How to Write Critically: Fundamental Five

Let’s be honest. Many students do not understand how to write. Many students shun writing. Many students despise school because of writing. The research is proof. Look for it. The experience in the classroom is also the proof: Ask any teacher.

Authors of Fundamental Five—Sean Cain and Mike Laird (2011)—argue that teachers do not allow students to write enough in the classroom. They cite teachers seem to operate under the misconception that writing critically requires producing many pages, and because of the laborious work entailed in writing, teachers choose not to teach writing (p. 82).

Cain and Laird (2011) also claim teachers focus on the end product and that is the reason teachers misunderstand the power of the process of students writing critically.

Agreeably, many critics blame teachers for students’ lack of knowledge of writing, and some research supports this notion, as it seems reason enough to speculate if students do not understand how to write, then a great part of the reason must be the teachers’ fault since they are accountable for teaching writing, especially English teachers. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Maybe. Maybe not.

NOTE: Seminal research requires all core teachers to include forms of writing in their instruction.

In this post, the writer examines critical writing, not every day writing. There is a big difference.

Every day writing—taking notes, delineating content, filling in blanks, copying words—is not a form of writing critically.

According to Fundamental Five, writing critically is related to the taxonomy of Bloom’s, a hierarchical model used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity (1950).

Critical writing entails students to practice augmenting their thinking through a critical writing process that requires the students to take a subconscious idea, expand on that idea, connect it to other subconscious ideas, and bring that to the conscious level through the tangible level of writing (Fundamental Five, p. 82).

Specifically, according to Fundamental Five, critical writing practice includes a short comparison paragraph, a quick summary, a mind map, or even a formal essay.

These exercises provide opportunities for students to think critically about writing; the writing idea is for students (and teachers) to focus on the key term “critical,” which indicates the intent to distill abstract thoughts into concrete understandings (p. 83).

The benefits of writing critically support the literacy strands of reading and writing and speaking and thinking.

A quote in Cain and Laird’s book serves to explain the importance of literacy: “Any significant deficiency in reading entails a parallel deficiency in writing: Any significant deficiency in writing entails a parallel deficiency in reading” (Paul and Elder quoted in Fundamental Five, p 85).

The inference is that students need opportunities to read good literature to possess something tangible to write about.

These types of stories can be related to life or to students’ personal lives, and students would then be inclined to write.

Plausible, yes?

Still, Cain and Larid’s idea remains that teachers believe writing is too much for students to handle; therefore, they do not teach it.

Thus, how may the teacher’s perception of teaching writing be improved so that students will gain the appreciation for learning how to write critically?

I, as a teacher, understand the idea that teachers may have the erroneous mindset that teaching writing is laborious.

Still, many factors surround the absence of teachers teaching writing. For one, teachers are charged with many core duties, and unless teachers are English teachers, many other teachers must force time and space to include writing in their lesson plans.

For many non English teachers, teaching writing is equivalent to English teachers teaching science or math, which they probably do not understand.

Thus, many teachers proceed with what they understand how to teach, and writing—to a certain extent—gets left behind.

English teachers, on the other hand, indeed teach writing of some sort. To my knowledge, only in recent years had it been mandated that English teachers teach critical writing.

Many English teachers would agree that teaching writing is important, and they probably can provide proof of their students’ writings. After all, they are English teachers.

However, in conjunction to teachers not teaching critical writing, a setback to teaching critical writing is that, in many public schools, students have only a rudimentary level of understanding about writing, and majority students balk at writing anything that seems longer than a paragraph or two or three sentences.

Students push and pull against writing to the extent that some teachers relinquish the idea to teach students critical writing.

The remedy is clear, however, and that is to teach writing regardless of students’ dislikes, yet to teach writing in a manner that students will tolerate.

If students are comfortable with writing only a paragrapgh, then they should be allowed to write only a paragraph.

When students grow into their writing, they can venture toward writing two or three paragraphs and eventually write an entire essay.

Approaching writing by paragraphs allows students to benefit from Bloom’s Taxomomy.

Students may begin their learning of critical writing by showing their KNOWLEDGE and then by showing their COMPREHENSION.

Students may soon be taught how to add examples to their writing: APPLICATION.

Writing at higher levels, students may ANALYZE topics they have read by providing in-depth information through the application of quotes and the examination of their topics.

With more reinforcement for learning how to write critically, students can structure their topics creatively by applying the skill of SYNTHESIS and by illustrating many important literary critics’ point of views.

Finally, using Bloom’s Taxonomy, EVALUATION, students will be able to provide the implication for their writings.

If critical writing is taught using Bloom’s taxonomy and taught in intervals, perhaps by grade levels, or perhaps taught by spaced intervals throughout the school year, then students will increase their understanding of critical writing.

Of course, teachers will need to use creativity and to employ time management techniques to teach the different strands of literacy to make critical writing a success.

Thus, it makes sense to teach students how to think on deep levels through questioning: “Where have you seen a similar situation?” Why did this accident happen? How did the accident happen? What is the implication of the incident? What research supports your point of view?

As a teacher, ask higher order thinking questions, and guide students through responding to the questions.

Moreover, be patient with students because critical questions requires students to expound upon their comments, and many students have not yet learned to connect words to express themselves.

You as teacher must guide students to think and to write critically.

The emphasis is on teaching the literacy strands—in all contents—yet especially in English, so students will gain the knowledge they need to write critically.

Teachers must aim to teach writing more than not when they have a model to follow to help students with critical necessities of writing.

Many English teachers are naturally endowed with the skills required to teach critical writing. They may only need a reminder from themselves to do so.

Critical writing activity—connecting lessons to the real world—allows the teacher to stretch the rigor of any lesson, according to Fundamental Five.

There must be a level of accountability for engaging in critical thought. Teachers may teach and observe students to this very end: Teachers may observe themselves, and administration may observe and enforce the instruction of critical writing for all students and for every teacher. Non English teachers can use Bloom’s Taxonomy to take baby steps toward achieving this end of critical writing.

Fundamental Five has the right idea: Teach students how to write critically. Make the time to add critical writing assignments to lesson plans, and then implement the assignments.

Reminders for Teaching Critical Writing

  1. Make time to teach critical writing.

2. Embed literacy opportunities in every class.

3. Maintain the higher level of rigor for an extended period of time.

4. Work with other teachers to teach critical writing.

5. Allow students to write in their own way, and then add rigor for them to improve.

6. Apply creativity and time management to instruction.

Reference: Cain, S. and Laird, M. (2011). Fundamental Five. Cain and Laird.

For more ideas on curriculum and instruction, read Cynthia Mathews on Curriculum and Instruction. Amazon.

Cynthia Mathews


Doctor of Curriculum and Instruction

Published by cynthiamathews

I'm an innovative spirit, one who seeks new and practical ways to learn about life. I enjoy exploring innovative styles to motivate people to persevere in a challenging world. Having a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Curriculum & Instruction, I am inspired to maintain a life long learning experience that will allow me to share my knowledge with others. My expertise includes detecting apathy in individuals and prescribing ways to motivate them to be their best. To initiate this endeavor, I create and conduct personal and professional development programs. I write briefs and pamphlets and instructional guides to inspire, and I speak--upon request--to those who need a reminder of their inner excellence. My blog's main focus is to document my research on motivation and curriculum instruction and to share with subscribers the understanding, the ideas, and the strategies that result from my research. I am a native of Alabama, a teacher, and an author. I look forward to learning with you.

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