What is critical thinking? What can help in the development of creative thinking skills? In this article, we give you ways to develop this faculty of thinking and some activities for the same.
The process of thinking that involves analytical evaluation of a situation is known as critical thinking. It involves critical discrimination between different points of view on a situation, and an analysis of every possibility of solving the problem. Critical thinking skills refer to the ability of weighing substantial and insubstantial as well as concrete and abstract factors governing a situation, in order to derive the best possible solution to a problem. How can you develop critical thinking skills? Are there exercises that help? Let us find out.
How to Develop Critical Thinking Skills
Critical thinking refers to the process of judging and coming to a conclusion, after evaluating a problem critically. It can be developed through the practice of analyzing every situation in life. Critical thinking skills can be developed by inculcating a habit of analytical thinking about real life scenarios. If you can get yourself into the habit of analyzing every situation critically, you will gradually acquire critical thinking skills.
Your educational background and profession plays a major role in the development of thinking skills. Education that inculcates a practice of analytical thinking and reasoning, leads you to become a critical thinker. The development of problem-solving and reasoning skills since an early age is an excellent way of developing critical thinking skills. Professions wherein you are required to evaluate information before reaching a conclusion help in the development of critical thinking. Exposing yourself to questions that encourage thinking can also help. Critical thinking is of importance in many professions. Analytical thinking is an attribute sought for, in jobs like engineering, information and system analysis, research and editing. Even film and media critics are required to be critical thinkers.
Now for the exercises that can help you develop critical thinking abilities. These exercises involve thinking is ways different from the usual and in a way that the subject at hand is handled critically.
For this critical thinking exercise, students have to establish a logical connection between different incidents and build a story.
For this activity, the students are given a set of incidents or a story (written in parts or with its end undisclosed). Students are asked to explain the logical connection between the events of the story and think of ways to extend it. They are also asked to suggest a title and a sign-off line for the passage and add to it, content of their own. This activity requires the students to think logically and reason every possible occurrence that can connect with the story. The students can be asked to extend the story by adding characters and incidents to it. This activity is thought-provoking as the open-ended story can be concluded in many different ways. Each one may have his own ways of extending the story and ending it. To better exercise thinking, you can have each student come up with more than one ways of extending the story.
It is a process of disciplined questioning that triggers thinking. It can be implemented by challenging the students with questions on complex issues or hypothetical problems.
The students are asked to analyze concepts, distinguish between facts and assumptions and give solutions for the problems. It can be an imaginary problem or a social or environmental issue on which the students are encouraged to think and voice their opinions. The Socratic thinking exercise prompts them to reassess their views and look at their opinions objectively.
Having the students count figures in a sketch or having them connect the dots in a certain way or so as to form a certain object, are good exercises to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Puzzles and questions that encourage the students to think creatively are sure to help them enhance their thinking skills and develop critical thinking. A simple example – ask the students to draw a certain number of dots in a predefined manner and then ask them to connect the dots with minimum number of straight lines. You can vary this exercise by introducing different dot patterns. Another exercise is to have them count certain figures in a given sketch. For example, sketch a big triangle and join various points on its sides, creating smaller triangles in the bigger one. Or draw several intersecting circles and ask the students to count the shapes. You can sketch a rubik’s cube and ask the students to state how many smaller cubes it consists of, or to make it more difficult, have them count the squares. Or sketch a web-like pattern consisting of small hexagons and ask the students to count them.
Give the students hypothetical scenarios and have them come up with out-of-the-box solutions. Scenario 1, If you were to die tomorrow, ten things you would do today. Scenario 2, You are left stranded on an island. God grants you three things that can be kept with you when alone. What would they be? Scenario 3, If you were given the chance to exchange roles with your best friend/partner, would you like it? Why? What changes would you bring in yourself?
Here’s another exercise that encourages thinking differently – Give each student a word and have them find ways in which they can associate themselves with that word. Or give them an object and ask them to write down creative uses of the same. These are creative thinking exercises that also make the students think critically, in the first case, of ways they can associate with the word given and in the second case, of all different ways of using an object. The catch is in finding ways of using the object other than those it is normally used for.
Fact or Perception
Having the ability to differentiate between facts and perceptions or truths and opinions is important for developing critical thinking. As an exercise to strengthen this ability, give the students a set of statements. In each set, include a mix of both truths and opinions. For example, “The weather is warm today” is someone’s perception while “Today’s temperature is 86°F” is a truth. Here’s another example – “My sister is the best one in the world” is an opinion while “My sister is taller that your sister” is an example of a truth/fact. Facts are truths while perceptions are subjective. A perception is what someone believes to be true. An opinion is what someone thinks as right. Opinions two people have may be completely different. As against this, truths are truths, they don’t change from person to person. But then, they may change over time. For example, “the milk is hot” could be a fact that is subject to change after the milk cools down. But “Earth is a planet” is a fact that is not subject to change. You can include such examples in the list and have the students distinguish between facts that are subject to change and facts that are not.
Sorting and Grouping Exercises
Categorizing objects on the basis of fixed criteria is a good exercise for developing critical thinking. Give the students a list of different things or names; say a list of animals and ask them to group the animals in various ways. It’s they who decide the criteria to group them. In case of animals, it could be habitat, size, color or even number of letters in their names. Have variety in the lists you give them. You can give them a list of names of places or a list of numbers and ask the students to sort them into a certain number of groups based on various criteria. The grouping criteria will depend on what’s included in the list.
Compare and Contrast
Comparative analysis of competing technologies or products can be a good exercise for developing critical and analytical thinking skills. Ask the students to compare LCD and Plasma, or Bluetooth and wi-fi. Give them two music genres for comparison or give them two movie names and ask them which one they would recommend watching and why. You can give them sets of things that have something in common and ask them to point out what’s common to them. For example, September, April, November, June. Now anyone would know what’s common to these, they are names of months. But attention to detail is what it takes, to notice that all of them have 30 days.
Socratic Thinking Exercise
Let’s take the subject of “effects of peer pressure on teenagers”. Ask the students to give their views on the subject and then give them a set of questions like these.
✦ Explain your view further.
✦ Why do you think so?
✦ Are there examples that support your point of view?
✦ What’s the counter-argument to what you think?
✦ How would you defend your point of view?
✦ What made you form this opinion?
✦ Are your opinions subject to change?
✦ Imagine you have just 5 years of your life left. What would you do with the time you have?
✦ Imagine you were born in the 18th century. What would life be like?
✦ Give 10 uses of a pen other than writing.
✦ Other than storage, in what different ways can a bottle be used?
✦ If you were able to go back in time and change one thing in the past, what would it be and why?
✦ If you were a non-living thing, what would you want to be? Why?
Fact or Perception Exercise
✦ The square of 12 is 144. Answer: A fact
✦ The attendance in class today was good. Answer: An opinion
✦ She looks so much like her mother. Answer: An opinion
✦ The distance to the Church from your place is 4 miles Answer: A fact
✦ Mother is in the kitchen. Answer: A fact that can change
✦ The third letter of the alphabet is ‘c’. Answer: A fact
Sorting and Classifying Exercise
Give the students pictures of certain things (animals, fruits, people, etc.) Have them find what’s common to the pictures. Ask them to find ways in which each picture is different from the other. Or have them place the objects in the pictures under suitable categories and find ways to group them. For example, grouping animals into mammals and reptiles, people according to the field they belong to, fruits based on their season, etc.
Critical thinking is not only about thinking analytically but also about thinking differently. It is about coming up with different ways to solve a problem. With critical analysis you can dissect a problem, get to its root and nip it in the bud. Critical thinking helps you understand the problem, and that’s the most important thing to do if you have to overcome it.