Critical Thinking Questions

With critical thinking comes questions, questions, and more questions. As we apply such skills in our everyday lives, be it for academic purposes or not, the quality of questions we ask plays a significant role in their continuing development. In other words, the better the questions we ask, the better the results that we receive.

The following question strategies cover self-directed learning and learning reflections, as well as critical thinking questions that can be used in any content area. We’ll begin, however, by looking at a 5-step process for asking the most meaningful questions possible.

5 Steps to Asking Good Questions

Asking good questions is a cornerstone of learning and living, and of critical thinking. So much of our success in life depends on asking the right questions. But how do we actually do it? It’s simple if you have a process like the one below.

This framework goes hand in hand with taking ownership of learning. Each stage has guiding questions attached to it, and are things students can consider to help them ask good questions:


  • What specifically do I want to know?
  • What information am I missing?
  • Is this more than a simple YES or NO question?
  • Am I going for deeper knowledge?


  • Why am I asking this?
  • Do I want to gather facts or opinions?
  • Do I need simple clarification?
  • Do I want to offer a different perspective?


  • How do I want people to respond?
  • Do I want the answer to be of help to others?
  • Am I asking to start an argument or open a discussion?
  • Is the question superficial and not really useful or important?
  • Am I asking out of frustration or curiosity?
  • Do I really care about the answer?
  • Am I willing to show respect/deference to the person I’m asking?


  • Am I using easily understandable terms and wording?
  • Is my question neutral or does it contain bias or opinion?
  • Is it too long or too short?
  • Does it contain the focus of what I want to know?
  • Does the question focus on only one thing?
  • Is it muddled with other inquiries that don’t belong?


  • Do I have any more specific questions to add?
  • Will the person I’m asking be available for other questions if need be?
  • If I still don’t have the answer I need, what’s my plan?
  • What can I do if I still don’t understand?

This free poster features these 5 categories for developing good questions, with all the exploratory points for each one included.

Self-Directed Learning Questions Framework

The framework below features 10 self-directed learning questions broken down into further key points for consideration. This is by no means a complete framework but is intended as a basic guideline for further exploration and development. It’s also a terrific critical thinking exercise that works on deep skills for research and knowledge use.

Have learners use these points to examine the value of each question as they consider how to apply it to their own self-directed learning pursuits.

1. What do I want/need to learn?

What is important or necessary

  • a specific problem to be solved
  • a challenge that must be faced
  • information that will construct something of value to me/others

What is interesting or relevant

  • a hobby or skill
  • personal knowledge development
  • learning for a job or a career

2. Why is this important?

  • What has motivated me to seek this knowledge?
  • What circumstances have led me to want to learn this?
  • Why is this meaningful to me or to others?
  • What would happen if I don’t find out what I need to?
  • How will this knowledge change things?

3. How do I intend to use this knowledge?

  • personal development
  • problem-solving
  • general interest
  • developing other learning challenges
  • responding to a question

4. What do I know and what do I need to find out?

Current knowledge

  • exploration of assumptions
  • personal experience
  • knowledge gained from others

Missing knowledge

  • who, what, where, when, why, how
  • the history of the problem or challenge
  • what others have missed in the past

5. What are my capabilities/limitations?

  • What do I know or what can I do now that will help me?
  • What can’t I do? Can I learn how to do it?(consideringtimeframe, budget, etc.)

6. Where can I find out what I need to know?

Traditional sources

  • books
  • articles
  • film
  • art and design
  • conversation/collaboration
  • courses
  • hands-on workshops
  • seminars
  • mentoring/practicums

Online sources

  • websites
  • blogs
  • wikis
  • videos
  • podcasts
  • online learning/MOOCs

7. Who can I ask for help?

  • Family, friends, and teachers
  • Other professionals and experienced enthusiasts
  • Those who have failed to solve the problem and gained insights from that

8. How will I apply and share my knowledge?

Production and Delivery

  • developing and giving a presentation
  • writing/publishing a book
  • building and publishing a website or wiki
  • starting a blog
  • filming and hosting a video tutorial
  • recording and hosting a podcast

9. How will I know my learning was successful?

  • What were the results of my efforts?
  • How did I succeed or fall short of accomplishing my goal?
  • What went well, and what didn’t?
  • How can I improve my efforts, processes, and outcomes in the future?
  • Where/when/how else can I use what I’ve learned?

10. Where/when/how else can I use what I’ve learned?

  • Parts of learning(orthe whole) can potentially be applied to other future problems of a similar nature
  • We can find other ways to share our learning(e.g.teaching it to others
  • Knowledge retention and reuse can effectively exercise overall positive cognitive development

15 Reflective Questions Every Learner Can Use

Successfully debriefing learning means having solid and meaningful reflective questions to use. No matter what you’re teaching, every learner can benefit from asking reflective questions at the end of their journey. We have a list of 15 here that are pretty much the only ones they’ll ever need.

  1. Define some of your most challenging moments. What made them so?
  2. Define some of your most powerful learning moments. What made them so?
  3. What would you say is the most important thing you learned personally? As a team?
  4. When did you realize that you had come up with your final best solution?
  5. How do you feel your solution relates to real-world situations and problems?
  6. What do you feel most got in the way of your progress, if anything?
  7. How well did you and your team communicate overall?
  8. What were some things your teammates did that helped you to learn or overcome an obstacle?
  9. How did you help others during this process?
  10. Were your milestones and goals mostly met, and how much did you deviate from them if any?
  11. What did you discover as being your greatest strengths? Your biggest weaknesses?
  12. What would you do differently if you were to approach the same problem again?
  13. What would you do differently from a personal standpoint the next time you work with the same group or a different one?
  14. How can you better support and encourage your teammates on future projects?
  15. How will you use what you’ve learned in the future?

The Critical Thinking Skills Cheatsheet

Our most popular resource, the Critical Thinking Skills Cheatsheet, contains almost 50 critical thinking questions students can use for practically any content area. It includes question categories for Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. Each section has eight questions that begin with their corresponding word.

These questions are meant to be versatile and broad, and applicable to a range of topics. They’re also great potential conversation starters and fillers. You can download a free 11″ x 17″ copy of this poster by clicking on the image below.


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