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Help Students Build Critical Thinking Skills

written by: Julia Bodeeb • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 8/2/2012

This article presents two activities to help Social Studies students build their critical thinking skills. Using one's mind to "question everything" is a very important skill to hone during the high school years.

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    Teach Them Their Opinions Count!

    It is extremely important to help students develop critical thinking skills to enable them to achieve success in college and future careers. So much of education is passive; students often spend too much time simply listening without being given a chance to develop their opinions and practice their critical thinking and speaking skills.

    Have a class discussion about bias in the media and how to develop the mindset of questioning everything one reads. Tell students that each media outlet has its own slant on the way it portrays the news. Thus critical thinking skills are crucial to learn how to determine the true facts about any news event in the world.

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    Do “Circle” Talks about World Topics

    It is interesting to see how the class dynamic changes when one arranges the classroom desks into a circle. This seating arrangement allows students to make eye contact with each other as they discuss world issues.The day or week before this project, give students a choice of three topics to research on the Internet, by reading newspapers and watching news shows. Tell students to find and list on note cards at least 10 facts on their topic of choice and to be prepared to voice their opinion on the topic and tell why they hold that opinion.

    On the day of the project students will be reminded to use their note cards from their research. The class will sit in a circle and will discuss topics related to world issues. The teacher will have chosen topics that are controversial such as “The War in Iraq,” “Should Abortion be Legal or Illegal?”and “Is Global Warming Fact or Fiction?”

    Remind students to use their facts to back-up their opinions. Give each student time to talk on the topic of his choice. Remind students that participation is mandatory and they will be graded on their use of critical thinking and presentation skills.

    Asses student work on this project by collecting their note cards, giving a grade for research, and also grading their speaking and critical thinking skills for their time spent presenting their opinion.

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    Do “Point & Counterpoint” Presentations in Teams

    Ask each student to pick a partner to work with on this project.Tell each group to pick one topic on which they have opposing viewpoints.The class will be given one class period to do Internet research to find facts and examples about their topic.

    Each student will present his own opinion and then the team members will also do a point/counterpoint segment during which they will rebut the main points of their opposing team member. Remind students to stick to their facts. Tell the class to avoid a personal attack on the partner with the opposing viewpoint.

    This project will be graded by analysis of the use of fact to support one’s opinions and also on the ability to present ideas clearly and logically.