Someone with critical thinking skills is being able to understand the logical connections between ideas, identify, construct and evaluate arguments, detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning.
This skill is developed among students by engaging them in activities that require them to process questions and come out with solutions for the same helping them to develop this skill.
In order to help students develop this skill and come out with uncommon thoughts, it is important for educators to understand the role they play in developing critical thinking is different than the role they are typically playing. For students to be engaged in critical thinking, the educator needs to act as a facilitator to allow for discussion and encourage a wider and open thought process, as well as to encourage understanding of the different perception of every individual that comes with thinking critically. Also engaged in this skill, it is important to understand that students do not always end with a right answer, but instead sometimes ends in more questions or differing evaluations of the topic.
Below are some activities recommended for teachers that they can implement in the classroom to help students develop critical thinking skill and prepare them for a better future.
1. If You Build it…
This team-building game is flexible. You simply have to divide students into teams and give them equal amounts of a certain material, like pipe cleaners, blocks, or even dried spaghetti and marshmallows.
Then, give them something to construct. The challenge can be variable (think: Which team can build the tallest, structurally-sound castle? Which team can build a castle the fastest?).
You can recycle this activity throughout the year by adapting the challenge or materials to specific content areas. Apart from critical thinking students also learn to collaborate and to work in groups.
In this activity first asks students to consider a question on their own, and then provide them an opportunity to discuss it in pairs, and finally together with the whole class. The success of such activities depends on the nature of the questions posed. This activity works ideally with questions to encourage deeper thinking, problem-solving, and/or critical analysis. The group discussions are critical as they allow students to articulate their thought processes.
Re-group as a whole class and solicit responses from some or all of the pairs.
Advantages of the think-pair-share include the engagement of all students in the classroom (particularly the opportunity to give voice to quieter students who might have difficulty sharing in a larger group), quick feedback for the instructor (e.g., the revelation of student misconceptions), encouragement and support for higher levels of thinking of the students.
3. The Worst Case Scenario
Construct a scenario in which students would need to work together and solve problems to succeed, like being stranded on a deserted island or getting lost at sea/jungle/town. Ask them to work together and come out with a solution that ensures everyone arrives safely. You might ask them to come up with a list of 10 must-have items that would help them most, or a creative passage to safety. Encourage them to vote everyone must agree to the final solution.
4. Go for Gold
This game is similar to the “If you build it” game: Teams have a common objective, but instead of each one having the same materials, they have access to a whole cache of materials. For instance, the goal might be to create a contraption with pipes, rubber tubing and pieces of cardboard that can carry a marble from point A to point B in a certain number of steps, using only gravity.
5. Keep it Real
This open-ended concept is simple and serves as an excellent segue into problem-based learning. Challenge students to identify and cooperatively solve a real problem in their schools or communities. You may set the parameters, including a time limit, materials and physical boundaries.
6. Gap Fill In
Students are shown a picture, projected in the front of the room, if possible. At the top of their paper, students should write: “What is happening in this picture?” At the bottom of the page, they should answer with what they believe is happening in the photo simply in 1-2 sentences or according to the age/grade this activity is being done with.
In the middle of the page students write down all of the steps they took to arrive at that answer. Students are encouraged to write down the evidence they see that supports their conclusion.
This activity not only uses evidence, but supports Meta cognition skills by asking what prior knowledge brought you to your conclusion. This is a good activity to Bell Work or “Do Now.”
Set up an inner circle and an outer circle in your classroom. Students should not be sitting in this setup yet, but rather in their regular classroom seats. The class should be presented with a question or a statement and allowed to reflect individually for a few minutes.
During this reflection period, count the class off into small groups by 3s, 4s, or 5s.
Students should now transition to the fishbowl setup. In the numbered groups, have students facilitate a conversation while others on the outside observe without comment. (For example, a teacher may have all 1s go to the fishbowl, while the rest of the class sits in the outer ring.)
Once the inner group has discussed for a bit, have the outer group evaluate two things: Their process is they actually listened to one another and their content from knowing whether they are providing evidence or just opinions.
8. Big Paper – Building a Silent Conversation
Writing (or drawing) and silence are used as tools to slow down thinking and allow for silent reflection, unfiltered. By using silence and writing, students can focus on other viewpoints. This activity uses a driving question, markers, and Big Paper. 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 readymade visual record of thought for later.
9. Barometer—Taking a Stand on Controversial Issues
When posed with a thought-provoking 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 individuals in each area of the continuum to speak about their stand. The students use “I” statements when stating their opinion.
10. Journal Data Goals
Last but not the least, Students must be asked to maintain journals and update them on a regular basis. This can be done in the form of a blog as well. By doing so students become their own progress monitors and can assess the growth within oneself.