How to encourage critical thinking through storytelling

children children's literature critical thinking elt extensive reading language teaching reading stories storytelling Oct 22, 2021

By Dr Jeremy Koay

Critical thinking is widely agreed on as an important component in language classrooms. But what is critical thinking? Yang and Gamble (2013, p. 398) state that critical thinking involves at least four skills:

  • metacognition (awareness of one’s own thought processes)
  • logically evaluating information sources
  • problem solving
  • selecting appropriate strategies or solutions


Research shows that collaboration and social interaction are important in fostering critical thinking (Yang & Gamble, 2013). Consider four questions for encouraging critical thinking through storytelling.

1. Which character do you want to be? Why?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. The main goal of this question is to encourage children to think through their decision.

2. Why is a particular issue a problem?

Most stories consist of a problem or a complication which is typically resolved later. Rather than accepting a particular issue as a problem, this question helps children to consider the writer’s ideological lens. Ask children whether a presented problem would be seen as one in their culture.

3. Why does a character feel a certain way?

Characters in a story usually experience a range of emotions, such as happiness, disappointment, or anger. If a character is angry, for example, ask children whether his/her response is reasonable.

4. What would you do if you were the main character?

When a character responds to a situation, ask children how they would do. Ask them to explain their responses. In stories where characters encounter a moral dilemma, children can discuss whether they agree with the characters’ actions.

Try these questions when you read a story to a child. Feel free to share other ideas from your classroom.


Yang, Y-T. C., Newby, T., & Bill, R. (2008). Facilitating interactions through structured web-based bulletin boards: A quasi experimental study on promoting learners’ critical thinking skills. Computers and Education, 50(4), 1572–1585.

Yang, Y-T. C., & Gamble, J. (2013). Effective and practical critical thinking-enhanced EFL instruction. ELT Journal, 67(4), 398-412.

Dr Jeremy Koay is a New Zealand-based Independent Researcher and a Research & Development Consultant at EduMaxi. He obtained his PhD in Applied Linguistics from Victoria University of Wellington in 2015. His research interests include Discourse Analysis, Genre Analysis and TESOL.

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