Language Of Reasoning Critical Thinking

"Critical thinking is a desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to consider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and hatred for every kind of imposture." - Francis Bacon (1605)

As parents, we are tasked with instilling a plethora of different values into our children. While some parents in the world choose to instill a lack of values in their kids, those of us that don't want our children growing up to be criminals and various misfits try a bit harder. Values and morality are one piece of the pie. These are important things to mold into a child's mind, but there are also other items in life to focus on as well. It starts with looking both ways to cross the street and either progresses from there, or stops.

If you stopped explaining the world to your children after they learned to cross the street, then perhaps you should stop reading and go back to surfing for funny pictures of cats. I may use some larger words that you might not understand, making you angry and causing you to leave troll-like comments full of bad grammar and moronic thought processes. However, if you looked at the crossing the street issue as I did – as a logical problem with cause and effect and a probable solution – then carry on. You are my target audience.

Or perhaps the opposite is true, as the former are the people that could benefit from letting some critical thinking into their lives. So what exactly is critical thinking? This bit by Linda Elder in a paper on pretty much sums it up:

Through critical thinking, as I understand it, we acquire a means of assessing and upgrading our ability to judge well. It enables us to go into virtually any situation and to figure out the logic of whatever is happening in that situation. It provides a way for us to learn from new experiences through the process of continual self-assessment. Critical thinking, then, enables us to form sound beliefs and judgments, and in doing so, provides us with a basis for a 'rational and reasonable' emotional life. — Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines, Winter, 1996. Vol. XVI, No. 2.

The rationality of the world is what is at risk. Too many people are taken advantage of because of their lack of critical thinking, logic and deductive reasoning. These same people are raising children without these same skills, creating a whole new generation of clueless people.

To wit, a personal tale of deductive reasoning:

Recently I needed a new transmission for the family van. The warranty on the power train covers the transmission up to 100,000 miles. The van has around 68,000 miles on it. Therefore, even the logic-less dimwit could easily figure that the transmission was covered. Well, this was true until the dealership told me that it wasn't, stating that because we didn't get the scheduled transmission service (which is basically a fluid change) at 30,000 and 60,000 miles the warranty was no longer valid. Now, there are many people that would argue this point, but many more that would shrug, panic, and accept the full cost of repairs.

I read the warranty book. I had a receipt that said the fluid was checked at 60,000 but not replaced. A friend on Twitter pointed out the fact that they were using 100,000 mile transmission fluid. So logically, the fluid would not have to be replaced under 100,000 miles if it wasn't needed, right? So why the stipulation that it needed to be replaced at 60,000 and the loose assumption that not doing that would void the warranty? So I asked the warranty guy to show me in the book where the two items are related. Where it explicitly says that if you don't get the service, the transmission isn't covered. There were portions where it said the service was recommended, but never connecting to actual repairs. Finally the warranty guy shrugged, admitted I was right and said the service was covered.

In this case, valid logic equaled truth and a sound argument. I used very simple reasoning and logic to determine that I was being inadvertently screwed. I say "inadvertently" because I truly believe based on their behavior that they were not intentionally trying to screw me. They believed the two items were related, they had had this argument many times before and were not prepared to be questioned. While both the service manager and the warranty guy seemed at least junior college educated, proving my argument to them took longer than it should have between three adults.

However, valid logic does not always guarantee truth or a sound argument. This is where it gets a little funky. Valid logic is when the structure of logic is correct in the way of syntax and semantics rather than truth. Truth comes from deductive reasoning of said logic. For example:

All transmissions are covered parts. All covered parts are free. Therefore, all transmissions are free. This logic is technically valid, and if the premises are true, then of course the conclusion must be true. You can see here however that it's not always true, though in some situations it could be. While the logic is valid, not all transmissions are free, only those covered by the warranty. So based on that, saying all transmissions are free is not sound logic.

To take it one step further:

All Daleks are brown. Some brown things are Cylons. Therefore, some Daleks are Cylons. Sci-fi fan or not, you probably know that this is not true. The basic lesson here is that, while the logic above might seem valid because of the structure of the statement, it takes a further understanding to figure out why it's not necessarily true: That is, based on the first two statements it's possible that some Daleks are Cylons, but it's not logically concludable. That's where deductive reasoning comes on top of the logic. The underlying lesson here is not to immediately assume everything you read or are told is true, something all children need to and should learn.

This is the direct lesson that needs to be passed on to our children: that of not accepting the immediately visible logic. While not all problems are complex enough to require the scientific method, some of them need some deduction to determine if they are true. Take the example above — how many kids would immediately be satisfied with the false conclusion? Sure, it's a bit geeky with the examples, but switch out bears for Daleks and puppies for Cylons. That makes it easier, and takes the actual research out of it (to find out what Daleks and Cylons are respectively) but many people would just accept that in fact some bears are puppies, if presented with this problem in the context of a textbook or word problem.

Maybe I'm being paranoid or thinking too doomsday, whatever, but I think this is an epidemic. Children are becoming lazier and not as self sufficient because their parents have a problem with watching a three year old cry after they tell her to remove her own jeans, or ask her to put away her own toys (yes, organizational logic falls under the main topic). These are the same parents who do their kid's science project while the kid is playing video games. These kids grow up lacking the simple problem solving skills that make navigating life much easier. Remember when you were growing up and you had the plastic stacking toys? Well, instead of toys for early development like that, parents are just plopping their kids down in front of the television. While there is some educational type programming on television, it's just not the same as hands-on experience.

My father is an engineer, and he taught me logic and reasoning by making me solve simple, then complex, problems on my own. Or at least giving me the opportunity to solve them on my own. This helped develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, something a lot of children lack these days. Too often I see children that are not allowed to solve problems on their own; instead their parents simply do it for them without argument or discussion. Hell, I am surrounded by adults every day that are unable to solve simple problems, instead choosing to immediately ask me at which point I have to fill the role that their parents never did and – knowing the solution – tell them to solve it themselves, or at least try first.

One of the things I like to work on with my kids is math. There is nothing that teaches deductive reasoning and logic better than math word problems. They are at the age where basic algebra can come into play, which sharpens their reasoning skills because they start to view real world issues with algebraic solutions. Another thing is logic puzzles, crossword puzzles and first person shooters. Actually, not that last one. That's just the reward.

Since I weeded out the folks that don't teach their kids logic in the first two paragraphs, as representatives of the real world it's up to the rest of us to spread the knowledge. It won't be easy. The best thing we can do is teach these thought processes to our children, so that they may look at other children with looks of bewilderment when other children are unable to solve simple tasks. Hopefully, they will not simply do the task for them, but teach them to think. I'm not saying we need to build a whole new generation of project managers and analysts, but it would be better than a generation of task-oriented mindless office drones with untied shoelaces, shoving on a door at the Midvale School for the Gifted.

h/t to @aubreygirl22 for the logical conversation.
Image: Flickr user William Notowidagdo. Used under Creative Commons License.

  • Reasoning skills encourage critical thinking and meta-awareness of internal thought processes.  Reasoning skills support students' logical judgments based on conscious reflection and sensitivity to multiple viewpoints (Little, 2002).
  • Reasoning and critical thinking are necessary skills for competence across the curriculum.  They require students to examine, relate, and analyze all aspects of a problem or situation.  Students engaged in critical thinking must make associations that connect problems with their prior knowledge (Pellegrini, 1995).
  • Questioning is the core of critical reflection.  It prompts students to engage in a research process that fosters higher-order thinking skills and social-moral attitudes (Daniel et al., 2005).
  • Explicitly teaching and reinforcing inference-making leads to better outcomes in overall text comprehension, text engagement, and metacognitive thinking (Borné, Cox, Hartgering, & Pratt, 2005).

No-Glamour Language & Reasoning incorporates these principles and is also based on expert professional practice.

Borné, L., Cox, J., Hartgering, M., & Pratt, E. (2005). Making inferences from text [Overview]. Dorchester, MA: Project for School Innovation.

Daniel, M.F., Lafortune, L., Pallascio, R., Splitter, L., Slade, C., & de la Garza, T. (2005). Modeling the development process of dialogical critical thinking in pupils aged 10 to 12 years. Communication Education, 54(4), 334-354.

Little, C. (2002). Reasoning as a key component of language arts curricula. The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, 13(2), 52-59.

Pellegrini, J. (1995). Developing thinking and reasoning skills in primary learners using detective fiction. Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, 1. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from


Linda Bowers, Rosemary Huisingh, Carolyn LoGiudice, Jane Orman


Linda Bowers, M.A., SLP, is a LinguiSystems co-owner and speech-language pathologist with extensive experience serving preschool and school-aged children.  Her professional interests include critical thinking and language abilities of children and adults.

Rosemary Huisingh, M.A., SLP, is a LinguiSystems co-owner and has served the communication needs of school-aged children for many years.  Her special interests include childhood language, vocabulary, and thinking skills.

Carolyn LoGiudice, M.S., CCC-SLP, wrote and edited products and tests for LinguiSystems for 25 years, incorporating her previous experience as an SLP in school and clinic settings.  She is now retired and savoring time with her family, friends, and hobbies.

Jane Orman, M.A., CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist who serves in the customer care area at LinguiSystems.  She has extensive school experience and particular interest in the language demands on students in regard to assessment, critical thinking, and the school curricula.

Linda, Rosemary, Carolyn, and Jane have co-authored several tests, therapy kits, and games for LinguiSystems.


From infancy through adulthood, language and reasoning skills play a critical role in success or failure in dealing with life's varied experiences.  We all need to think independently and reason logically to solve problems, determine causes of events, and predict outcomes in daily life.

As educators, we witness the significant problems that result when students lack logical thinking and adequate expressive language skills.  We observe preschoolers who have trouble answering basic questions or who don't associate simple cause-and-effect relationships.  We see students at the elementary and secondary level experience difficulty participating in classroom discussions.  They respond with tangential and irrelevant answers.  They approach everyday problems without applying logic or appropriate organization.  Deficient reasoning skills also affect interpersonal relationships.  Students who fail to generalize from previous learning or experience remain at risk in dealing with school and life in general.

We developed this program to teach students specific reasoning and expressive language skills.  We have included a variety of formats to help students understand and practice targeted reasoning and expressive language skills.

Each unit in No-Glamour Language & Reasoning addresses a specific thinking skill area.  The units are sequenced in a hierarchy that reflects normal development of these skills.  The question types reflect classroom, textbook, and standardized test formats.  Most of the responses are oral in order to give students practice in speaking their thoughts.  You may want to alter the response mode to have your students respond in writing to improve their written expression.  Writing may also help some students refine their thinking skills during the process of generating and writing their responses.

There is a Pretest/Posttest at the beginning of each unit.  We recommend a 90% accuracy rate to consider a unit skill (or an individual task) mastered.  An accuracy rate of 60%-89% suggests that training in the skill is appropriate.  If a student achieves an accuracy rate below 60% on either a pretest or any of the unit tasks, we suggest reviewing lower-level units or tasks before presenting tasks in the deficient skill area again.

The beginning units of No-Glamour Language & Reasoning teach students to organize their thoughts about attributes, the foundations for higher-level thinking skills.  Students learn to recognize key characteristics and to associate, compare, and contrast things and ideas.  Students receive extensive practice in classifying, comparing, understanding exclusion statements, and sequencing by attribute.

The later units of this book teach students the thinking and language skills they need to ask and answer questions appropriately.  True/false questions teach students to think through questions before responding.  Higher-level questions teach students to use effective language to share information, ideas, explanations, and opinions.  Learning to ask questions gives students experience in manipulating language to formulate the most appropriate questions to ask in various situations.

The Answer Key lists sample answers where appropriate; answers for oral exercises are printed on the stimuli pages.  In many cases, more than one answer may be correct.  Accept all reasonable answers as correct, taking advantage of natural opportunities to support the breadth of experience and information your students bring to their learning.  Students who have been conditioned to expect only a "right/wrong" judgment for answers may need encouragement to think of more than one "right" answer, or to accept another student's answer as correct when it differs from their own "correct" answers.  Such encouragement may help students take other people's perspectives more readily.

When a student gives what appears to be an incorrect answer, probe the student to understand what prompted the answer.  Use patterns of incorrect answers as valuable diagnostic information about where you need to provide additional specific training.  Whenever stimuli encourage independent thinking or analysis, encourage students to develop their own opinions and standards to evaluate ideas.

Some of the worksheets in this book include a question or two at the bottom of the page.  Answers to these questions are not provided because they will vary according to personal experiences, values, and opinions.

We hope No-Glamour Language & Reasoning helps your students acquire logical thinking skills and apply them to their future experiences.  Such application will boost their success in school, social relationships, and everyday problem solving.  Their self-confidence will increase as they recognize they can think and reason for themselves and can communicate their thoughts effectively to others.

Linda, Rosemary, Carolyn, and Jane


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