Beyond the Classroom: 5 Ways to Model Analytical Thinking for Your Middle-Schooler 

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

A parent’s modeling can create a foundation of critical thinking for children ages 9-15. Why do you need to start thinking about it now? Because of the elephant in the room: Standardized tests. While many question the validity of state tests, SATs, and ACTs, they’re not going away anytime soon. 

Though one can choose to opt out of standardized testing and/or apply to testing-optional schools, we can help our children build skills that can be used to test well. Parents are in the position of being able to best serve our children’s needs. And that begins with five ways to model their way to critical thinking:  

  1. Activate prior knowledge and connect ideas: When discussing a topic that interests both of you, ask questions to kick-start your brains. When my baseball-obsessed 10-year-old asked what I thought about the contract the Mets offered a player, I asked, “How did he do this year compared to the past?” and “What have other similar players made?” I warmed up my son’s brain to analysis, setting the stage for a robust learning experience. 
  2. Break down concepts into small chunks of information when kids become overloaded: Ask kids to stop when you are unclear about what they’re trying to communicate. Restate what you understand. Then ask them to resume until you can restate what they said. You are teaching them to control their learning process.  
  3. Visualize and reenact the gist of what you read: Most people need to activate two senses in order to deeply learn. Painting a picture in the mind or acting a narrative is key. Learning by using our senses stimulates neural connections.  
  4. Read the written word on paper versus on a device: Research shows we process more when we physically handle books or magazines. This is a big ask, so they must see us do this. Go to Barnes and Noble and browse the magazine section. Find magazines with topics of interest to both of you. Grab a muffin and decompress at the coffee shop. See what you discover together.  
  5. Nerd out with them about intellectual language that happens to be test prep language: While talking to my son about how much to pay one of our sports players, I interjected words like compare and contrast, synthesize, and analyze as we gathered data on the baseball free-agent market and synthesized and analyzed the information. 

Do you recognize any of these techniques? That’s because you’re probably already modeling. These are ways to do it more consciously. And will give you the chance to see how your children think, learn, and apply that knowledge.

Kevin Miller is a full-time tutor based in Tarrytown. You can reach him at or 


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About the Author: Kevin Miller