Marybelle wasn’t too sure. The last time Sammy had invited her out, they had ended up at a party she knew would infuriate her mother. Most of the kids there were seniors. There had been no parents present, and she thought she smelled marijuana. Sammy told her not to worry. Marybelle’s best friend said the same thing and added that her parents would never find out and that she should stop worrying and just have some fun. The more her friends talked, the higher Marybelle’s antennae went. This sounded like one of those times that her mother had talked about. “When smoke smells funny, there’s more than fire,” her mom had said…more than once. “Just figure it out, and get out.”

Critical thinking begins with the ability to analyze, the most prevalent thinking skill in the ELA standards. Analysis involves the tedious task of taking ideas and objects apart, looking carefully at the various components, and then reorganizing the ideas by the similarities and differences found. Analyzing is the opposite of synthesizing, the act of putting ideas together.
Analysis spills into many other thinking skills that require the parceling of information for the sake of clarity and understanding. This cognitive skill is inextricably linked to exercises in which similarities and differences are identified. For example, analysis is embedded in comparing and contrasting, classifying and sorting, discerning point of view and nuance, and prioritizing, sequencing, and delineating.
This table provides examples of what this thinking skill looks like and sounds like in the classroom.
Looks Like
Sounds Like
Students with their heads together, discussing a character’s strengths and weaknesses.

Students highlighting parts of speech in text by underlining or using colored markers.

Students sorting songs into musical genres with labeled piles.

Students color-coding parts of speech.
“This is one characteristic.”

“Here is an example of each quality.”

“This item belongs in this group.”

“There are forty units for each of the eight groups.”

“Let’s take this apart, piece by piece.”

Analysis may be the most valuable left-brain critical thinking skill for K-12 students. As Marybelle’s story suggests, analysis is also important when it comes to figuring out what’s up with friends outside of school walls. Inside or outside of school, analysis-the ability to figure out situations, make sense of schoolwork, understand how little clues can solve big problems or ease big decisions-is a premier survival skill for today’s young people.
Throughout their school experiences, students will be asked to perform rigorous analyses. In math, they will analyze data; in literature, they will analyze setting, theme, character, motivation, and relationships to plot; in chemistry, they will analyze soil; and in the visual arts, they will analyze a painter’s style. As they move out into the job world, they will analyze a financial statement, a political candidate’s position, or a complex healthcare statement.
Analysis is one of the basics in the thinking process. Unless it is done well, what follows as new learning will be flawed. In this sense, then, analysis is like the start of a race. The better the runner is able to get ready and get set, the better will be his or her start.

Adapted from:

Bellanca, J. A., Fogarty, R. J., & Pete, B. M. (2012). How to teach thinking skills within the common core: 7 key proficiencies of the new national standards. (pp. 15-16). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.