Critical thinking activities engage students' logic, rationality and judgment in problem-solving inquiries. English classes benefit from critical thinking activities because the activities activate students' prior knowledge, encourage creative thinking and stress the importance of evidence-based problem solving. Ten-minute critical thinking lessons serve as engaging and thought-provoking opening assignments that tune students in to the day's lessons.
Simple logic puzzles require application of logic, reason and creativity to identify the correct answer. Riddles, brain teasers and logic games activate students' creative and critical minds and prepare them for a day of critical inquiry. Write a few brain teasers on the board; students immediately sit and begin to write down their answers. Sample brain teasers might include, "Do they have a Fourth of July in England?", "What is boiled then cooled before being sweetened and soured?" or "How many books can you put in an empty bag?" Include more difficult brain teasers for older students and simpler puzzles for younger students. Invite students to share and debate their answers before revealing the correct answer. See Resource 1 for a comprehensive list of brain teasers and logic puzzles.
Judge and Jury
Evaluation, analysis and judgment are all critical thinking skills that are particularly useful in an English classroom that requires close reading and analytical writing. Invite students to introduce to the class perceived injustices occurring in their school. Students may feel angry over a new dress code, a shortened lunch period or a new discipline policy. The student gives a one-minute summary of the problem and then has two minutes to prepare his best arguments against the infraction. Another student serves as a challenger and has two minutes to prepare her best arguments in support of the policy. The students each have one minute to present arguments. The class then votes on which student presented the best argument. If time permits, allow students to discuss why one set of arguments was more appealing than the other. The student debater who wins the class over receives a prize, such as extra points on an assignment.
Draw from the material used in the classroom to craft opening assignments that stimulate critical thinking. Select a character from the current text and ask students a series of analytical or self-reflective questions about the character. You might ask, "If this character were a student in our classroom, would you want to sit near her? Why or why not?" or "Would this character make a good friend? Partner? Parent? Why or why not?" Questions should require students to evaluate the characteristics of the character and apply them to real-life situations or contexts beyond the context of the book. Students share and debate their responses with the class.
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