Teaching Students Reasoning Skills

Reasoning skills generally refer to critical thinking skills like analysis, evaluation, and synthesis. However, they also include broader skills like more abstract thinking, creative thinking, information processing, and problem-solving.

Higher thinking involves becoming aware of your thought processes and analyzing and evaluating them to develop. Reasoning skills help children become aware of their thought processes so that reflective thinking becomes more accessible.

Why are reasoning skills critical?

  • These skills can be transferred to any subject, and developing them will give children more comprehensive expertise to tackle various problems.
  • They make up the essential elements of mature and developed thinking children need in school and beyond.
  • Reasoning skills improve meta-cognition (thinking about one’s review); this allows pupils to monitor and assess their thinking to have more autonomy over their learning and more awareness about what skills to use. Metacognition skills are a hallmark of intellectual thought.
  • They help children make rational decisions based on evidence rather than prejudice.
  • They’re essential if children are to think deeply about societal and ethical issues.
  • Reasoning skills help children see things from different perspectives; this develops human skills like empathy and understanding.
  • They bolster creativity, supporting children in making connections and approaching problems holistically.

When do we use reasoning skills?

We use reasoning skills daily when self-reflecting, analyzing situations, and processing information. Other times we use reasoning skills include:

  • When we recognize loaded language in arguments or attempts to misrepresent information
  • When we respond to counterarguments
  • When we establish how credible a source of information is
  • When we evaluate how reliable examples of evidence are
  • When we come up with alternative explanations
  • When we recognize patterns in data
  • When we generate ideas and hypotheses.

How can you develop reasoning skills in school?

  • Understanding arguments – Read articles on debated topics and highlight techniques the writers use, including reasons, evidence, structure, and conclusions.
  • Evaluating arguments – There are five critical fallacies of most arguments; ad hominem (attacking the opponent), straw man (misrepresenting the opponent); tu quoque (two wrongs don’t make a right); slippery slope (jumping to unlikely or distant consequences); false dilemmas (restricting the options). Get children to try and spot examples of each in newspaper articles or debates.
  • Developing arguments – Try and develop reasoned arguments, using evidence, for different issues. Children can practice responding to counterarguments and arguing points that differ from their actual point of view to build perspective.
  • Evaluating the credibility of sources – Look for bias, vested interest, expertise, and other factors that may influence how a basis leans.
  • Evaluating evidence – Practice analyzing evidence, focusing on sample sizes, framing questions, and alternative explanations.
  • Evaluating explanations – Generate alternative explanations for phenomena, explore different options and perspectives, and question assumptions made in arguments
  • Making decisions – Clearly define fairness, justice, equality, etc. Then, read up on debated topics like global warming, exploring different points of view and assessing the relevant criteria for deciding between options.
  • Thinking conceptually – Produce concept maps on different topics and identify differences and similarities between concepts
  • Processing information and solving problems – Determine what information is necessary to answer questions or solve problems. Practice skimming sources for relevant information, spot patterns, identify data and conclude.
  • Thinking creatively – Look for different meanings or explanations for phenomena and determine what questions will help improve pupils’ understanding of an issue. Use who, what, where, why, and when to respond to stimulus.

Fun tips to improve reasoning skills:

  • Try new activities and hobbies regularly. Pick things that are different from one another to develop other skills.
  • Exercise regularly to improve memory and cognitive skills.
  • Keep a journal so you can revisit your thoughts and learn from them. Journaling can also relieve stress and develop creativity.
  • Read different genres of books. Reading fiction inspires insight and encourages you to think in less black-and-white terms.
  • Play games that require reasoning skills, like chess, language games, or a Rubik’s Cube.
  • Get creative by drawing, writing, playing instruments, or doing various other activities.
  • Be mindful of the decisions you make throughout the day to spot regular thought patterns. Then, use your imagination to consider different options and consequences.
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