Developing Critical Thinking

Now that we’ve explored what critical thinking is and why it matters, it’s time to talk about building those skills. Wabisabi Learning has developed a number of resources you’ll find useful for critical thinking skills development including:

Beyond that, we’ve sourced a number of games and activities that are easy to implement in your classrooms. These activities are designed to engage learners in critical thinking on multiple levels.

The following critical thinking games build team work skills and collaborative capacity. Not only that, but your students will love them. You can find these inside our most sought-after resource The Critical Thinking Teacher’s Companion.

Paper Tower

This fun collaborative team-building exercise develops aspects of Solution Fluency, Creativity Fluency, and Collaboration Fluency. Each group constructs a free-standing tower out of newspaper and tape. 

It’s a fun and challenging activity encourages critical thinking and problem-solving. Which team can build the tallest, structurally sound free-standing tower? Throughout the process, students will start to realize there are questions they have that they didn’t ask. This is a perfect time to get them to explore how to answer these questions for themselves.

There isn’t a time limit for this exercise unless you want to establish one.

Worst-Case Scenario

In a crisis situation, teamwork is crucial to handling challenges effectively. Fabricate a scenario in which students need to work together and solve problems to succeed (ex: stranded on a deserted island, being lost at sea, etc.). The rule is that every team member must contribute an idea for a possible solution.

For example, they may want to come up with a list of 10 must-have items that would help them survive, or devise a plan to find a passage to safety. Arrange for them to vote so that everyone agrees to the final solution.

Little Steps, Big Change

Arrange the class into teams of 3-4 people and give them a period to map out a plan for how they want to improve something around the school. Have each team present their idea at the end of the period or beginning of the next. Finally, vote on each idea, and then see if you can all find a way to put that idea into practice.

Class Debates

Below is a list of scenarios to present for students to discuss and debate. They are based primarily on ethics and morality, and will encourage students to take a stand and defend their viewpoint. These can be done in pairs, but are much more compelling with larger class debate teams where views are divided. 

Richard finds an expensive looking ring in the school hallway one day. It has no name on it and it’s not near anyone’s locker. Should he:

  1. Give it to lost and found  
  2. Ask if it belongs to anyone there  
  3. Keep it and not say anything

Judy’s friend is stressed about an upcoming test. If she fails the test she’ll be kept back a grade and won’t be able to graduate with Judy and her other friends. Judy already took the test and got 100%, so she knows all the answers already. Should she: 

  1. Just give the answers to her friend  
  2. Use her knowledge to coach her friend  
  3. Not get involved at all

Coach Nelson has caught two of his star basketball players vandalizing school property. In this case, the rule is that they must be suspended. If that happens their team will lose the upcoming semi-finals without them. If the coach keeps quiet they’ll surely win, but he could lose his job. Should the coach: 

  1. Suspend the two players and obey the rules  
  2. Pretend he never saw them   

Nick overhears two students bragging about having posted some inappropriate images of a female student online for a joke. He is friends with both boys but has recently heard that they’ve done similar things to a few other female students in the past. Should he: 

  1. Mind his own business  
  2. Report the incident to the school principal  
  3. Confront the boys and defend the student

You witness a bank robbery and follow the perpetrator down an alleyway. He stops at an orphanage and gives them all the money. Would you: 

  1. Report the man to police since he committed a crime  
  2. Leave him alone because you saw him do a good deed

A friend tells you that he/she has been receiving anonymous bullying messages online. They explain the bullying has affected their grades because they’re having trouble focusing due to fear and depression. You suspect that certain people are guilty of sending these messages. Would you: 

  1. Tell your friend just to ignore them  
  2. Encourage them to report the abuse  
  3. Risk confronting the ones you suspect

Other Great Critical Thinking Activities

Enjoy these other critical thinking games and exercises from Facing History.

  • Barometer: After being given a prompt, students line themselves up along a U-shaped continuum representing where they stand on that issue. The sides of the U are opposite extremes, with the middle being neutral. The teacher starts a discussion by giving equal opportunity for everyone to speak about their stand. The students use “I” statements when stating their opinion.

  • Big Paper: By using silence and writing, students can focus on other viewpoints. This activity uses a driving question, markers, and Big Paper (poster-sized is best). Students work in pairs or threes to have a conversation on the Big Paper. Students can write at will, but it must be done in silence after a reflection on the driving question. This strategy is great for introverts, and provides a visual record of thought for later discussion.

  • Café Conversations: Understanding different viewpoints is a great way to delve into a topic. 5 to 10 students are given character sheets. They can include gender, age, family status (married, single, how many children, etc.), occupation, education level and significant life events. The group is also given a historical event or similar topic. Students can create identity charts in collaboration with each other to determine their character’s viewpoint. When they can adequately represent their character, what follows is a “cafe conversation.” Allow at least 20 minutes for a conversation (don’t forget to go over guidelines on how to respectfully disagree).

  • Jigsaw: Students take on the role of “experts” or “specialists” on a particular topic. Then a panel of experts is assembled to get the larger picture.

  • K-W-L Charts: Charts to document “What I Know” and “What I Want to Know” and, after learning has occurred, “What I Learned.”

  • Think, Pair, Share: A classic tool to guide students in relevant and meaningful discussion, and to build community.

  • Town Hall Circle: Like a real town meeting, individual students are “given the floor” and a time limit to express their views.

  • Reader’s Theater: In groups, create a dramatic script based on the ideas within a given text. Don’t script word for word; the idea is for students to get off the page and represent the idea in their own words.

 

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What is Critical Thinking?
Why is Critical Thinking Important?
Developing Critical Thinking
Improving Critical Thinking
Critical Thinking Questions
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