So you want to have a classroom where students take an active role in their learning, where they think deeply and creatively about problems and solutions, where they don’t just spit out answers like widgets on an assembly line, but where they use evidence and reasoning to support thoughtful claims and opinions. But your curriculum isn’t design to support this type of learning. It’s formulaic and pedantic. It prepares you to disseminate information, but not to facilitate genuine discovery.

So here are two phrases that you’ll want to make part of your regular classroom vocabulary and that can inspire critical thinking even with the most rigid of lesson plans.

  • “Tell me more”

  • “How do you know”

When students give a prediction or an answer that you know is not accurate, resist the urge to correct them. Instead, ask them to tell you more. Often times, as they think beyond their initial opinion and try to connect it to additional information, they will uncover errors in thinking.

If a student confidently makes a claim that is accurate, don’t rubber-stamp the answer and move on. Instead, challenge them to provide evidence by asking, “How do you know?” and ensure they can support their claim with sound reasoning.

The beauty of these two phrases is that they both work equally well for “incorrect” and “correct” responses, so if you use them interchangeably, your students will never know if you are pushing them because they have a misconception or if you are just urging them to justify their answer.

Of course there are endless phrases and actions to inspire more critical thinking in your students, and I encourage you to explore them all. But if you’re looking for a couple of go-to phrases, these get my vote.