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Short critical thinking activities, what if you could....
Critical thinking does not always have to involve long, detailed projects! Incorporate these short activities in your existing curriculum to help your students challenge their assumptions, expand their mindset, and experience a class they’ll never forget.
Explain to an extraterrestrial.
When we become deeply immersed in a topic, it can be easy to overlook basic principles that are nevertheless important. This activity encourages students to think in detail about the basic processes and assumptions underlying your course content.
This activity challenges students to evaluate assumptions they may have made about the solution they have developed to a problem. What assumptions might not be true? What are the possible flaws in their plans?
It can be easy to argue our own side in a controversy, but it can build our critical thinking skills to see the other side. This activity guides students through developing a dialogue between two characters with opposing views.
The world – and especially the internet – is full of answers to our questions. But how do we identify reputable sources of evidence? This activity will help students evaluate the strength of evidence from multiple sources.
What information would you be sure to share with the jury if you were called as an expert witness in a trial? Use this activity to help students compare and contrast evidence and arguments to determine what will make the strongest case.
Fact vs. Opinion
It can sometimes be easy to confuse our opinions or the opinions of others as facts. This activity guides students through deciding what statements are facts and which are opinions.
How far have we come and where are we going? Use KWL charts to help your students track what they already know, want to know, and have learned throughout your course.
What works for one student may not necessarily work for others. Use Learning Journals to help students track their learning approaches and progress to identify the techniques that work best for them.
What is the current status of a problem in your field and what would the ideal state look like? Use this activity to help students identify the forces that facilitate and delay progress toward that ideal state.
WCTL Critical Thinking Workshop
Quick wits: encouraging students to think more deeply .
“How do you know?” “Has it always been this way?” “Is your source credible?”
Are you looking for innovative ways to encourage your students to think more deeply and critically? This one-hour workshop offers an overview of critical thinking skills and provides ideas for short class assignments that can easily be added to your current curriculum. We hope you enjoy this recording!
Facilitated by Dr. Karissa Peyer, HHP, WCTL Faculty Fellow in Program Development.
Click to download the PowerPoint slides . Other Spring Events: Faculty Fellow Spring 2022 Webpage Further Information: Contact [email protected]
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Click the above link to view Word documents for all the handouts for this chapter.
Student Learning Outcome
Students will identify fallacies in reasoning, increase awareness of the scientific method, describe cognitive biases, practice the steps in critical thinking, examing moral reasoning scenarios, and practice creative thinking techniques.
Critical Thinking Exercise: Crime and Punishment
This critical thinking exercise is based on a current news article in which a young woman was arrested for selling $400 worth of heroin to an undercover police officer in 1974. She was sentenced to a 10-20 year prison term, but escaped after 8 months. She was caught 34 years later in 2008. She had become a model citizen with 3 children that she had raised as model citizens. She was returned to Michigan to complete her jail sentence. Her family and friends petitioned the governor for clemency. The details are described in the exercise, Crime and Punishment . These is also a worksheet that helps students work through the steps of critical thinking for this case. See the Critical Thinking Worksheet: Crime and Punishment .
Review the concept that critical thinking involves looking at a problem from many points of view. Divide students into discussion groups for this exercise. Have each group write a different point of view on the board. As a summary, have students volunteer to state their personal values and reasonable point of view at the end. This exercise is included in the printed text and available as a supplement for the online edition.
You can use any interesting and complex current event or social issue for this type of exercise. Copy interesting shows or news specials from TV and use them for this exercise. Topics that have been good for class discussion include elections, health issues such as smoking, welfare, violence in the schools, and cults such as Heaven’s Gate. If they are complex and controversial, you will get a variety of opinions and the discussion will be interesting. This exercise works well if students respect each other’s point of view. If it becomes a debate, students can get sidetracked and have difficulty going through the critical thinking process.
Critical Thinking Exercise: Assisted Suicide
A critical thinking exercise on the controversial topic of assisted suicide for terminally ill patients is available as a supplemental exercise. See the Critical Thinking Exercise: Assisted Suicide and the Critical Thinking Worksheet: Assisted Suicide for this exercise. You can also use any current complex issue in the news. When using these exercises with your class, emphasize that they are complex and controversial issues. The purpose of discussing them is to practice a critical thinking process rather than to reach a solution. Stress that there is no right answer, only reasonable views. Ask students to respect each other’s point of view. Try to be neutral on these issues and wait until the end of the discussion to share your reasonable view.
For the assisted suicide article, have students discuss the issue in groups and fill out the work sheet provided at the end of the chapter. You can divide students into groups and ask each group to summarize a different point of view. Write these headings on the board: the judge in the courtroom, the husband, the wife, the children (of this couple), medical doctors and a member of the clergy. Sometimes students even want to write down the point of view of animal rights groups. Wait until the groups have begun the discussion and ask for groups to volunteer to write the point of view for each topic written on the board. You might suggest that certain groups take a particular topic to match their interests. For example, if a group is talking about religious issues, assign this group to write under the religious heading. If they are talking about the law, have them pretend to be the judge and write their answers under the legal heading. After the different points of view are written on the board, objectively read through them with the class. Often the group suggests additional ideas, but remind the group that we are just trying to understand the different points of view without making a judgment at this point. After the discussion, have each student write his or her own reasonable view. Ask for volunteers to share some of their reasonable views as a summary. Ask students to be aware of their own particular mindset and to respect views that may be different from their own. Save your reasonable view for last and share it with the class.
Stress the fact that there is no right or wrong answer to these situations. Each person will construct his or her reasonable view based on personal values and experiences. What is important is to think through the process and look at the problem from many different perspectives.
Critical Thinking about Your Decisions
Use the worksheet, Critical Thinking about your Decisions , to help students to apply what they have learned about critical thinking to their own decisions.
Examples of Fallacies in Reasoning
Recognizing fallacies in reasoning is an important part of critical thinking and can help students to avoid using them or allowing someone else use them for their own purpose, power, or financial gain. Ask students familiarize themselves with the fallacies in reasoning presented in this chapter. Then have them look for a news editorial, magazine article, or advertisement to illustrate a fallacy in reasoning. Students can then paste this example to a sheet of paper and identify and explain the fallacy. These papers can be posted in the classroom or presented to the class. (From Carla Edwards, Instructor, Cuyamaca College, El Cajon, CA)
Fun with Critical Thinking
Have some fun using thes brainteasers to engage your students in critical thinking using the handout, Fun with Critical Thinking . (From Paul Delys, Cuyamaca College)
Moral Reasoning Exercise
Analyze this dilemna using the stages of moral reasoning:
Mr. Allen's son was seriously injured but he had no car to take him to the hospital. He approaches a stranger and asks to borrow the car, but the stranger refused saying that he had to go to an important appointment. Mr. Allen steals the car by force to take his son to the hospital. Was it right for Mr. Allen to steal the car? Use the handout, A Moral Dilemna , to analyze this scenario and guide students through the stages or moral reasoning.
Jeopardy Play jeopardy with the fallacies in reasoning definitions and examples presented in this chapter. Use the PowerPoint template for the Jeopardy Game . Just substitute your own questions on the slides.
Brainstorming with a Peanut Exercise
For this exercise, you will need to bring peanuts in their shells for each of your students and a timer. Review the rules for brainstorming listed in the text and on the Brainstorming Exercise . For the first half of the exercise, have the students do the brainstorming individually. Set the timer for 3-5 minutes and challenge them to come up with 10 answers before the time is up. The first question is, "How is this this peanut like me?" Half way through the time, remind them that they should have at least 5 answers. Remind the students that they can be wild and crazy and come up with unusual answers. Challenge them to use their imagination.
At the end of the time allowed, ask them to place an asterisk (*) next to their best items. Ask for volunteers to share their best answers. Here are some answers that have been given in the past:
How is this peanut like me?
It is wrinkled, like me.
It is brown, like me.
It cracks under pressure.
What you see is not always what you get.
Everyone is different.
It just sits in class. You can find both of us at ballgames. I can make any sandwich delicious.
For the second half of the exercise, do the brainstorming as a group and have students call out as many ideas as possible in the five minutes. Pose the question, “How is this peanut like going to college?” and ask for answers from the class as a whole. Remind students that they can steal other’s ideas, add to them or change them around. For a warm-up, share some of these ideas:
How is this peanut like going to college?
There are 2 nuts inside; one is the teacher and the other is the student.
We’re all nuts to a degree. Some professors are nuts.
We both went to _________’s class today.
College drives me nuts. A bag of peanuts is like a room full of students, all different shapes and sizes and not anyone is the same. The college professor is the peanut farmer and the student is the peanut. A good farmer makes for good peanuts. Sometimes a class is not all it's cracked up to be.
You have to pay for peanuts, just like you have to pay for college (only peanuts are way cheaper!) The instructor is the farmer and the students are the peanuts. The first step in cracking a peanut is cracking the shell. The first step in college success is cracking a book. A peanut can be used for many things such as peanut butter or peanut oil. College helps use to develop our skills to prepare for a variety of careers.
After the brainstorming exercise, go over the other ways to cultivate creativity:
Serendipity Relaxed attention
Idea Files Visualization
Journal Critical Thinking
Brainstorming: How to Graduate from College
Have students brainstorm the answer to this question, "What are all the things that could interfere with graduating from college?" Then have students choose one item from the list and generate as many solutions for this problem as possible. This is a good creativity exercise as well as getting students to apply creative problem solving to their own lives.
Creative Visualization with a Light Bulb Exercise
Bring an ordinary light bulb to class. Hold the light bulb in your hand so that everyone can see it. Ask students to close their eyes and see if they can still visualize the light bulb in their minds. Ask students to raise their hands if they can see the light bulb in their imagination. Then ask them to visualize the following:
Turn the light bulb on.
Turn it off.
Turn the light on.
Change the color to blue.
Change the color to yellow.
Change the color to green.
Change the color to orange.
Make the light bulb bigger.
Change the light bulb into a television screen.
See your favorite program on the screen.
Change the channel.
Turn the television off.
See another light bulb.
Turn it into a flashlight.
Shine the flashlight on a dog.
Make the dog bigger.
Turn the dog into a cat.
Hear the cat meow.
Turn the cat into a bird.
Put a light bulb in each hand.
Pretend that your light bulbs are jet engines and run down the street for a take-off.
Zoom off into the air.
Circle over your house.
Circle over your city.
Zoom away and look at the mountains.
Zoom back to your house.
Throw the light bulbs away and open your parachute.
Float down into your back yard and tell someone that you are home.
I’ll bet that you never thought that you could make a jet plane out of a light bulb!
You can if you use your imagination.
The above exercise was adapted from Robert F. Eberle, “Developing Imagination Through Scamper” printed in Sidney J. Parnes, Ruth B. Noller and Angelo Biondi, Guide to Creative Action , (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977).
The Tomatoes Exercise
Bring two tomatoes to class. Hold up the tomatoes and ask the students to come up with as many different words or proper nouns as possible using only the letters in the word “tomatoes.” After five minutes, write the numbers 10-20 on the board. Ask how many students came up with 20 words or more. Tally the result. Then list the number of people who were able to write 19 words and so on down the list to 10 words.
Then ask students to join together with three other students. Using the word, “tomatoes,” see how many words the group can come up with in 5 minutes. Again tally the results. Usually the groups are able to come up with many more ideas than individuals. You can make this exercise more interesting by offering a prize to the group that comes up with the most words. When the exercise is complete, discuss the idea of synergy. When two or more people work together and share ideas, the result is greater than any one person could produce.
For Online Classes
Online Discussion Questions
Here is a link to a Word document with all my online discussion questions: Online Discussion Questions
The topic for this week's discussion is critical and creative thinking. For the critical thinking part, give an example of a fallacy in reasoning. Here are some examples: 1. When my children were very young, I would tell them to brush their teeth in the evening. I told them that if they did not brush their teeth, the sugar bugs would eat their teeth all night and eventually their teeth would turn green and fall out. By predicting dire consequences, we try to influence behavior. This is an example of using slippery slope. Maybe some of you child development majors would have a better way of getting children to brush their teeth, but this worked for me. Here is another example: When my daughter was in middle school, she died her blond hair black. I asked her why she did it and she said that she was tired of blond jokes. She was the victim of the stereotype that all blondes are dumb.
For the creative thinking part, read about creativity and brainstorming and have a little fun with this exercise. Provide at least 3 answers to these questions: 1. How is a peanut like you? Here are my answers. 1. A peanut is wrinkled, like me. 2. A peanut is curvy like me. 2. I have a hard outer shell and a soft inner shell. How is a peanut like going to college? In every classroom there are at least 2 nuts, the instructor and at least one student. The squares on the peanut remind me of rows of chairs in the classroom. 3. There is usually something good on the inside.
- Feb 7, 2020
11 Activities That Promote Critical Thinking In The Class
Updated: Sep 1, 2022
What is Critical Thinking?
Critical thinking is a 21st-century skill that enables a person to think rationally and logically in order to reach a plausible conclusion. A critical thinker assesses facts and figures and data objectively and determines what to believe and what not to believe. Critical thinking skills empower a person to decipher complex problems and make impartial and better decisions based on effective information.
Critical thinking skills cultivate habits of mind such as strategic thinking, skepticism, discerning fallacy from the facts, asking good questions and probing deep into the issues to find the truth.
Importance of Acquiring Critical Thinking Skills
Acquiring critical thinking skills was never as valuable as it is today because of the prevalence of the modern knowledge economy. Today, information and technology are the driving forces behind the global economy. To keep pace with ever-changing technology and new inventions, one has to be flexible enough to embrace changes swiftly.
Today critical thinking skills are one of the most sought-after skills by the companies. In fact, critical thinking skills are paramount not only for active learning and academic achievement but also for the professional career of the students. The lack of critical thinking skills catalyzes memorization of the topics without a deeper insight, egocentrism, closed-mindedness, reduced student interest in the classroom and not being able to make timely and better decisions.
Benefits of Critical Thinking Skills in Education
Certain strategies are more eloquent than others in teaching students how to think critically. Encouraging critical thinking in the class is indispensable for the learning and growth of the students. In this way, we can raise a generation of innovators and thinkers rather than followers. Some of the benefits offered by thinking critically in the classroom are given below:
It allows a student to decipher problems and think through the situations in a disciplined and systematic manner
Through a critical thinking ability, a student can comprehend the logical correlation between distinct ideas
The student is able to rethink and re-justify his beliefs and ideas based on facts and figures
Critical thinking skills make the students curious about things around them
A student who is a critical thinker is creative and always strives to come up with out of the box solutions to intricate problems
Critical thinking skills assist in the enhanced student learning experience in the classroom and prepares the students for lifelong learning and success
The critical thinking process is the foundation of new discoveries and inventions in the world of science and technology
The ability to think critically allows the students to think intellectually and enhances their presentation skills, hence they can convey their ideas and thoughts in a logical and convincing manner
Critical thinking skills make students a terrific communicator because they have logical reasons behind their ideas
11 Activities that Promote Critical Thinking in the Class
We have compiled a list of 11 activities that will facilitate you to promote critical thinking abilities in the students.
1. Worst Case Scenario
Divide students into teams and introduce each team with a hypothetical challenging scenario. Allocate minimum resources and time to each team and ask them to reach a viable conclusion using those resources. The scenarios can include situations like stranded on an island or stuck in a forest. Students will come up with creative solutions to come out from the imaginary problematic situation they are encountering. Besides encouraging students to think critically, this activity will enhance teamwork, communication and problem-solving skills of the students
2. If You Build It
It is a very flexible game that allows students to think creatively. To start this activity, divide students into groups. Give each group a limited amount of resources such as pipe cleaners, blocks, and marshmallows etc. Every group is supposed to use these resources and construct a certain item such as building, tower or a bridge in a limited time. You can use a variety of materials in the classroom to challenge the students. This activity is helpful in promoting teamwork and creative skills among the students.
It is also one of the classics which can be used in the classroom to encourage critical thinking. Print pictures of objects, animals or concepts and start by telling a unique story about the printed picture. The next student is supposed to continue the story and pass the picture to the other student and so on.
4. Keeping it Real
In this activity, you can ask students to identify a real-world problem in their schools, community or city. After the problem is recognized, students should work in teams to come up with the best possible outcome of that problem.
5. Save the Egg
Make groups of three or four in the class. Ask them to drop an egg from a certain height and think of creative ideas to save the egg from breaking. Students can come up with diverse ideas to conserve the egg like a soft-landing material or any other device. Remember that this activity can get chaotic, so select the area in the school that can be cleaned easily afterward and where there are no chances of damaging the school property.
6. Start a Debate
In this activity, the teacher can act as a facilitator and spark an interesting conversation in the class on any given topic. Give a small introductory speech on an open-ended topic. The topic can be related to current affairs, technological development or a new discovery in the field of science. Encourage students to participate in the debate by expressing their views and ideas on the topic. Conclude the debate with a viable solution or fresh ideas generated during the activity through brainstorming.
7. Create and Invent
This project-based learning activity is best for teaching in the engineering class. Divide students into groups. Present a problem to the students and ask them to build a model or simulate a product using computer animations or graphics that will solve the problem. After students are done with building models, each group is supposed to explain their proposed product to the rest of the class. The primary objective of this activity is to promote creative thinking and problem-solving skills among the students.
8. Select from Alternatives
This activity can be used in computer science, engineering or any of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) classes. Introduce a variety of alternatives such as different formulas for solving the same problem, different computer codes, product designs or distinct explanations of the same topic.
Form groups in the class and ask them to select the best alternative. Each group will then explain its chosen alternative to the rest of the class with reasonable justification of its preference. During the process, the rest of the class can participate by asking questions from the group. This activity is very helpful in nurturing logical thinking and analytical skills among the students.
9. Reading and Critiquing
Present an article from a journal related to any topic that you are teaching. Ask the students to read the article critically and evaluate strengths and weaknesses in the article. Students can write about what they think about the article, any misleading statement or biases of the author and critique it by using their own judgments.
In this way, students can challenge the fallacies and rationality of judgments in the article. Hence, they can use their own thinking to come up with novel ideas pertaining to the topic.
10. Think Pair Share
In this activity, students will come up with their own questions. Make pairs or groups in the class and ask the students to discuss the questions together. The activity will be useful if the teacher gives students a topic on which the question should be based.
For example, if the teacher is teaching biology, the questions of the students can be based on reverse osmosis, human heart, respiratory system and so on. This activity drives student engagement and supports higher-order thinking skills among students.
11. Big Paper – Silent Conversation
Silence is a great way to slow down thinking and promote deep reflection on any subject. Present a driving question to the students and divide them into groups. The students will discuss the question with their teammates and brainstorm their ideas on a big paper. After reflection and discussion, students can write their findings in silence. This is a great learning activity for students who are introverts and love to ruminate silently rather than thinking aloud.
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How can students own their learning with critical thinking activities they’ll really love? Allowing our students to take stands on issues that matter to them engages the classroom in a way that fosters great critical thinking.
Who? What? Why? When? Where? How? When they can relate these questions to themselves and exercise personal self-reflection, we build community and “heart-centered” learning.
Let’s get to the critical thinking skills that really matter. From www.facinghistory.org , here are some amazing critical thinking activities that you can do with your students.
10 Great Critical Thinking Activities
Attribute Linking—Building Community by Taking Perspectives
Students pair up according to similar physical attributes determined by the facilitator. These include hair color, eye color, hand size, and height. For each attribute, students discuss times when they were discriminated against because of it. They then take on the roles as victim, perpetrator, or bystander and discuss.
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.
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 (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 ready made visual record of thought for later.
Body Sculpting—Using Theatre to Explore Important Ideas
Students are given time to consider their feelings on a thought-provoking abstract or concrete image. Next, they come up with words that describe their reactions—trapped, free, angry, joyful, etc. They are then paired up and one person is the sculptor, while the other is the “clay.” The sculptor poses the clay into a form that artfully displays the word they wish to portray. Here are some guidelines:
- Sculptors can either physically mold the “clay” or act as a mirror for them to show the “clay” the position/image they want.
- Images can be concrete or abstract.
- Sculptors must treat their clay with gentleness and respect (very important!).
- There are no wrong answers; whatever image you get is fine.
- All body sculpting must be done in silence.
Understanding different viewpoints is a great way to delve deeply into a topic. 5 to 10 students are given character sheets. These might 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.” Don’t forget to go over guidelines on how to respectfully disagree! Allow at least 20 minutes for a conversation.
Other Critical Thinking Activities
Jigsaw—Developing Community and Disseminating Knowledge
Students take on the role of “experts” or “specialists” of a particular topic. Then a panel of experts is assembled to get the larger picture.
K-W-L Charts—Assessing What We Know/What We Still Want to Learn
Charts to document “What I Know” and “What I Want to Know” and after learning has occurred, “What I Learned.”
Think, Pair, Share—Facilitating Discussions in Small and Large Groups
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.
In groups, create a dramatic script based on the ideas within a given text. Do not script word for word. The idea is to get off the page and represent the idea in the students’ own words.
Bring It to Your Classroom
Allowing students room to think deeply and discuss openly during critical thinking activities is the key to them taking true responsibility for the learning. Through these kinds of activities, we foster real thinkers and life-long learners.
For a great resource for critical thinking activities that are instantly usable in your class and includes full assessment rubrics and more, pick up a copy of our Critical Thinking Companion .
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Mar 21, 2016, updated September 18, 2021
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9 Critical Thinking Exercises That Actually Improve Your Mind
Anthony Metivier | November 26, 2021 | Thinking
After all, the Internet is loaded with generic exercises like “read books written by leaders.”
Sorry, but that’s not a specific exercise. That’s a generic activity.
On this page, we’ll dive into specific exercise for critical thinking targeted at specific outcomes. Each exercise is designed to help you boost precise aspects of thinking so you can feel improvement as you go.
First, however, it’s good to understand what makes an exercise worthwhile.
So let’s dive in.
9 Critical Thinking Exercises That Create Laser Sharp Intelligence
Authentic critical thinking exercises must always involve:
- New learning by working with information you have not encountered before
- Variety so that you experience growth in multiple areas and don’t “burn out” on just one area
- Varying levels of complexity so you experience different challenges
- Consistent practice over time
Follow those guidelines and you will succeed.
Critical Thinking Exercises For Students
Students have many needs. Above all, they need to be able to understand how people make arguments and substantiate their claims with evidence.
One: The News Exercise
One great source for practice is the news.
For this exercise, head over to any news website. Look for an article that includes graphs, numbers, or any representation involving numerical data.
Here’s the kind of news representation I’m talking about:
As you examine the news, ask the following questions:
- How is the news trying to help you understand the data?
- Does the representation of the data make sense?
- How can you determine whether or not the graph is reliable?
- How can you determine whether or not the presenter is reliable and free from bias?
This is a power exercise that will sharpen your mind whenever you are presented with scientific data.
Two: The Abilities Exercise
Do you know anyone living with a disability?
I do and you can learn more about my mentor Jon Morrow in his article 7 Life Lessons from a Guy Who Can’t Move Anything but His Face .
After reading his post, imagine what it would be like if you could only move one part of your body. Write an essay that describes how exactly your life would change from the way it is.
Three: The Research Response Exercise
Take the following argument:
Pesticides harm the environment more than they’re worth.
As you think through this statement, answer the following questions:
- What kind of research do you need to conduct in order to answer both for or against this statement?
- How would you outline your responses? Use a structure like this: “if A then B, and if B then C, and if C then D, and in conclusion, if A then D.”
Critical Thinking Exercises For Business
People in business need to successfully navigate sales meetings and negotiate multiple levels of management in their careers. Here are some critical thinking exercises that will help you develop skills in these areas.
Four: The Prison Exercise
Pretend that you’ve been hired to sell a neighborhood council on building a new maximum security prison. This particular neighborhood is upper-class and filled with mansions.
What benefits can you bring together to explain why it would be a great thing for this neighborhood to house prisoners in this area?
What incentives can you include in the full package? As you consider both the benefits and the incentives, reign yourself in.
You want to think logically in order to make this a critical thinking exercise. If you indulge in flights of fancy, then it will be creative thinking exercise instead.
Anytime you get off track, these critical thinking examples will help you get back on this path.
Five: The Facial Expression Exercise
One way to improve business success is to develop your empathy.
For this exercise, gather a number of photographs from the newspaper or some magazines.
As you look through the photographs, practice identifying the emotions. If you feel like you’re lacking in vocabulary for the task, consider reading The Dictionary of Emotions . You can also use an online dictionary or thesaurus to come up with words.
Next, do some role playing. Pick one person from the photographs and imagine meeting them in real life.
List all the questions you would ask them in order to connect with them better based on the emotion you listed when you first saw the photograph.
Six: The Competitor Exercise
Think about your competitors in business.
As you go through each, list their purpose for being in business. What is it that they are trying to accomplish?
Be non judgemental, realistic and focus on the most significant aspects of their purpose.
Then, think about how you can contribute to the growth of their success without damaging your own.
Obviously, this is a very tricky critical thinking exercise, but I’m confident you’ll find it beneficial. If you’re into sports or any other realm where competition plays a role, this exercise is also helpful.
And if you really want to learn about critical thinking so you’re a master, check out these critical thinking books .
Critical Thinking Exercises For Adults
As mentioned, exercises that stimulate our thinking abilities are best if they are targeted at a particular outcome.
However, there is some room for general exercises that are good for everyone. Let’s have a look at some of my favorites.
Seven: The Stakes Exercise
Many times when you’re listening to an argument, it’s easy to get hung up on the details.
A great exercise is to simply ask: What’s at stake?
This means, what’s the real core issue? And who benefits the most if they get to be right on the issue?
As you complete this exercise, but sure to go through both the objective and subjective reasoning of both sides.
Also, you’ll benefit if you continually focus on how many possible answers might exist. It’s not always the case that there’s one and only one correct answer, even if situations require us to pick just one.
You’ll want to also spend time interpreting the information on both sides of the argument, and possibly doing follow-up research. In fact, if you don’t, it’s unlikely that you’ll improve your reasoning skills as much as you’d like.
Eight: Make An “Argument Map”
I’ve talked a lot about mind mapping on this blog. But there’s another powerful process called argument mapping .
This technique goes back to Plato. If you’ve read the Meno , you might remember how Socrates draws a set of figures in the dirt to display the concepts that come up during the discussion.
These days, we can use pen and paper or software to create an argument map. Here’s one from Evan Rodriguez .
To create one yourself, pick an argument where multiple reasons are involved and break things down.
In this example, Rodriquez has separated the “because” reasons and then used the graph to help him sort through the truth by visualizing a set of if/then parameters.
Creating such argument maps provide tremendous exercise. They’re also relatively quick to produce.
You might also enjoy learning more about the history of what is sometimes called “graphicacy.” Look up people and processes like:
- Ars combinatoria
- Giordano Bruno
- Petrus Ramus
- John Venn (who introduced Venn diagrams)
- Peirce’s Existential Graphs
Nine: Memorize the Fallacies
One of the best critical thinking exercises is to learn the fallacies so well you know them when you see them.
There are at least two kinds of fallacies: Formal and informal. This list of fallacies is very thorough.
To commit as many of these as possible to memory, you’ll want to learn a technique called the Memory Palace . I’m happy to help you learn it here:
Let’s say you want to memorize argumentum ad lapidem or the “ appeal to the stone ” fallacy.
You can memorize the Latin and English along with the meaning by thinking about a chair in your home and imagining yourself having an argument with a stone. In this image, you’re calling the stone’s arguments absurd without providing any evidence for why you believe this to be the case.
It’s a powerful technique and will help you spot fallacies in everyday life. Commit as many to memory as you can.
The Ultimate Critical Thinking Exercise
For thousands of years, people have asked “Who am I?”
You might not think about this as an exercise that relates to critical thinking, but if you really submit to the question as a practice, it helps your thinking across the board.
When you take away your name, your title, the roles you play in your profession and all the games of life, who are you really? Is there a “true self” in the mix that you can always trust to be the same?
To practice this exercise with more structure, get 15-20 index cards and write down personal qualities on each. They can be qualities like:
Sit down, take a deep breath and mix the cards.
Then, pick one of the cards and reflect on how that quality is perceived by others in your life:
Family, friends, co-workers. You might want to learn about how to think about yourself through the perspective of authors through my autobiographical memory post first. Or just dive in.
Next, imagine what it would be like if that quality was completely gone from your life. Who would you be without it? Can you glimpse your true self without this label?
Then pick up another card and repeat the process, linking each with a deep breath. Then follow-up by journaling on your experiences. Making sure to write after completing each of the exercises on this page is key to benefiting from the reflective thinking skills you’ll also want to grow.
Thank you for reading this article, and if you enjoyed these exercises, please consider going through these powerful brain exercises next.
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Critical thinking is a skill that students develop gradually as they progress in school. While the skill becomes more important in higher grades, some students find it difficult to understand the concept of critical thinking .
The reason critical thinking can be difficult to grasp is because it requires students to set aside assumptions and beliefs to learn to think without bias or judgment.
Critical thinking involves suspending your beliefs to explore and question topics from a "blank page" point of view. It also involves the ability to distinguish fact from opinion when exploring a topic.
These exercises are designed to help develop critical thinking skills.
Critical Thinking Exercise 1: Tour Guide for an Alien
This exercise provides an opportunity to think outside your normal way of thinking.
Pretend that you have been assigned the task of conducting a tour for aliens who are visiting the earth and observing human life. You're riding along in a blimp, viewing the landscape below, and you float over a professional baseball stadium. One of the aliens looks down and is very confused by what he sees. You explain that there is a game going on and he asks several important questions.
- What is a game?
- Why are there no female players?
- Why do people get so excited about watching other people play games?
- What is a team?
- Why can't the people in the seats go down on the field and join in?
If you try to answer these questions fully, it will quickly become apparent that we carry around certain assumptions and values. We support a certain team, for instance, because it makes us feel like we're a part of a community. This sense of community is a value that matters to some people more than others.
Furthermore, when trying to explain team sports to an alien, you have to explain the value we place on winning and losing.
When you think like an alien tour guide, you are forced to take a deeper look at the things we do and things we value. Sometimes they don't sound logical from the outside looking in.
Critical Thinking Exercise 2: Fact or Opinion
Do you think you know the difference between fact and opinion? It's not always easy to discern. When you visit websites, do you believe everything you read? The abundance of available information makes it more important than ever for students to develop critical thinking skills. Additionally, it's an important reminder that you must use trustworthy sources in your school work.
If you don't learn the difference between fact and opinion, you may end up reading and watching things that continue to reinforce beliefs and assumptions you already own.
For this exercise, read each statement and try to determine whether it sounds like a fact or an opinion. This can be completed alone or with a study partner .
- My mom is the best mom on earth.
- My dad is taller than your dad.
- My telephone number is difficult to memorize.
- The deepest part of the ocean is 35,813 feet deep.
- Dogs make better pets than turtles.
- Smoking is bad for your health.
- Eighty-five percent of all cases of lung cancer in the U.S. are caused by smoking.
- If you flatten and stretch out a Slinky toy it will be 87 feet long.
- Slinky toys are fun.
- One out of every one hundred American citizens is color blind.
- Two out of ten American citizens are boring.
You will probably find some of the statements easy to judge but other statements difficult. If you can effectively debate the truthfulness of a statement with your partner, then it's most likely an opinion.
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- Thoughtful learning
Become a better critical thinker with these 7 critical thinking exercises
Critical thinking is a skill you can use in any situation. Whether you're a student, entrepreneur, or business executive, critical thinking can help you make better decisions and solve problems.
But learning critical thinking skills isn't always an easy task. Many tools, techniques, and strategies are available, and choosing the right one can be challenging. Vague suggestions on the internet like "read more" aren't very helpful, and elaborate business examples don’t apply to many of us.
As average problem-solvers, we need actionable thinking exercises to improve our critical thinking skills and enhance our thinking processes. Regularly performing exercises that specifically stretch our decision-making and reasoning skills is the most effective method of improving our thinking abilities.
This article will explore several exercises that will help you develop critical thinking skills. Whether you are preparing for an exam, making an influential decision for your business, or going about your daily life, these fun activities can build your reasoning skills and creative problem-solving abilities.
Boost your logical thinking skills and start practicing a critical mindset with these 10 critical thinking exercises.
A Quick Look at Critical Thinking
As a thoughtful learner, you likely already understand the basics of critical thinking, but here's a quick refresher.
Critical thinking involves analyzing problems or issues objectively and rationally. Critical thinkers are able to understand their own biases and assumptions, as well as those of others. They’re also able to see the world from a different point of view and understand how their experiences impact their thinking.
Developing critical thinking skills is essential because it allows us to see things from multiple perspectives, identify biases and errors in reasoning, and be open to possible solutions. Making informed decisions is easier when we have a better understanding of the world around us.
Why We Need to Practice Critical Thinking
We aren't born with critical thinking skills, and they don’t naturally develop beyond survival-level thinking. To master critical thinking, we must practice it and develop it over time.
However, learning to think critically isn't as easy as learning to ride a bicycle. There aren't any step-by-step procedures to follow or supportive guides to fall back on, and it is not taught in public schools consistently or reliably. To ensure students' success, teachers must know higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) and how to teach them, research says.
Unfortunately, although teachers understand the importance of HOTS and attempt to teach it, studies show that their capacity to measure students' HOTS is low. Educator and author Dr. Kulvarn Atwal says, "It seems that we are becoming successful at producing students who are able to jump through hoops and pass tests."
As critical thinking skills become more important in higher grades, some students find it challenging to understand the concept of critical thinking. To develop necessary thinking skills, we must set aside our assumptions and beliefs. This allows us to explore and question topics from a "blank page" point of view and distinguish fact from opinion.
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7 Critical Thinking Exercises To Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills
The good news is that by assessing, analyzing, and evaluating our thought processes, we can improve our skills. Critical thinking exercises are key to this improvement. Our critical thinking builds and improves with regular practice, just like a muscle that gets stronger with use.
If you want to become a better critical thinker , here are some critical thinking exercises to try:
Exercise #1: The Ladder of Inference
You can exercise your critical thinking skills by using the Ladder of Inference model . This thinking model was developed by renowned organizational psychologist Chris Argyris. Each rung on the ladder of inference represents a step you take to arrive at your conclusions.
The decision-making process starts when we are faced with a problem or situation. As soon as we observe something problematic or important, we presume what is causing it, and then we use that assumption to draw conclusions. Based on those conclusions, we take action.
For example, say you're at a party and see a friend across the room. You catch their eye and wave, but they turn and walk away. Using the ladder, you might climb the rungs as follows:
- Observe that your friend walked away.
- Select a few details of the situation, including your wave and your assumption that they saw you.
- Meaning is attached based on the environment, making you think your friend must have other people to talk to at the party.
- Assumptions are made based on that meaning, assuming that means your friend doesn’t like you as much as them.
- Conclusions are drawn from the assumption, and you determine that your friend must be mad at you or doesn't want you to be at the party.
- Beliefs are formed, making you think you're not welcome.
- Action is taken, and you leave the party.
In this example, you started with a situation (someone walking away at a crowded party) and made a series of inferences to arrive at a conclusion (that the person is mad at you and doesn't want you there).
The Ladder of Inference can be a helpful tool to frame your thinking because it encourages you to examine each step of your thought process and avoid jumping to conclusions. It's easy to make assumptions without realizing it, as in this scene. Perhaps your friend never even saw you wave from across the crowded room.
Exercise #2: The Five Whys
The "Five Whys" technique is an analytical skill that can help you uncover the source of a problem. The activity was created by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota, and consists of repeatedly asking “why?” when a problem is encountered to determine its root cause.
This exercise can be difficult because knowing if you've discovered the source of your problem is challenging. The "five" in "Five Whys" is just a guideline — you may need to ask more. When you can't ask anything else, and your response is related to the original issue, you've probably arrived at the end.
Even if you need several rounds of questioning, just keep going. The important part that helps you practice critical thinking is the process of asking "why?" and uncovering the deeper issues affecting the situation.
For instance, say you're trying to figure out why your computer keeps crashing.
- You ask " why ," and the answer is that there's a software problem.
- Why? Because the computer keeps running out of memory.
- Why? Because too many programs are running at the same time.
- Why? Because too many browser tabs are open .
- Why? Because multitasking is fragmenting your focus, you're doing too many things at once.
In this example, working through the "why's" revealed the underlying cause. As a result, you can find the best solution, which is concentrating on just one thing at a time.
Exercise #3: Inversion
Inversion is another critical thinking exercise that you can use in any situation. Inversion is sort of like taking on the role of the devil's advocate. In this exercise, adopt the opposite view of whatever issue you're exploring and consider the potential arguments for that side. This will help broaden your critical thinking skills and enable you to see other perspectives on a situation or topic more clearly.
For example, let's say you're thinking about starting your own business. Using inversion, you would explore all of the potential arguments for why starting your own business is bad. This might include concerns like:
- You could end up in debt.
- The business might fail.
- It's a lot of work.
- You might not have time for anything else.
By exploring these potentially adverse outcomes, you can identify the potential risks involved in starting your own business and make a more sound decision. You might realize that now is not the right time for you to become an entrepreneur. And if you do start the company, you'll be better prepared to deal with the issues you identified when they occur.
Exercise #4: Argument Mapping
Argument mapping can be a beneficial exercise for enhancing critical thinking skills. Like mind mapping, argument mapping is a method of visually representing an argument's structure. It helps analyze and evaluate ideas as well as develop new ones.
In critical thinking textbooks, argument diagramming is often presented to introduce students to argument constructions. It can be an effective way to build mental templates or schema for argument structures, which researchers think may make critical evaluation easier .
Argument maps typically include the following:
- Conclusion: What is being argued for or against
- Premises: The reasons given to support the conclusion
- Inferences: The connections made between the premises and conclusion
The argument map should be as clear and concise as possible, with a single word or phrase representing each element. This will help you make connections more easily. After the map is completed, you can use it to identify any weak points in the argument. If any areas aren't well-supported, additional premises can be added.
Argument mapping can be applied to any situation that requires critical thinking skills. The more time you take to map out an argument, the better you'll understand how the pieces fit together. Ultimately, this will help you think more creatively and critically, and make more informed decisions.
Exercise #5: Opinion vs. Fact
Critical thinking activities that focus on opinions and facts are particularly valuable and relevant new learning opportunities. Our constantly-connected world makes it easy to confuse opinions and facts , especially with sensationalist news articles and click-bait headlines.
How can you tell a fact from an opinion? Facts are generally objective and established, whereas opinions are subjective and unproven. For example, "the cloud is in the air" is a fact. "That dress looks good on you" is an opinion.
Practice your critical thinking skills by reading or listening to the news. See if you can identify when someone is stating an opinion rather than a fact. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Who is saying what? What reasons might be behind their statements?
- Does the claim make sense? Who would disagree with it and why?
- How can you tell if the data is reliable? Can it be fact-checked? Has it been shared by other credible publishers?
- How do you know whether or not the presenter is biased? What kind of language is being used?
This powerful exercise can train your mind to start asking questions whenever presented with a new claim. This will help you think critically about the information you're taking in and question what you're hearing before accepting it as truth.
Exercise #6: Autonomy of an Object
In her book " The Critical Thinking Tool Kit ," Dr. Marlene Caroselli describes a critical thinking exercise called "Living Problems, Lively Solutions." This exercise uses the autonomy of an object as a problem-solving tool to find a possible solution.
To do this, you'll personify your problem and place it in another context — a different time or place. This allows you to uncover unique solutions to the problem that might be tied to your mental associations with that setting.
For example, if your problem is poor time management , you might personify the issue as a thief of your time. The idea of a thief could make you think of jail, which might prompt thoughts of locking up specific distractions in your life. The idea of jail could also make you think of guards and lead you to the possible solution of checking in with an accountability buddy who can make sure you're sticking to your schedule.
The autonomy-of-object technique works because it stimulates thoughts you wouldn’t have considered without the particular context in which you place the problem.
Exercise #7: The Six Thinking Hats
Designed by Edward de Bono, the Six Thinking Hats is a critical thinking exercise that was created as a tool for groups to use when exploring different perspectives on an issue. When people use other thinking processes, meetings can become challenging rather than beneficial.
To help teams work more productively and mindfully, de Bono suggests dividing up different styles of thinking into six categories, represented as hats:
- The white hat is objective and focuses on facts and logic
- The red hat is intuitive, focusing on emotion and instinct
- The black hat is cautious and predicts negative outcomes
- The yellow hat is optimistic and encourages positive outcomes
- The green hat is creative, with numerous ideas and little criticism
- The blue hat is the control hat used for management and organization
With each team member wearing a different hat, a group can examine an issue or problem from many different angles, preventing one viewpoint (or individual) from dominating the meeting or discussion. This means that decisions and solutions reached using the Six Thinking Hats approach will likely be more robust and effective, and everyone’s creative thinking skills will benefit.
Train Your Brain With Critical Thinking Exercises
Using critical thinking regularly in various situations can improve our ability to evaluate and analyze information. These seven critical thinking exercises train your brain for better critical thinking skills . With daily practice, they can become habits that will help you think more critically each day.
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