Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education


This thesis provides a linguistic theorisation of critical thinking manifested in student argumentative writing. Literature has indicated that much of the work on critical thinking focuses on concepts from the critical thinking movement. These concepts draw on philosophical, cognitive psychological and educational theoretical foundations, which are largely hypothetical and are often contested. The literature, however, has also fundamentally conceived argumentation as an underlying principle of critical thinking, which involves skills in constructing a coherent line of reasoning, evaluating and examining differing perspectives on an issue, and establishing a stance with regard to these perspectives. Such conception becomes a basis for a linguistic focus in this study to provide a comprehensive account of how these aspects of critical thinking skills implicate the use of language in writing.

The theorisation of the important aspects of critical thinking was substantiated through a detailed, multi-layered linguistic analysis of the patternings of meanings students enacted in constructing an argument in discussion texts. These texts were produced before and during a course of an intervention program that implemented a genre-based pedagogy in a regular Writing IV subject in two iterations. The pedagogic intervention equipped the students with the necessary knowledge about language to manage the demands of the texts. Eighteen texts representative of three high and three low achieving students were analysed with tools from a social semiotic theory of language as meaning, Systemic Functional Linguistic (SFL), to show the students’ developing meaning potential, or ontogenesis for constructing the argument. The development indicating particular choices of meaning that were made and more valued from the overall meaning potential of language signified the emergence of the students’ skills in thinking critically. Two main aspects within the SFL theory constituted the core theoretical foundation for the linguistic analysis of the students’ texts – genre theory as a theorisation of meaning making at the level of context, and the APPRAISAL systems as a theorisation of meaning making at the level of discourse semantics.

FoR codes (2008)

200401 Applied Linguistics and Educational Linguistics, 200403 Discourse and Pragmatics, 130207 LOTE, ESL and TESOL Curriculum and Pedagogy (excl. Maori)



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.