i‑Learner Education Centre

Steps to Success » Critical Thinking

Reading Widely to Develop Critical Thinking

As a literature specialist, I read as much as I can, and find that I’m constantly learning about and from the texts I encounter. Reading engages our minds in ways that nothing else can, and it not only provides us with knowledge but also challenges us to think in new ways.

Significantly, reading develops the critical thinking skills that are essential to success in a wide range of areas: skills of analysis, interpretation, and of being able to create an argument and explain it. This is why it’s essential to read often and widely. Take a look at some of the ways wide reading can develop your critical thinking:

Reading improves vocabulary and language skills. You will become aware of the techniques used by good writers and learn new words and their connotations. This will help develop your own command of language both when you write and when you have to explain things verbally. You will find that you have a new ability to analyse, explain, and persuade!

Every good story has a problem. Problem solving is at the heart of critical thinking, and when you read, you will see how characters solve the problems they face. You will also be thinking about a character’s problem, and possible solutions before you find out what the character does. When you engage with a story, you will start to make predictions based on the information you have been given. You will find yourself looking for clues and pieces of evidence you can use to solve the puzzle, and you will be able to apply these problem-solving skills to the tasks and problems you encounter at school and in your everyday life.

Use your imagination. Reading forces you to imagine the world of the story: what the landscape and characters look like, what their thoughts are and how they interact with other characters and their world. If you read a book rather than watching the movie, you will have to form your own version of the writer’s world based on the language they use.

Grow your knowledge base and develop areas of interest. If you read widely, you can learn about new subjects or learn more within an existing area of interest. You won’t only learn facts and information, but wide reading will improve your organisational skills (you will learn how a complex text is organized and how to navigate it) and your ability to comprehend and analyse a text you haven’t seen before. You will be able to apply what you learn to other questions you face and use your new skills to understand other books you read.

To get started, why not talk to your i-Learner teacher about your interests? They can help you with some reading recommendations. I often do this with my students. If you enjoy the Percy Jackson series, you might want to read further tales of mythology and fantasy, for example Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi, or The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste. Or you could try something different in a genre you wouldn’t usually read. Perhaps you could start with a mystery story such as Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, or Robert Westall’s The Watchtower, which is both a mystery story and a ghost story. The important thing to remember is to read what you enjoy and pursue your interests, but don’t forget to challenge yourself sometimes by trying something different.

It is important not to think of critical thinking as a natural gift that we either have or we don’t, but as an ability that we can train, develop, and improve. Reading widely will definitely help with this and will give you the skills you need to think clearly and rationally in order to solve all kinds of problems.