Cultivating students’ critical thinking skills by helping students to understand the ways in which words and phrases are used and refined throughout a text or event.

by Jeanne DelColle

Grades 9-12


I believe it’s important for students to have a nuanced understanding of the meaning of words and phrases as they develop their critical-thinking skills.

When students recognize words as the interface between internal thoughts and external communication, they are better able to consider important factors such as context, and the diversity of perspectives, and they are more able, to understand their own roles and responsibilities in a civil society.

I ease my students into this process:

-I start by talking about the relationship between facial expressions and body language when a word is used.

-Then we move on to words that are abstract like truth and beauty and what those words mean in a larger context.

-Finally, we have students debate the meanings of words in the context of different content areas.

These sorts of exercises force students to think more deeply about the meanings of words in many contexts. Over time, this cultivates in students the ability to see and hear differing perspectives, ask better questions, and be more reflective about what they value.


About Jeanne DelColle

Jeanne DelColle, a high school history teacher of 17 years, is also the 2012 NJ History Teacher of the Year and the 2010 New Jersey Council for the...

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