Use of Content Based Instruction and Socratic Discussion for ESL Undergraduate Biomedical Science Students to Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Ronan L. Burder, Kathy Tangalakis, Deanne H Hryciw


Content based language instruction can assist English as a second language (ESL) students to achieve better learningand teaching outcomes, however, it is primarily used to understand content, and may not help to develop criticalanalysis skills. Here we describe a pilot study that used a ‘Socratic’ small-group discussion in addition to contentbased instruction, to enhance critical thinking skills in ESL Biomedical Science students. Students were provided adetailed protocol for the analysis of a research journal manuscript and participated in a Socratic discussion. Studentswrote evaluative pieces to summarize the manuscript’s topics, both before and after the small-group discussion.Overall, a third of all students displayed an improved critical thinking score based on Bloom’s taxonomy. However,only 20% of ESL students improved their critical thinking score, while 42% of non-ESL students improved. Despitethis, students agreed that the Socratic discussion improved their understanding of science and enhanced their abilityto review scientific literature. Importantly, ESL students believed that the discussion made them feel positive abouttheir ability to read scientific literature. Thus, specific tools for enhancing critical thinking in the ESL student groupshould further be developed, with investigation of the retention of these skills warranted.

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Copyright (c) 2014 Ronan L. Burder, Kathy Tangalakis, Deanne H Hryciw

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Journal of Curriculum and Teaching ISSN 1927-2677 (Print) ISSN 1927-2685 (Online)  Email:

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