Developing Critical Thinking Skills Through Literature

Last week, my teenage daughter said to me, “I love talking about books.” I couldn’t agree more. And the popularity of book clubs is evidence that we’re not alone. What a pleasure it is to read a good book and then talk about it!

Thankfully, doing these two simple things is an effective way of developing critical thinking skills — provided you ask and discuss the right questions. So, as I promised in my last post, here is a list of questions based on Bloom’s Taxonomy that you can ask your children/teens to help them think critically about the books they are reading.

Level 1 – Knowledge (Remember facts from the book)

  1. Recall the setting (time and place)
  2. Name and describe the characters.
  3. Retell the story/plot

Level 2 – Comprehension (Understand what’s going on in the story)

  1. Why do the characters act in certain ways or say certain things? (What are the character’s motivations?)
  2. What do you think will happen next in the story?
  3. What is the main conflict? (Man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. self)
  4. What is the climax and resolution?
  5. What are the main themes?
  6. What message is the author trying to convey? Or, what is the moral of the story?

Level 3 – Application (Make use of the knowledge gleaned from the book. Apply the book to your own life)

  1. Based on descriptions in the book, draw the characters or draw a map of the setting.
  2. Which character do you relate to the most? Which character is most like you? Why?
  3. If you were a character in the book, what would you do about a specific situation in the book? Or, how would you solve the conflict?

Level 4 – Analysis (Analyse literary techniques and characters, etc.)

  1. What literary techniques do you observe? (ie. metaphors, symbolism, foreshadowing, alliteration, onomonopia, irony, sentence fragments, imagery, etc.) Give specific examples. What effects do they produce?
  2. Compare and contrast the main character to another character in the book or to another character in a similar book.
  3. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of the main characters? Give evidence.
  4. Compare and contrast the book to another book by the same author or another book of the same genre/time period/theme.

Level 5 – Synthesis (Use the facts/story and the components you have analyzed to create new theories/ideas/solutions etc.)

  1. If you were the author, how would you change the ending of the story?
  2. Write a short sequel or prequel to the story; be sure to imitate the author’s writing style and use some of his/her literary techniques. (By the way, imitation in writing can be a lot of fun!)
  3. Write a letter to one of the characters in the book, praising him for a heroic deed, advising and encouraging him, or admonishing him.

Level 6 – Evaluation (Judge the value of the book based on specific criteria and give reasons for your evaluation.)

  1. Evaluate the author’s writing style. Is it effective and interesting? Why or why not?
  2. Are the illustrations effective in bringing the story to life? Why or why not?
  3. Is this book significant? Is it relevant to today’s readers? Why or why not?
  4. Do you recommend the book? If so, who would you recommend it to? Why or why not?
  5. If the book is a classic, what do you think made it a classic? (Classic in the sense of it being widely read over generations) 
  6. Are the illustrations effective in bringing the story to life? Why or why not?
  7. Is this book significant? Is it relevant to today’s readers? Why or why not?
  8. Do you recommend the book? If so, who would you recommend it to? Why or why not?

These questions are very general. Hopefully, when you discuss a book with you students, you will have read it and can make these questions more specific to the book. Also, remember that not all levels are suitable for all ages. Read this post to know which levels are appropriate for which grades.

Want a handy PDF of all these questions? Download it here.

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