by Francesco Marino
Andrea Crichlow (section C)Does a child in our school library need to be able to read a book? Absolutely. Does that child also need to be able to recognize the subtext of a TV commercial or to identify the possible bias on a website?... The anwer must also be yes. To equip a child in any less manner is misguided at best, negligent at worst.- Weeks, Peter B. "Old Literacies, New Literacies, Media Literacies, Visual Literacies, Techno-Literacies and Mulit-Literacies: How Many Literacies does it Take to Change a Light Bulb?" (2003)


As the above quotation points out, teaching English is more than teaching students to read books and experience literature; ELA teachers must give students the skills that they need to interpret and react to the world around them. It is important to note the urgency with which Weeks writes because today's young people face an increasingly message-saturated society, and they need the tools to be able to understand what the messages are saying and to form opinions about them. Media studies is a crucial part of developing these skills, but critical thinking should extend to all aspects of the ELA curriculum. The purpose of this page is to provide teachers with some resources for teaching critical thinking skills and to offer practical ideas for integrating critical thinking into the ELA classroom.

Critical Thinking and the Ontario ELA Curriculum

Critical thinking is a central focus in the Ontario Curriculum for ELA; all curriculum strands for English classes from grades 7-12 require students to analyze, evaluate, and interpret different texts. These critical thinking activities are required in both academic and applied streams of ELA, and they are especially prominent in the media studies strands. Indeed, critical thinking is an intrinsic part of ELA studies.

To see the Ontario ELA curriculum documents, please consult this link:

Theories and Resources

      • "Partnering to Promote Critical Thinking"
Roland Case
School Libraries in Canada, 2002;22;1; CBCA Education pg 11

This brief article is mostly concerned with introducing the Critical Thinking Cooperative, but it offers helpul tips for teachers who want to encourage critical thinking. It's examples of critical thinking questions and non-critical thinking questions are especially helpful, showing how critical thinking must be embedded into teaching.

      • "Using Information Literacy to Promote Critical Thinking"
Rhonda Harris Taylor; Lotsee Patterson
Teacher Librarian; December 2000;28,2; CBCA Complete pg 9

This article is especially applicable to English teachers because it addresses teachers' hesitation to use books (such as Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain) that incorporate racist images and ideas. The authors point out that such books can be used to develop students' critical thinking skills so that they can see through prejudices in literature and popular culture. The authors come from an American perspective, but their points are easily adaptable to Canadian issues.

      • It's Critical! Classroom Strategies for Promoting Critical and Creative Comprehension
David Booth
Markham: Pembroke Publishers, 2008.

This book discusses issues in literacy and critical thinking and provides many concrete resources for teachers who want to develop students' critical thinking skills. Booth includes new lesson ideas and suggestions for integrating critical thinking into existing lessons. Booth also provides reflection questions for teachers to help them see if their lessons help students to think critically. This book is especially helpful to teachers who wish to integrate various forms of media into their teaching because it offers explanations on how to use materials such as graphic novels, blogs, music, literature clubs, and web pages.

      • Teach-nology website

This website for teachers contains free worksheets to help students develop critical thinking skills. The website is geared towards elementary school teachers, but the worksheets are easily adaptable to high school settings, particularly the graphic organizers.

      • Bloom's Taxonomy

This instructional video from the Watson School of Education at UNCW describes Bloom's Taxonomy, which is a theory on different levels of learning. The video discusses the different levels of learning by using specific examples of the kinds of tasks teachers ask their students to perform and encourages teachers to focus on the highest levels of the taxonomy, which encourage critical thinking.

Media Analysis

This section contains some concrete ideas of activities that can help students develop critical thinking skills. The objective is for students to learn how to decode media messages and to form opinions about them. These activities could be used on their own to introduce a critical thinking or media studies unit, or they could be used side-by-side with literature analysis activities to draw parallels between the skills needed to interpret media messages and skills for analyzing poems and books.


  • Students will find an advertizement from a magazine and will work in small groups to pick apart the words and images. Students will explore questions such as:
    --> What emotions/desires does this advertizement convey/encourage?
    --> How does it convey these emotions and entice these desires?
    --> Who is this advertizement directed towards? --> What is this advertizement assuming about values, families, or gender roles?
    --> Is this advertizement promoting/reinforcing any prejudices or stereotypes?

  • Using questions that are similar to the ones above, students will find an advertizement for a product that they already use in their day-to-day lives. They will write an essay analyzing the advertizement and stating whether or not they agree with the messages that the advertizement is sending and why.

Movies/Television Shows

  • Working in pairs, students will compile a list of their favorite 15 movies and/or television shows, and they will look for patterns in the way a certain character or motif is portrayed. They will present their findings to the class and present 2 discussion topics based on their interpretations. For example, students may look at the characteristics of the villains in their list of movies/TV shows. If the students find that 7 of the 15 movies cast actors of the same ethnic background for villain roles, they can present this issue to the class and discuss how this pattern reflects racist views in North American culture.

News Media

  • Each student will find a newspaper article and write a paragraph pinpointing the strengths and weaknesses of the article using guiding questions such as:
    - What bias(es) can you identify in the article?
    - What information/perspectives does the article fail to account for?
    - In what ways does this article address the subject fairly?
  • The whole class will watch a clip from two (or more) different news stations about the same story. Afterwards, the class will participate in a discussion about the similarities and differences in the ways each station presented the issue.

Literature Analysis

Recognizing Biases

  • Students will identify prejudices or biases (positive or negative) in a novel or short story being studied in class, and they will discuss whether or not they think these biases are still issues in their community. For instance, the class may focus on the negative way that women are portrayed in Hamlet, and they may discuss what particular assumptions are made about women in the play and whether these assumptions are still present in our Canadian culture.

Interpreting Literature

  • Students will work in small groups to develop multiple interpretations of a poem. They will present their interpretations to the class, and the class will provide feedback on which interpretations are the most convincing.
  • Students will work in small groups to study the perspective of a specific character in a novel such as To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and each group in the class will study a different character. After each group has been given a chance to discuss, all groups will present their characters' perspective on an important event in the novel, such as the trial of Tom Robinson, focusing on characters' opinions and feelings in response to the event.

Critical thinking is one of the most interesting aspects of ELA, and it is extremely rewarding to help others learn to see the world with a critical eye. The independance and self-awareness that come from solid critical thinking skills are characteristics that students need to make a difference in their own lives and in society. Teachers have an important responsibility to help their students become critical thinkers, but this should not be a daunting task because there are plenty of resources available.