Teach Writing, Save the World Using Critical Thinking Strategies

Have you ever looked back through a file you (or your parent) kept of your schoolwork? Isn’t it amazing how rereading something can instantly bring back all the “feels” you had when you wrote it? Even re-reading something as mundane as an old book report can make you remember the story, where you were when you read it, the teacher who assigned it, maybe even who sat next to you in class. Reading what your earlier self-wrote gives you a window into the person you were at the time, what critical thinking skills you used, and what you thought was worth paying attention to. Looking back over a multiple-choice quiz won’t bring back nearly as much. I’ll bet you or your parents didn’t bother to put many (or any) of those in that school memories file.

The value of learning to write and to write well is vital not only to fostering student achievement, but to growing the types of thinkers, citizens, and leaders we want in our communities. Writing on Demand’s Daily Writing to Learn the Curriculum follows five key practices for building critical-thinking writing capacity in students across subject areas. Teachers choose from over 12 critical-thinking writing strategies to support the essential question of a lesson, and students respond with a writing strategy to explain what they understand. As students begin using these critical-thinking writing strategies, instead of a multiple-choice model that has been imprinted on their minds, we need an equally concrete and specific structure for them to embrace that is not as dulling in its use. It is important to find an alternate strategy that gives students new and engaging ways to respond to the world of new knowledge they meet day after day in school. The Either … Or strategy offers such a critical-thinking strategy. The strategy prompts students to consider two opposing responses that can be supported in, of course, either one way or the other.

Which is more American, expansion or immigration?

Thinking adults see immediately that the question can be answered, and supported, in either way, a perfect prompt for the Either … Or strategy. For students of U.S. history in grade 5, 8, or 11, the response varies. It depends upon whether they focus on the growing influence of the United States as economic, political, and cultural leader of the free world or as an opportunity open to foreigners in search of a better way of life. In responding to Either … Or prompt after another in courses across the curriculum, they learn that

  • Every issue has more than one possible response.
  • A writers’ responses depend on the writers’ point of view.

At a time when it is nearly impossible to go a whole day without hearing the term “fake news,” it’s more important than ever that students systematically develop media literacy skills. Writing helps us understand ourselves and what we value. When we know how to wield language to persuade, inspire, move, and engage readers, we learn to spot it when other writers are putting the same moves on us. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of helping students develop critical skills of thinking and analysis. In fact, it is THE task of the decade. We need to develop students who can understand the words on the page or the screen and how and why the author is using them. We need students to go beyond that basic textual analysis and identify the context in which those words are placed. We need students to hear which voices are included, and to notice which voices are left out. It’s not a stretch to say, “learn to write, save the world.”


Combs, Warren. Writing on Demand, Daily Writing to Learn the Curriculum, 2021,

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