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As I was scrolling down the newsfeed on facebook the other day, I came across the following post:

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When someone looks at this sign, many things may go through their head:  where was this notice posted; who wrote it and why; why does it say “your son´s forgotten lunch, etc” and not your daughter´s?  Consequently, a whirlwind of assumptions might clutter the brain based on judgements, stereotypes and schema.  For example, a person may think: it can´t have been posted in Brazil because it is written in English (unless it was an English school); perhaps the Director of a school wrote it (or maybe a teacher); maybe boys are not as good at looking after their belongings as girls.  I was curious to know where this sign was posted and why the word “son” was written there.  I dug a little deeper and found out that this message was taped to the front door of a Catholic High School for Boys in Arkansas, the USA.  Apparently, there was also a message to parents that said “Welcome to Catholic High. We teach reading, writing, arithmetic and problem solving”.

In our modern daily lives, we are bombarded with information from all angles:  facebook, the media, people´s claims, etc.  The challenge nowadays seems to be how to filter so much information and sieve the real facts leaving false assumptions and, sometimes lies, behind.   One way to do this is by critical thinking, which is looked upon highly by many employers looking for employees who are skilled at solving problems, especially in teams.

What is critical thinking?

Basically, critical thinking is the ability to think reflectively and independently in order to make thoughtful decisions.  It involves asking the right questions, which help someone to assess the meaning and significance of claims and arguments.  For example, in the notice why does it say “son” and not “daughter”?  It involves taking a step back from a situation to see it from different angles before making judgements and taking decisions.  It does not mean being critical and finding faults in other peoples´ claims, but rather evaluating evidence to decide for yourself what is accurate and relevant.  Critical thinking is about discovering, learning and evaluating arguments and filtering for yourself what resonates as right or wrong.

Helping students to be critical thinkers

It can be very challenging to be critical thinkers as modern life is so hurried and many of us tend to make quick judgements based on information we receive.  Furthermore, some people are easily swayed by family or friends´ views on things.  In the classroom, teachers can motivate students to discuss topics and go that little bit further to express their own point of view and, consequently, make decisions.  Providing students with vocabulary they might need for a certain topic is essential for them to feel confident in expressing their views.  Giving students useful phrases to discuss a subject with others also helps them to sequence their ideas.

Below is a problem solving activity which can be used to build critical thinking skills.

Adopting a child    Level: B2

Instructions:  Show your students the picture below and tell them the following story:  A truck driver was in a gas station and was just about to get into his truck when he heard a baby crying.  He looked under his truck and saw a one-week old baby screaming right in front of the wheel.  He picked the baby up and took him to the authorities.  Now the baby is up for adoption and the authorities are looking for the ideal parents.

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Tell the students that in groups they are going to discuss who the ideal parents would be to adopt the child.  Give each student a copy of the criteria below and ask them individually to rank each item:  1 = very important and 5 = not important at all.

 

CRITERIA  FOR ADOPTING THE BABY

 

Rank the following items according to what you think:  1 = very important     5 = not important at all

 

The ideal parents should:

·        be under 30 yrs old

·        be of the same racial group as the child

·        be of the same religious group as each other

·        be a married couple

·        be a heterosexual couple

·        both have jobs

·        have other children in the family

·        not be living in poverty

 

Ask the students to discuss their ideas in groups of four.  Give each student a copy of the useful phrases below.

Agreeing Disagreeing
·        I completely agree with you.

·        I agree with your point of view.

·        By and large, I accept what you just said.

 

·        That´s how I feel too.

·        I am sorry but I don´t agree with you.

·        I respect your opinion, however I think that…

·        I am not totally convinced by what you said.

·        We´ll just have to agree to disagree.

 

As the students are talking, go round and listen to them talking and provide any vocabulary they may need.  The students do not necessarily have to come to a collective decision about the ideal parents.  What is important is that each student expresses their opinions and everyone respects each other.

The way forward

According to the Critical Thinking Community, “the intellectual roots of critical thinking are as ancient as its etymology, traceable, ultimately, to the teaching practice and vision of Socrates 2,500 years ago”.  Therefore, it is not a new concept.  It is, however, a very valuable skill to have in our modern day lives where we find ourselves having to filter large amounts of information on a daily basis.

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