example, the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning hold for all the varied fields in which such reasoning occurs. A third kind of subject-specificity is empirical subject-specificity, according to which as a matter of empirically observable fact a person with the abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker in one area of investigation will not necessarily have them in another area of investigation.

The thesis of empirical subject-specificity raises the general problem of transfer. If critical thinking abilities and dispositions have to be developed independently in each school subject, how are they of any use in dealing with the problems of everyday life and the political and social issues of contemporary society, most of which do not fit into the framework of a traditional school subject? Proponents of empirical subject-specificity tend to argue that transfer is more likely to occur if there is critical thinking instruction in a variety of domains, with explicit attention to dispositions and abilities that cut across domains. But evidence for this claim is scanty. There is a need for well-designed empirical studies that investigate the conditions that make transfer more likely.

It is common ground in debates about the generality or subject-specificity of critical thinking dispositions and abilities that critical thinking about any topic requires background knowledge about the topic. For example, the most sophisticated understanding of the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning is of no help unless accompanied by some knowledge of what might be plausible explanations of some phenomenon under investigation.

Critics have objected to bias in the theory, pedagogy and practice of critical thinking. Commentators (e.g., Alston 1995; Ennis 1998) have noted that anyone who takes a position has a bias in the neutral sense of being inclined in one direction rather than others. The critics, however, are objecting to bias in the pejorative sense of an unjustified favoring of certain ways of knowing over others, frequently alleging that the unjustly favoured ways are those of a dominant sex or culture (Bailin 1995). These ways favour:

  • reinforcement of egocentric and sociocentric biases over dialectical engagement with opposing world-views (Paul 1981, 1984; Warren 1998)
  • distancing from the object of inquiry over closeness to it (Martin 1992; Thayer-Bacon 1992)
  • indifference to the situation of others over care for them (Martin 1992)
  • orientation to thought over orientation to action (Martin 1992)
  • being reasonable over caring to understand people’s ideas (Thayer-Bacon 1993)
  • being neutral and objective over being embodied and situated (Thayer-Bacon 1995a)
  • doubting over believing (Thayer-Bacon 1995b)
  • reason over emotion, imagination and intuition (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • solitary thinking over collaborative thinking (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • written and spoken assignments over other forms of expression (Alston 2001)
  • attention to written and spoken communications over attention to human problems (Alston 2001)
  • winning debates in the public sphere over making and understanding meaning (Alston 2001)

A common thread in this smorgasbord of accusations is dissatisfaction with focusing on the logical analysis and evaluation of reasoning and arguments. While these authors acknowledge that such analysis and evaluation is part of critical thinking and should be part of its conceptualization and pedagogy, they insist that it is only a part. Paul (1981), for example, bemoans the tendency of atomistic teaching of methods of analyzing and evaluating arguments to turn students into more able sophists, adept at finding fault with positions and arguments with which they disagree but even more entrenched in the egocentric and sociocentric biases with which they began. Martin (1992) and Thayer-Bacon (1992) cite with approval the self-reported intimacy with their subject-matter of leading researchers in biology and medicine, an intimacy that conflicts with the distancing allegedly recommended in standard conceptions and pedagogy of critical thinking. Thayer-Bacon (2000) contrasts the embodied and socially embedded learning of her elementary school students in a Montessori school, who used their imagination, intuition and emotions as well as their reason, with conceptions of critical thinking as

thinking that is used to critique arguments, offer justifications, and make judgments about what are the good reasons, or the right answers. (Thayer-Bacon 2000: 127–128)

Alston (2001) reports that her students in a women’s studies class were able to see the flaws in the Cinderella myth that pervades much romantic fiction but in their own romantic relationships still acted as if all failures were the woman’s fault and still accepted the notions of love at first sight and living happily ever after. Students, she writes, should

be able to connect their intellectual critique to a more affective, somatic, and ethical account of making risky choices that have sexist, racist, classist, familial, sexual, or other consequences for themselves and those both near and far… critical thinking that reads arguments, texts, or practices merely on the surface without connections to feeling/desiring/doing or action lacks an ethical depth that should infuse the difference between mere cognitive activity and something we want to call critical thinking. (Alston 2001: 34)

Some critics portray such biases as unfair to women. Thayer-Bacon (1992), for example, has charged modern critical thinking theory with being sexist, on the ground that it separates the self from the object and causes one to lose touch with one’s inner voice, and thus stigmatizes women, who (she asserts) link self to object and listen to their inner voice. Her charge does not imply that women as a group are on average less able than men to analyze and evaluate arguments. Facione (1990c) found no difference by sex in performance on his California Critical Thinking Skills Test. Kuhn (1991: 280–281) found no difference by sex in either the disposition or the competence to engage in argumentative thinking.

The critics propose a variety of remedies for the biases that they allege. In general, they do not propose to eliminate or downplay critical thinking as an educational goal. Rather, they propose to conceptualize critical thinking differently and to change its pedagogy accordingly. Their pedagogical proposals arise logically from their objections. They can be summarized as follows:

  • Focus on argument networks with dialectical exchanges reflecting contesting points of view rather than on atomic arguments, so as to develop “strong sense” critical thinking that transcends egocentric and sociocentric biases (Paul 1981, 1984).
  • Foster closeness to the subject-matter and feeling connected to others in order to inform a humane democracy (Martin 1992).
  • Develop “constructive thinking” as a social activity in a community of physically embodied and socially embedded inquirers with personal voices who value not only reason but also imagination, intuition and emotion (Thayer-Bacon 2000).
  • In developing critical thinking in school subjects, treat as important neither skills nor dispositions but opening worlds of meaning (Alston 2001).
  • Attend to the development of critical thinking dispositions as well as skills, and adopt the “critical pedagogy” practised and advocated by Freire (1968 [1970]) and hooks (1994) (Dalgleish, Girard, & Davies 2017).

A common thread in these proposals is treatment of critical thinking as a social, interactive, personally engaged activity like that of a quilting bee or a barn-raising (Thayer-Bacon 2000) rather than as an individual, solitary, distanced activity symbolized by Rodin’s The Thinker . One can get a vivid description of education with the former type of goal from the writings of bell hooks (1994, 2010). Critical thinking for her is open-minded dialectical exchange across opposing standpoints and from multiple perspectives, a conception similar to Paul’s “strong sense” critical thinking (Paul 1981). She abandons the structure of domination in the traditional classroom. In an introductory course on black women writers, for example, she assigns students to write an autobiographical paragraph about an early racial memory, then to read it aloud as the others listen, thus affirming the uniqueness and value of each voice and creating a communal awareness of the diversity of the group’s experiences (hooks 1994: 84). Her “engaged pedagogy” is thus similar to the “freedom under guidance” implemented in John Dewey’s Laboratory School of Chicago in the late 1890s and early 1900s. It incorporates the dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring that Abrami (2015) found to be most effective in improving critical thinking skills and dispositions.

What is the relationship of critical thinking to problem solving, decision-making, higher-order thinking, creative thinking, and other recognized types of thinking? One’s answer to this question obviously depends on how one defines the terms used in the question. If critical thinking is conceived broadly to cover any careful thinking about any topic for any purpose, then problem solving and decision making will be kinds of critical thinking, if they are done carefully. Historically, ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’ were two names for the same thing. If critical thinking is conceived more narrowly as consisting solely of appraisal of intellectual products, then it will be disjoint with problem solving and decision making, which are constructive.

Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives used the phrase “intellectual abilities and skills” for what had been labeled “critical thinking” by some, “reflective thinking” by Dewey and others, and “problem solving” by still others (Bloom et al. 1956: 38). Thus, the so-called “higher-order thinking skills” at the taxonomy’s top levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation are just critical thinking skills, although they do not come with general criteria for their assessment (Ennis 1981b). The revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson et al. 2001) likewise treats critical thinking as cutting across those types of cognitive process that involve more than remembering (Anderson et al. 2001: 269–270). For details, see the Supplement on History .

As to creative thinking, it overlaps with critical thinking (Bailin 1987, 1988). Thinking about the explanation of some phenomenon or event, as in Ferryboat , requires creative imagination in constructing plausible explanatory hypotheses. Likewise, thinking about a policy question, as in Candidate , requires creativity in coming up with options. Conversely, creativity in any field needs to be balanced by critical appraisal of the draft painting or novel or mathematical theory.

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The 5 Whys is a technique that can help you get to the root of a problem. Learn how to use it with this handy infographic, then read more about the tool in our 5 Whys article.

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The 5 Whys

What is it?

The 5 whys is a problem solving strategy used to explore the underlying reason for a particular problem.

Over a series of ‘why’ questions the questioner(s) follows a problem through to its root cause to discover the real reasons behind a problem rather than have the discussion stay focused on superficial issues.

Why use it?

Asking ‘5 why’ questions can develop students’ problem-solving abilities and their capacity to detect process issues.

The 5 whys could be used to unpack real life examples of problems in practice. It can be used to:

  • analyse a series of prompt questions, problems or scenarios
  • scaffold the idea of causation, and the process of unpacking problems
  • encourage critical thinking

How does it work?

Explain to the class the rationale behind the ‘5 Whys’ process, highlighting the need to stay focused on the central issue and keep the process moving (only one or two minutes per question). Stress that no ‘one’ pathway will satisfactorily solve every problem. Discern the broad focus area and pose the initial ‘Why’ question to learning teams. After each student briefly suggests an answer to the first ‘why’, the team chooses the response that meets general agreement and frames a second why question. The same process is framed for the next three questions and then the group is asked to report back.

Provide the students with a 5 whys or “fishbone” worksheet, or whiteboard markers. Set the problem or scenario and allow them to work through a set of 5 why questions. You can use the visualizer to share worksheets with the class and discuss outcomes.

Additional resources

A 5 whys worksheet template and example can be downloaded here.

5 Whys template

Acknowledgement

This resource is based on the “Not a waste of space” project materials produced by RMIT University and the University of Melbourne, with the support of the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Except where otherwise noted, this content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Critical Thinking and Decision-Making  - What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking and decision-making  -, what is critical thinking, critical thinking and decision-making what is critical thinking.

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Critical Thinking and Decision-Making: What is Critical Thinking?

Lesson 1: what is critical thinking, what is critical thinking.

Critical thinking is a term that gets thrown around a lot. You've probably heard it used often throughout the years whether it was in school, at work, or in everyday conversation. But when you stop to think about it, what exactly is critical thinking and how do you do it ?

Watch the video below to learn more about critical thinking.

Simply put, critical thinking is the act of deliberately analyzing information so that you can make better judgements and decisions . It involves using things like logic, reasoning, and creativity, to draw conclusions and generally understand things better.

illustration of the terms logic, reasoning, and creativity

This may sound like a pretty broad definition, and that's because critical thinking is a broad skill that can be applied to so many different situations. You can use it to prepare for a job interview, manage your time better, make decisions about purchasing things, and so much more.

The process

illustration of "thoughts" inside a human brain, with several being connected and "analyzed"

As humans, we are constantly thinking . It's something we can't turn off. But not all of it is critical thinking. No one thinks critically 100% of the time... that would be pretty exhausting! Instead, it's an intentional process , something that we consciously use when we're presented with difficult problems or important decisions.

Improving your critical thinking

illustration of the questions "What do I currently know?" and "How do I know this?"

In order to become a better critical thinker, it's important to ask questions when you're presented with a problem or decision, before jumping to any conclusions. You can start with simple ones like What do I currently know? and How do I know this? These can help to give you a better idea of what you're working with and, in some cases, simplify more complex issues.  

Real-world applications

illustration of a hand holding a smartphone displaying an article that reads, "Study: Cats are better than dogs"

Let's take a look at how we can use critical thinking to evaluate online information . Say a friend of yours posts a news article on social media and you're drawn to its headline. If you were to use your everyday automatic thinking, you might accept it as fact and move on. But if you were thinking critically, you would first analyze the available information and ask some questions :

  • What's the source of this article?
  • Is the headline potentially misleading?
  • What are my friend's general beliefs?
  • Do their beliefs inform why they might have shared this?

illustration of "Super Cat Blog" and "According to survery of cat owners" being highlighted from an article on a smartphone

After analyzing all of this information, you can draw a conclusion about whether or not you think the article is trustworthy.

Critical thinking has a wide range of real-world applications . It can help you to make better decisions, become more hireable, and generally better understand the world around you.

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Why Is Critical Thinking Important? A Survival Guide

Updated: December 7, 2023

Published: April 2, 2020

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Why is critical thinking important? The decisions that you make affect your quality of life. And if you want to ensure that you live your best, most successful and happy life, you’re going to want to make conscious choices. That can be done with a simple thing known as critical thinking. Here’s how to improve your critical thinking skills and make decisions that you won’t regret.

What Is Critical Thinking?

You’ve surely heard of critical thinking, but you might not be entirely sure what it really means, and that’s because there are many definitions. For the most part, however, we think of critical thinking as the process of analyzing facts in order to form a judgment. Basically, it’s thinking about thinking.

How Has The Definition Evolved Over Time?

The first time critical thinking was documented is believed to be in the teachings of Socrates , recorded by Plato. But throughout history, the definition has changed.

Today it is best understood by philosophers and psychologists and it’s believed to be a highly complex concept. Some insightful modern-day critical thinking definitions include :

  • “Reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do.”
  • “Deciding what’s true and what you should do.”

The Importance Of Critical Thinking

Why is critical thinking important? Good question! Here are a few undeniable reasons why it’s crucial to have these skills.

1. Critical Thinking Is Universal

Critical thinking is a domain-general thinking skill. What does this mean? It means that no matter what path or profession you pursue, these skills will always be relevant and will always be beneficial to your success. They are not specific to any field.

2. Crucial For The Economy

Our future depends on technology, information, and innovation. Critical thinking is needed for our fast-growing economies, to solve problems as quickly and as effectively as possible.

3. Improves Language & Presentation Skills

In order to best express ourselves, we need to know how to think clearly and systematically — meaning practice critical thinking! Critical thinking also means knowing how to break down texts, and in turn, improve our ability to comprehend.

4. Promotes Creativity

By practicing critical thinking, we are allowing ourselves not only to solve problems but also to come up with new and creative ideas to do so. Critical thinking allows us to analyze these ideas and adjust them accordingly.

5. Important For Self-Reflection

Without critical thinking, how can we really live a meaningful life? We need this skill to self-reflect and justify our ways of life and opinions. Critical thinking provides us with the tools to evaluate ourselves in the way that we need to.

Woman deep into thought as she looks out the window, using her critical thinking skills to do some self-reflection.

6. The Basis Of Science & Democracy

In order to have a democracy and to prove scientific facts, we need critical thinking in the world. Theories must be backed up with knowledge. In order for a society to effectively function, its citizens need to establish opinions about what’s right and wrong (by using critical thinking!).

Benefits Of Critical Thinking

We know that critical thinking is good for society as a whole, but what are some benefits of critical thinking on an individual level? Why is critical thinking important for us?

1. Key For Career Success

Critical thinking is crucial for many career paths. Not just for scientists, but lawyers , doctors, reporters, engineers , accountants, and analysts (among many others) all have to use critical thinking in their positions. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, critical thinking is one of the most desirable skills to have in the workforce, as it helps analyze information, think outside the box, solve problems with innovative solutions, and plan systematically.

2. Better Decision Making

There’s no doubt about it — critical thinkers make the best choices. Critical thinking helps us deal with everyday problems as they come our way, and very often this thought process is even done subconsciously. It helps us think independently and trust our gut feeling.

3. Can Make You Happier!

While this often goes unnoticed, being in touch with yourself and having a deep understanding of why you think the way you think can really make you happier. Critical thinking can help you better understand yourself, and in turn, help you avoid any kind of negative or limiting beliefs, and focus more on your strengths. Being able to share your thoughts can increase your quality of life.

4. Form Well-Informed Opinions

There is no shortage of information coming at us from all angles. And that’s exactly why we need to use our critical thinking skills and decide for ourselves what to believe. Critical thinking allows us to ensure that our opinions are based on the facts, and help us sort through all that extra noise.

5. Better Citizens

One of the most inspiring critical thinking quotes is by former US president Thomas Jefferson: “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” What Jefferson is stressing to us here is that critical thinkers make better citizens, as they are able to see the entire picture without getting sucked into biases and propaganda.

6. Improves Relationships

While you may be convinced that being a critical thinker is bound to cause you problems in relationships, this really couldn’t be less true! Being a critical thinker can allow you to better understand the perspective of others, and can help you become more open-minded towards different views.

7. Promotes Curiosity

Critical thinkers are constantly curious about all kinds of things in life, and tend to have a wide range of interests. Critical thinking means constantly asking questions and wanting to know more, about why, what, who, where, when, and everything else that can help them make sense of a situation or concept, never taking anything at face value.

8. Allows For Creativity

Critical thinkers are also highly creative thinkers, and see themselves as limitless when it comes to possibilities. They are constantly looking to take things further, which is crucial in the workforce.

9. Enhances Problem Solving Skills

Those with critical thinking skills tend to solve problems as part of their natural instinct. Critical thinkers are patient and committed to solving the problem, similar to Albert Einstein, one of the best critical thinking examples, who said “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Critical thinkers’ enhanced problem-solving skills makes them better at their jobs and better at solving the world’s biggest problems. Like Einstein, they have the potential to literally change the world.

10. An Activity For The Mind

Just like our muscles, in order for them to be strong, our mind also needs to be exercised and challenged. It’s safe to say that critical thinking is almost like an activity for the mind — and it needs to be practiced. Critical thinking encourages the development of many crucial skills such as logical thinking, decision making, and open-mindness.

11. Creates Independence

When we think critically, we think on our own as we trust ourselves more. Critical thinking is key to creating independence, and encouraging students to make their own decisions and form their own opinions.

12. Crucial Life Skill

Critical thinking is crucial not just for learning, but for life overall! Education isn’t just a way to prepare ourselves for life, but it’s pretty much life itself. Learning is a lifelong process that we go through each and every day.

How to Think Critically

Now that you know the benefits of thinking critically, how do you actually do it?

How To Improve Your Critical Thinking

  • Define Your Question: When it comes to critical thinking, it’s important to always keep your goal in mind. Know what you’re trying to achieve, and then figure out how to best get there.
  • Gather Reliable Information: Make sure that you’re using sources you can trust — biases aside. That’s how a real critical thinker operates!
  • Ask The Right Questions: We all know the importance of questions, but be sure that you’re asking the right questions that are going to get you to your answer.
  • Look Short & Long Term: When coming up with solutions, think about both the short- and long-term consequences. Both of them are significant in the equation.
  • Explore All Sides: There is never just one simple answer, and nothing is black or white. Explore all options and think outside of the box before you come to any conclusions.

How Is Critical Thinking Developed At School?

Critical thinking is developed in nearly everything we do. However, much of this important skill is encouraged to be practiced at school, and rightfully so! Critical thinking goes beyond just thinking clearly — it’s also about thinking for yourself.

When a teacher asks a question in class, students are given the chance to answer for themselves and think critically about what they learned and what they believe to be accurate. When students work in groups and are forced to engage in discussion, this is also a great chance to expand their thinking and use their critical thinking skills.

How Does Critical Thinking Apply To Your Career?

Once you’ve finished school and entered the workforce, your critical thinking journey only expands and grows from here!

Impress Your Employer

Employers value employees who are critical thinkers, ask questions, offer creative ideas, and are always ready to offer innovation against the competition. No matter what your position or role in a company may be, critical thinking will always give you the power to stand out and make a difference.

Careers That Require Critical Thinking

Some of many examples of careers that require critical thinking include:

  • Human resources specialist
  • Marketing associate
  • Business analyst

Truth be told however, it’s probably harder to come up with a professional field that doesn’t require any critical thinking!

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What is someone with critical thinking skills capable of doing.

Someone with critical thinking skills is able to think rationally and clearly about what they should or not believe. They are capable of engaging in their own thoughts, and doing some reflection in order to come to a well-informed conclusion.

A critical thinker understands the connections between ideas, and is able to construct arguments based on facts, as well as find mistakes in reasoning.

The Process Of Critical Thinking

The process of critical thinking is highly systematic.

What Are Your Goals?

Critical thinking starts by defining your goals, and knowing what you are ultimately trying to achieve.

Once you know what you are trying to conclude, you can foresee your solution to the problem and play it out in your head from all perspectives.

What Does The Future Of Critical Thinking Hold?

The future of critical thinking is the equivalent of the future of jobs. In 2020, critical thinking was ranked as the 2nd top skill (following complex problem solving) by the World Economic Forum .

We are dealing with constant unprecedented changes, and what success is today, might not be considered success tomorrow — making critical thinking a key skill for the future workforce.

Why Is Critical Thinking So Important?

Why is critical thinking important? Critical thinking is more than just important! It’s one of the most crucial cognitive skills one can develop.

By practicing well-thought-out thinking, both your thoughts and decisions can make a positive change in your life, on both a professional and personal level. You can hugely improve your life by working on your critical thinking skills as often as you can.

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An iterative process for identifying the root cause of a problem by posing the question “Why?” at least five times to help separate symptoms from causes.

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Select a particular issue or problem from your user research to investigate further. This could be the most commonly occurring problem or a problem that has been prioritized by the team. Ask why the problem occurred and write down an answer. Repeat this process another four times, building off of the previous response each time to drill down to a root cause. As you probe, make sure you remain sensistive to the emotional response of the interviewee. Sometimes asking why multiple times can cause the interviewee to feel frustrated or defensive if they don’t feel as if they are being heard. See example below:

Starting problem: “We didn’t meet our goal for public feedback during the open comment period.”

  • Why? “Not enough people submitted comments.”
  • Why? “Not enough people made it to the comment submission form.”
  • Why? “The comment submission form was hard to find.”
  • Why? “The link to the comment submission form was buried on the page.”
  • Why? “We didn’t formulate and publish a call to action to submit comments.”

After getting to a root cause, frame or reframe your problem solving approach to address it (e.g., “how might we create a call to action for comment submission?”).

Note: You may ask “why” more or less than five times during this process. The purpose of this exercise is to help identify what is the root cause. Ask “why” as many times as needed to get to what you think the root cause is, while keeping the mental cost of the interviewee in mind.

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Critical Thinking Skills.

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Critical thinking is the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment. It involves evaluating sources, such as data, facts, observable phenomena, and research findings. Developing critical thinking skills is essential for academic success and everyday decision-making. Here are strategies and examples to help enhance critical thinking skills.

1. Ask Questions

Asking questions is fundamental to critical thinking. Encourage curiosity and in-depth understanding by asking questions like:

  • What evidence supports this claim?
  • Are there alternative perspectives?
  • What are the implications of this decision?

2. Analyze Assumptions

Identifying and analyzing assumptions helps in understanding underlying biases and beliefs.

  • Example : When reading a news article, identify the assumptions the author makes and consider how they influence the argument.

3. Evaluate Evidence

Evaluating evidence involves assessing the reliability and validity of information sources.

  • Example : When researching a topic, compare information from multiple sources and evaluate their credibility.

4. Develop Hypotheses

Formulating and testing hypotheses can strengthen analytical skills.

  • Example : In a science experiment, develop a hypothesis, conduct experiments to test it, and analyze the results.

5. Reflect on Your Thinking Process

Reflection helps in recognizing and improving your thought process.

  • Example : After making a decision, reflect on the steps you took, what you learned, and how you could improve in the future.

6. Engage in Discussions

Participating in discussions encourages the exchange of ideas and perspectives.

  • Example : Join a debate club or discussion group to practice presenting and defending your viewpoints.

7. Practice Problem-Solving

Solving problems systematically can enhance critical thinking.

  • Example : Use problem-solving frameworks, like SWOT analysis, to evaluate a business case study.

8. Use Critical Thinking Exercises

Incorporate exercises and activities designed to boost critical thinking skills.

  • Example : Engage in brainteasers, puzzles, and logic games that challenge your reasoning abilities.

Examples of Critical Thinking in Action

  • Case Study: Socratic Method : Used in law schools, the Socratic method involves asking a series of questions to help students think deeply about the subject matter.
  • Example: Reflective Journals : Students keep journals where they reflect on their learning experiences, analyze their thinking processes, and develop insights.

Developing critical thinking skills is crucial for academic success and informed decision-making. By asking questions, analyzing assumptions, evaluating evidence, developing hypotheses, reflecting on thinking processes, engaging in discussions, practicing problem-solving, and using critical thinking exercises, individuals can enhance their ability to think critically.

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Five engaging historical thinking activities for the classroom

use the 5 whys of critical thinking

History classes provide students with a peek into the human experience across times, cultures, and continents. And their relevance goes far beyond an understanding of the past! More than hitting curriculum standards, learning history shows students why we live the way we do today, helping them develop valuable historical and critical thinking skills to navigate their present and prepare them for the challenges of the future.

Let’s look at how to emphasize the importance of learning history for students and how Kialo Edu discussions can help students engage meaningfully with this subject.

Why is it important for students to learn history?

Though there are undoubtedly a lot of dates and facts in history textbooks, they only scratch the surface of what students can learn in history classrooms. Here are some of the many benefits you can give to your students next time they ask you, “why should we learn this?”

1. Studying history gives students insight into recurring themes

From power struggles to technological advancements, students learn about the complexity of human behavior and the challenges people have faced throughout time.

2. Studying history can help students understand their own and other cultural identities

History lessons help preserve the diverse voices and experiences of individuals and communities which may otherwise be lost to time. This helps students understand their own place in the world, as well as develop consideration for others’ experiences.

3. Studying history encourages students to become informed and active citizens

By reflecting on democratic roots, values, and principles present throughout history, students can gain the knowledge to help them become active participants in society.

4. Learning history helps hone five critical thinking skills that have lifelong benefits

Finally, engaging with history gives students the opportunity to develop a broad perspective and hone their critical thinking skills. The American Historical Association outlines five of the key historical thinking skills for students to develop in the classroom, which can benefit them outside the classroom as well:

1. Chronological Thinking

Chronological Thinking builds a framework for organizing historical knowledge, allowing students to understand the sequence of events and how they relate to one another across contexts and time periods.

2 . Historical Comprehension

Historical Comprehension is the ability to understand historical data and narratives. Students can contextualize the causes and outcomes of historical events and understand the motivations of the people involved.

3. Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Historical Analysis and Interpretation is the ability to compare and contrast differing perspectives and views of history for students to come to their own conclusions and challenge common assumptions.

4. Historical Research Skills

Historical Research skills allow students to formulate meaningful questions and to gather, evaluate, and present information from a range of primary and secondary sources .

5. Historical Issues: Analysis and Decision-Making

With this skill, students will be able to evaluate complex historical problems and decisions with an awareness of the ethical dimensions, priorities of those involved, and consideration of alternative approaches that may have yielded different outcomes.

Taken together, historical thinking equips students with knowledge and skills that will benefit them far beyond academic settings.

Let’s take a look at just some of the ways Kialo discussions can hit curriculum standards while making history exciting and relevant for students in the classroom!

Five engaging activities for the history classroom with Kialo Edu

use the 5 whys of critical thinking

1. Use Kialo discussions to connect the past to the present

Learning objective: Students will be able to evaluate the relevance of historical events and themes and explore how they might apply them to their own lives.

Looking at current events through a historical lens gives students the broader context to assess the factors that shape their world, from the backdrop to political upheaval to the formation of social movements. Not only that, but by drawing parallels between historical events and events today, students can apply the lessons learned from the past to the challenges of today.

You can assign students a Kialo discussion that explicitly links the past to the present. For example, you might ask them to reflect on questions of reparations for former colonies of European countries or to weigh up the effects of the Industrial Revolution .

A discussion on whether we should remove statues of problematic historical figures can explore contemporary views of these figures set against the era they belonged to.

Kialo discussions are a supportive space to explore topical issues in the headlines, as you can monitor and offer guidance as needed. And by adding carefully chosen starter claims to the discussion of your choice, educators can open up dedicated lines of inquiry to help students learn about the background of the issue at hand, be that geopolitical tensions or understanding responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. Use Kialo discussions to question assumptions and contextualize historical narratives

Learning objective: Students will be able to compare and contrast the evidence from different perspectives on the same topic.

Should we still celebrate Columbus Day? — kialo-edu.com

Without questioning the way history is presented, student understanding of the past may be incomplete or even distorted. Educators can encourage students to examine the background and perspectives of those who usually “write” history for the biases that may be present.

The argument-mapping structure of Kialo discussions can scaffold this process. By breaking down the issues into manageable chunks, discussions help highlight inconsistencies in the arguments presented for a historical topic. Have the class actively seek out gaps and contradictions in their claims to prompt wider class discussion of the potential for bias. You can even add comments or new claims to direct students’ attention where it’s needed.

Broader discussions on the historiography, or the nature of history itself, can also put these issues front and center. Have students consider the challenges historians face in finding an accurate representation of historical events by asking them “can we ever truly know history?” . Or, discuss how context shapes the lens through which we view history with a discussion on whether ethical judgments should be part of history . 

3. Use Kialo discussions to deepen topic comprehension and develop critical analysis

Learning objective: Students will be able to develop historical reading skills , including sourcing, corroboration, close reading, and contextualization.

Was the American Revolution justified? — kialo-edu.com

By reading and interpreting a number of texts and sources, students learn to build knowledge rather than exclusively memorize information.

Educators can help students gain a fuller view of history by giving them strategies for reading historical texts and documents. The Historical Thinking Chart by the Digital Inquiry Group (formerly the Stanford History Education Group) provides a series of questions to support students in this process.

First, have students consider the source of a document to determine its reliability. Then, students should contextualize the document by considering the broader context within which it was written. Students then look at whether they can corroborate the information by comparing it to other relevant texts, and finally do a close reading of the text, exploring the author’s claims and language choices in greater detail.

In Kialo discussions, students can aggregate all the information they encounter for a particular historical topic as evidence for their claims. This might include the different perspectives encountered, considerations of broader context, disagreement and counter-narratives, and the supporting evidence provided for these sources.

For example, if your students are exploring the causes of World War I , or considering the outcomes of the 1848 Revolutions , they can delve into these details collaboratively through the various sources available on these topics. You might start the discussion at the beginning of a module and have students return to add to their discussion as your class progresses through the materials available to them.

4. Use Kialo to explore and evaluate sources

Learning objective: Students will be able to use primary and secondary sources as evidence for their arguments.

With access to so much valuable information online, the challenge for students often lies in evaluating the evidence rather than gathering it. Many websites may seem reputable, but in reality push damaging myths or beliefs about historical events.

Educators can help students determine appropriate sources and teach strategies for “ critical ignoring .” In doing so, students learn to filter out the noise and focus their critical thinking skills (and energy!) on the sources which merit their attention.

use the 5 whys of critical thinking

Kialo discussions encourage students to add evidence for their arguments by adding links or references to their claims where appropriate. Educators can also provide students with a selection of primary and secondary sources to work across them to come to well-reasoned (and evidenced) conclusions on the thesis.

Students could also work in groups to consider the strengths and limitations of each source, acknowledging anything that impacts their reliability in the Add Quote/Note box or comments. You can even set a task for adding sources to make expectations clear on how many students should add to each discussion. 

5. Use Kialo discussions to engage younger students in the past

Learning objective: Students will be able to develop an understanding of what people’s lives were like in the past.

By learning about how people lived in the past, students gain an understanding of how the world has changed, the challenges faced back then, and how the richness of ancient cultures has influenced us today.

Kialo discussions can thus encourage younger students to think creatively about the past. They might use their imagination to fill in the gaps in known information about ancient times, with a discussion on whether they’d prefer to visit ancient Egypt or ancient Greece . You might have them reflect on what life was like during the Bronze and Iron Ages or debate whether Vikings reall y deserve their bad reputation ! 

For younger students, another engaging activity could be to determine where historical fiction meets fact in investigating the case for the existence of King Arthur . In doing so, students can gain a meaningful understanding of the past and how people lived.

Kialo’s Topic Library is full of rich history topics ready for your students to explore. If you have a thesis you think belongs in the library or any tips for the history classroom, please do get in touch at [email protected] or on any of our social media channels.

Want to try Kialo Edu with your class?

Sign up for free and use Kialo Edu to have thoughtful classroom discussions and train students’ argumentation and critical thinking skills.

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    When to Use a 5 Whys Analysis. You can use 5 Whys for troubleshooting, quality improvement, and problem solving, but it is most effective when used to resolve simple or moderately difficult problems. It may not be suitable if you need to tackle a complex or critical problem.

  3. Five whys

    Five whys (or 5 whys) is an iterative interrogative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question "why?" five times, each time directing the current "why" to the answer of the previous ...

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    The 5-Why Problem Solving Technique is an effective way of troubleshooting and problem solving by asking a series of five "why" questions. The goal is to drill down to the root cause of the problem, rather than accepting surface explanations. The technique involves beginning with a symptom or problem statement, and then asking subsequent "why ...

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    Promotes critical thinking: Critical thinking refers to the process of objectively and analytically evaluating information, arguments, or situations. To engage in critical thinking and analysis, we need to ask "why," usually over and over again. ... This means that if a leadership team, for example, wants to use the Five Whys to improve ...

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    Step 2: Select a 5 Whys master for the meeting. The 5 Whys master will lead the discussion, ask the 5 whys, and assign responsibility for the solutions the group comes up with. The rest of those involved will answer those questions and discuss. In our experience, anyone can be a 5 Whys master — there are no special qualifications, and it ...

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    Use the five whys of critical thinking From the course: Critical Thinking. Start my 1-month free trial Buy this course ($24.99*) Transcripts Exercise Files View Offline ...

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    Encouraging teams to ask "why" cultivates a mindset of curiosity and critical thinking. This cultural shift permeates throughout the organization, empowering teams to proactively seek solutions, identify patterns, and contribute to a collective intelligence that drives progress. ... the question of whether it's okay to use the 5 Whys ...

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    The 5 Whys exercise is vastly improved when applied by a team and there are five basic steps to conducting it: Write down the specific problem. Writing the issue helps you formalize the problem and describe it completely. It also helps a team focus on the same problem. Ask "Why" the problem happens and write the answer down below the problem.

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    Critical thinking is the discipline of rigorously and skillfully using information, experience, observation, and reasoning to guide your decisions, actions, and beliefs. You'll need to actively question every step of your thinking process to do it well. Collecting, analyzing and evaluating information is an important skill in life, and a highly ...

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    The 5 Whys Problem Solving technique is a simple process to follow to solve any problem by repeatedly asking the question "Why" (five times is a good rule of thumb), to peel away the layers of that can lead to the root cause of a problem. This strategy relates to the principle of

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    Critical thinking is the ability to think reflectively and independently in order to make thoughtful decisions. By focusing on root-cause issues critical thinking helps you avoid future problems ...

  25. What is critical thinking?

    Critical thinking is a kind of thinking in which you question, analyse, interpret , evaluate and make a judgement about what you read, hear, say, or write. The term critical comes from the Greek word kritikos meaning "able to judge or discern". Good critical thinking is about making reliable judgements based on reliable information.

  26. The Importance Of Critical Thinking, and how to improve it

    Critical thinking can help you better understand yourself, and in turn, help you avoid any kind of negative or limiting beliefs, and focus more on your strengths. Being able to share your thoughts can increase your quality of life. 4. Form Well-Informed Opinions.

  27. Five whys

    Ask why the problem occurred and write down an answer. Repeat this process another four times, building off of the previous response each time to drill down to a root cause. As you probe, make sure you remain sensistive to the emotional response of the interviewee. Sometimes asking why multiple times can cause the interviewee to feel frustrated ...

  28. Article on Critical Thinking Skills Example [Edit & Download]

    Example: Use problem-solving frameworks, like SWOT analysis, to evaluate a business case study. 8. Use Critical Thinking Exercises. Incorporate exercises and activities designed to boost critical thinking skills. Example: Engage in brainteasers, puzzles, and logic games that challenge your reasoning abilities.

  29. Five engaging historical thinking activities for the classroom

    Learning history helps hone five critical thinking skills that have lifelong benefits. Five engaging activities for the history classroom with Kialo Edu. 1. Use Kialo discussions to connect the past to the present. 2. Use Kialo discussions to question assumptions and contextualize historical narratives. 3.

  30. The Aftermath: Ebrahim Raisi and Propaganda

    The Aftermath: Ebrahim Raisi and Propaganda | Episode 222 | Phil in the Blanks Podcast Dr. Phil and guest Elica Le Bon, an attorney and Iranian-American...