Encourage Critical Thinking in ESL Teaching

Introduction: Actively Engaged in Critical Thinking


Your students need to develop critical thinking skills. Do you want a way to bring the real world into your ESL classroom using teacher-created instructional videos, provocative reading and listening materials, and stimulating projects to teach critical thinking skills? 

Actively Engaged in Critical Thinking (AECT) is a new online multimedia course – from Bokomaru Publications – built around three components: critical thinking, different essay types, and project-based learning. High-intermediate to advanced non-native speakers of English will bring their ESL skills to another level.


Critical Thinking

Master critical thinking skills in ESL classroom

Seven informative videos with an accompanying transcript explore the timely concept of critical thinking and show its application to ESL students’ lives. Each topic has two or three comprehension and/or production activities  – with accompanying suggested answers for teachers.

  • What is critical thinking? (video: 11:13)
  • Why is critical thinking important? (video: 12:50)
  • What is the difference between fact and opinion? (video: 10:18)
  • What is fake news? (video: 13:21)
  • What are critical thinking strategies?  (video: 11:10)
  • What are logical fallacies? (video: 11:10)
  • What is a good argument? (video: 11:46)

In the first video, for example, we define critical thinking, show 10 qualities of a critical thinker, examine three different types of questions, and look at two masters of question asking: Socrates and Sherlock Holmes.   

For the production activity, ESL students are asked to write a short paragraph describing Socrates. They also write a second paragraph showing how the Socratic method works.

Different Essay Types

Essay types for ESL learners

The course examines eight different types of essay. Each essay type is defined in a short text.  There is also reading or listening material accompanying each essay type.

  • Narrative nonfiction
  • Expository writing
  • Critical literary analysis
  • Comparison-and-contrast writing
  • Business writing
  • Persuasive writing
  • Definition writing
  • Argumentative writing

For example in narrative nonfiction, we address these issues:  the difference between narrative nonfiction and fiction, three key elements of narrative nonfiction, and stylistic elements such as figurative language.  

The listening text accompanying this lesson is a link to a Ted talk entitled “The clues to a great story.”

Project Based Learning

The AECT engages ESL learners in three stimulating projects. Students are invited to actively participate in building the course with the teacher and classmates in group work.

Story Project

Family story for ESL learners

In this engaging project, ESL students use their research skills and their knowledge of literary elements to become a family English language biographer. 

They get to interview a cherished family member and use the interview in speaking and writing activities. They present an oral profile, with accompanying visuals, of their family member and write a narrative nonfiction story.

Students are guided through the project with two helpful videos (4:43 and 6:31) explaining the project and the steps they need to follow to succeed.

After completing the activity I piloted, one student commented,

Learning about a family member and doing the whole interview process was really fun! . . . it’s interactive, interesting and teaches you a lot about your family.

Job Search Project

Write a CV

This real-world project has four sections that relate to ESL students’ fields of study.  Students are guided in:

  • Creating a LinkedIn profile (video: 11:28)
  • Writing an application letter  (video: 12:31)
  • Creating a CV (video: 7:58)
  • Composing a cover letter (video: 8:25)

Each section has a video and accompanying transcript. For each section, there are two or three comprehension and writing activities, totalling 10 activities. 

There are also six helpful resources to guide students in the writing process. For example, in the section, “Write a CV,” there are three resources: a Sample CV, Phrases to sell yourself, and a 20-point checklist for reviewing a CV. 

Debate Project

Debate Project in ESL Classroom

This motivating project is a highly successful activity that I have been using for several years. There is a video introducing ESL students to the project (10:59). In the video, students learn about the purpose of the project – a group activity – and how to prepare for it. They learn a classic debate model and the language they can use in a proper claim, rebuttal, and conclusion. Students do research on the Internet from useful links we provide them. 

They then participate in the debate which serves as oral speaking activity. Finally, ESL learners write an argumentative essay with help of the Virtual Writing Tutor. Students receive valuable automated corrective feedback. This is a unique feature of the course. 

Other Special Features
Formative Feedback

AECT integrates the Virtual Writing Tutor, a free online tool. It helps students improve writing and speaking in English. The Virtual Writing Tutor checks grammar and punctuation, verifies paraphrasing, improves word count, helps to master English pronunciation, and so much more. Students are encouraged to work with it regularly for maximum benefit.

Writing Workshop
Learn ESL writing skills

There are a series of videos and accompanying transcripts on note-taking (8:24), paraphrasing (5:57), summarizing (4:29), quoting (7:55) and sentence variety (5:37).

Engaging Activities

The AECT encourages active participation in the course.

  • Students get to present a Short Talk, a brief audio-visual presentation, to their classmates. They choose to talk about a topic related to their field of study.
  • Students get to create and design their own blog at blogger.com. It is their personal archive to all course work. They are invited from time to time to share a post with the teacher and classmates.

The Actively Engaged in Critical Thinking is a turn-key solution to your online teaching needs available at Bokomaru Publications.

Watch the introductory video in the series.

If you have any questions about the course, you can contact me at frank@frankbonkowski.com.

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