Critical Thinking Resources for Middle School TeachersBy Room 241 Team • November 9, 2012
Middle school teachers of all subjects are interested in fostering critical thinking in their classroom, but it’s not always an easy task to incorporate in the never-ending quest to match lesson plans to state learning standards. Here are seven resources that will easily add critical thinking to your lesson plans.
The Critical Thinking Community
The Critical Thinking Community is a resource site designed to encourage critical thinking in students. There are teaching strategies, a glossary of important terms, as well as articles by thought leaders in critical thinking, such as one by Bertrand Russell on the importance of developing critical thinking skills. Visit the site.
Here are some recommended pages for critical thinking strategies for the middle school classroom.
- Teaching tactics: Strategies teachers can use to encourage critical thinking in class. For example, asking students to read the instructions of an assignment and then repeat them in their own words. Visit the page.
- Remodeled lessons: How to take a routine lesson plan and remodel it to foster critical thinking. The page has five standard lesson plans, a critique of why they should be changed, and suggestions for improving the lesson plan. Visit the page.
- 35 dimensions of critical thought: Strategies are organized into three groups: Affective, Cognitive Macro-Abilities, and Cognitive Micro-Skills. Each strategy details its importance for student development. Visit the page.
Success story: tips for teaching critical thinking
KIPP King Collegiate High School has developed 10 ideas for teaching critical thinking. These methods are applicable for middle school aged students, giving them exposure to thinking critically before arriving to high school. One notable technique from KIPP is to teach students to constantly ask questions. Visit the page.
Critical thinking in the 21st century
Microsoft Education offers material for teaching critical thinking for the 21st-century student. What’s special about this guide is its focus on thinking critically on the Internet. Lesson plans focus on fine-tuning search skills, how to evaluate discoveries and then incorporate findings in student work. Visit the site.
Creative and critical thinking activities
On teachers.net Gazette, a teacher named Emmy recommends five specific activities that are easy to use, take little preparation, and stimulate creative thinking. The most popular feature of this site is its teacher collaboration. Visit the page.
Back to basics
This site details the basics about critical thinking: what it is, the characteristics, and why it should be taught. It also provides several differing perspectives about critical thinking for readers to consider. Different teaching strategies are also discussed, plus links to helpful resources. Visit the site.
Riddle me that
BrainDen.com has a large number of critical-thinking riddles and brain teasers that can be used in the classroom. The answers are provided for the teacher as well as tips for stimulating further discussion on the topic. Teachers can use the exercises as warmup activities at the beginning of class, or at the end of class on days when work is unexpectedly completed early. Visit the site.
Discovery Education has a “Brain Boosters” section listing specific logical thinking challenges and brain teasers that students love. The activities can be done with groups or individually. The answers are provided for the teacher. Visit the site.Tags: Engaging Activities, Middle School (Grades: 6-8)
Rock or Feather?
A Critical-Thinking Activity
A simple activity can reveal much about the students you work with each day. Students make and defend their choices in this activity, called Rock or Feather? Included: Comments from teachers who've used the activity -- and a printable activity sheet!
Are you more like a rock or a feather? summer or winter? the city or the country? Which word in each of those word pairs best describes you, your personality, your dreams?
That's the idea behind a very simple activity that teacher Dick Fuller calls Rock or Feather? Last fall, Fuller shared the activity with members of an online listserv for middle-school teachers. Many teachers tried the idea and continue to use it.
Fuller, an exploratory teacher at Renfroe Middle School in Decatur, Georgia, first used the Rock or Feather? activity when he was an Outward Bound teacher. The idea behind the activity is simple, he says. Students make choices. For example, are they rocks or feathers? They have to choose one -- the one that describes them the best -- and they have to be able to explain why they made the choice.
Students might consider the following pairs:
- drama or comedy
- rock band or string quartet
- clothesline or kite string
- Big Mac or sirloin steak
- river or pond
- bat or ball
"Of course, a lot of kids want to be able to pick something in the middle," added Fuller. That isn't allowed, however.
Some teachers might use the activity as a simple either-or checklist; kids use a pencil to mark their choices and a follow-up discussion ensues. Fuller puts a little more action into the activity. "Just to make it interesting and physical," he said, "instead of using it as a work sheet exercise, I make all the kids stand in the middle of the room. Then, for each pair of words, they have to move to one side of the room or the other. This makes it a little tougher for them because their actions are right out there and they can't hide."
Teacher Janice Robertson likes the Rock or Feather? activity so much that she uses it as an icebreaker when school opens. "The activity quickly let me know which kids have higher-level reasoning [skills], which kids are shy about speaking out loud, and which kids are followers," said Robertson, a seventh-grade teacher at Tecumseh Public School in Mississauga, Ontario.
Like Fuller, Robertson lets her students move around the room when she uses the Rock or Feather? activity. "The students really appreciate being able to move around, and they watch in amazement as some of their peers choose and justify their -- to them -- bizarre selections," she told Education World.
The variations on the Rock or Feather? activity are endless. Some teachers use it as a simple checklist. Others give the assignment for homework and ask students to write the reasons for their choices. Some use the individual word pairs as prompts for journal writing. Others invite students to think up word pairs to add to the activity.
All agree that it's a great opportunity to challenge students to think critically, make choices, and learn about themselves and others.
"I use the activity as a time filler in my eighth-grade health classes," said Anitha Diol, a health teacher at Dowagiac (Michigan) Middle School. "The students always laugh when I tell them their options. The students seem to like it, and I enjoy learning more about them."
Some teachers use another variation on the activity -- one that uses four corners of the room rather than two sides. One teacher posted to Middle-L some examples of four-choices questions:
- Are you a 911 Porsche, a Cadillac Seville, a Toyota Camry, or a Ford Windstar?
- Are you a mansion, a farmhouse, an apartment, or a semi-detached?
- Are you an elephant, a gazelle, a Siamese cat, or a falcon?
"I have to confess I did use the four-corner ones because I like forcing adolescents to make decisions," added Robertson. "I also wrote the words on construction paper and had them arranged in piles -- one pile in each corner. When we were ready to go to the next group of choices, one student in each corner lifted the top card. I really believe that, whenever possible, being able to see the words as well as hear them helps students think."
Dick Fuller has tried yet another twist with eye-opening results. He has the advantage of teaching seventh graders in a single-sex setting. Last year, he did the activity with his all-boy and all-girl classes. This year he did it with the same kids, who are now in mixed-gender eighth-grade classes.
"In the seventh grade, girls and boys could be either a rock or a feather," recalled Fuller. "They could justify their answers and there was no competition between the sexes to get in the way. In that all-male setting, there was mutual acceptance of all the answers. [The same was true in the all-girl classes.] With the same group, now in a mixed class in the eighth grade, all the girls were feathers and all the boys were rocks! From that, we had a springboard into a good talk about stereotypes.
"Boys not only will talk, they want to talk," added Fuller, who has observed that in his all-boy classes. "I believe, however, they are not given much opportunity and they are forced to suffer from lack of expression because 'real men' don't express their feelings.... Separated, without the competition of girls in the class, they will talk about the double standards they face, how they pick role models, their fears and successes, and the pain of death and divorce. They just need to be given the chance."
Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor in Chief
Copyright © 2005 Education World