Handbook on Excellence in Learning and Pedagogy

Teaching Critical Thinking: Tips and Techniques

by Greg Bassham
Associate Professor of Philosophy

Mel Silberman's Activist Learning Credo:

What I hear, I forget.
What I hear and see, I remember a little.
What I hear, see, ask questions about, and discuss, I begin to understand.
What I hear, see, ask questions about, discuss, and do, I acquire knowledge and skills about.
What I teach to another, I master.

Learner-Centered Teaching: A New Paradigm

The Instruction Paradigm The Learning Paradigm
Aim is to provide/deliver instruction Aim is to maximize student learning
Goal is to transfer knowledge from instructors to students Goal is to elicit students' discovery
of and construction of knowledge
Focus is on improving the delivery of instruction   Focus is on improving the quality and quantity of student learning
Emphasis is on covering material Emphasis is on promoting deep learning
Faculty are primarily lecturers (�sages on the stage�) Faculty are primarily designers of learning methods and environments (�guides by the side�)
Instructional methods tend to produce passive, lower-order thinking Instructional methods encourage active, higher-order thinking
Assessments are infrequent, summative, and primarily assess lower-order thinking skills  Assessments are frequent, formative, and primarily assess higher-order thinking skills*

Deep Learning

Deep learning is learning that is critically appropriated, grasped thoroughly, integrated deeply, and capable of being applied to new problems and situations outside the immediate learning environment.

Promoting Deep Learning

Deep learning is promoted by teaching methods that encourage students to:

Cooperative Learning Exercise: Discussing Critical Thinking Standards

Break into groups of four or five. Choose one member of your group to take notes and be the group reporter. Discuss your education up to this point. To what extent has your education prepared you to think clearly, precisely, accurately, relevantly, consistently, logically, completely, and fairly? Have you ever known a person (e.g., a teacher or parent) who strongly modeled these critical thinking standards? If so, how?

Cooperative Learning Exercise: Reciprocal Peer Questioning

Following a lecture or discussion, students are asked to write questions about the lecture or discussion. In small groups, the students ask each other the questions. Then, the whole class discusses some of the questions from each group.1 

Cooperative Learning Exercise: Reader Response Log

Directions: Write a brief response to the following statement or passage. Then exchange papers with a student sitting next to you. Read his or her response carefully, then write a brief reaction to that response. Finally, exchange papers again, read what your partner has written, and discuss your responses.

Statement or passage for analysis:

We have developed a machine, a box with some electrodes and a life-support system, which we call the Pleasure Machine. If you plug into the machine, you can experience a lifetime of whatever pleasurable or enjoyable experiences you wish. Flying to Paris for a candlelit dinner with Tom Cruise or Jennifer Lopez, hitting a World Series-winning home-run in Yankee Stadium, playing lead guitar with The Rolling Stones, discovering a cure for cancer�whatever you can dream about you can experience in the Pleasure Machine. There is, however, one catch: once you plug into the machine, you must stay plugged in for life. Would you plug into the Pleasure Machine? Why or why not?

My name:

My response to the statement or passage:

Respondent's name:

Respondent's response:

Cooperative Learning Exercise: Socratic Interviews

Directions: The Socratic method is a way of teaching that centers on the use of questions to lead students to develop, clarify, and evaluate their own thinking. The primary goals of Socratic questioning are to help students

� clarify their concepts, beliefs and values
� discover the structure of their own thought
� identify unrecognized assumptions, implications, and consequences of their own thought
� identify unrecognized inconsistencies in their beliefs and values
� arrive at more coherent, more carefully considered beliefs and values.

Examples of Socratic questions include:

Questions of clarification

� What do you mean by _______?
� Let me see if I understand you; do you mean _______ or _______?
� What is your main point?
� Could you give me an example?
� Could you explain that further?

Questions that probe assumptions

� What are you assuming?
� You seem to be assuming _______. Do I understand you correctly?
� All of your reasoning depends on the idea that _______. How would you justify taking this for granted?

Questions that probe reasons and evidence

� Why do you think that is true?
� Do you have any evidence for that?
� What are your reasons for saying that?
� How do you know?
� What led you to that belief?
� Could you explain your reasons to us?
� What would you say to someone who said _______?

Questions that probe viewpoints and perspectives

� You seem to be approaching this issue from _______ perspective. Why have you chosen this rather than that perspective?
� How would other groups/types of people respond? Why?
� What might someone who believes _______ say?
� How would you respond to someone who

Questions that probe implications and consequences

� When you say _______, are you implying _______?
� What effect would that have?
� What are you implying by that?
� But if that happened, what else would happen as a result?
� If _______ is the case, then isn't _______ also the case?2 

In pairs, take turns for five minutes each playing the role of a Socratic questioner. The first questioner will question his or her partner on the following question/issue:

First question/issue: ___________ [Fill in the blank]

The second questioner will question his or her partner on the following question/issue:

Second question/issue: _________ [Fill in the blank]

Has this exercise be helpful in clarifying your thoughts and beliefs? In helping you to arrive at more consistent, more carefully considered beliefs? Be prepared to share what you have learned with the class as a whole.

Cooperative Learning Exercise: Teaching Others

Directions: Often, the best way to learn something is to teach it to others. Pair up with someone sitting next to you and take five minutes each playing the role of teacher. One partner should teach _______, and the other partner should teach _______. For purposes of this exercise, assume that your partner knows absolutely nothing about the subject. Your task is to explain the subject as simply, clearly, and thoroughly as you as can. 

Cooperative Learning Exercise: Reasoning Sympathetically within Alternative Frames of Reference

Directions: In small groups, adopt the perspective of _______ and present the strongest, most compelling case you can for his or her actions or point of view.3 

Readers� Questions

Ask students to write questions on an assigned reading and turn them in at the beginning of class. Select a few of the questions as the impetus for class discussion.4 

Discussing Short Writing Assignments

Require short written assignments for each class meeting, something that requires analysis and synthesis of what was covered in the previous class. By exchanging papers in class, having some students read theirs aloud, then discussing criteria for assessing them, the students can give each other feedback. Each student can be required to keep all papers in a file. Five files a week can be collected and one or two papers from each file can be graded. Thus, students can actively think their way through the logic of the subject, without the professor having to grade an exceptionally large number of papers.5 

Testing Overconfidence

Are you overconfident in your beliefs? Here�s a simple test to determine if you are. For each of the following ten items, provide a low and high guess such that you are 90 percent sure the correct answer falls between the two. Your challenge is to be neither too narrow (i.e., overconfident) nor too wide (i.e., underconfident). If you successfully meet the challenge you should have 10 percent misses�that is, exactly one miss. 6 

90% Confidence Range
1. Martin Luther King�s age at death  _____ _____
2. Length of Nile River (in miles) _____ _____
3. Percentage of African-Americans in the U.S. _____ _____
4. Number of books in the Old Testament _____ _____
5. Diameter of the moon (in miles) _____ _____
6. Weight of an empty Boeing 747 (in pounds) _____ _____
7. Current population of California _____ _____
8. Year in which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born _____ _____
9. Air distance from London to Tokyo (in miles) _____ _____
10. Deepest known point in the ocean (in feet) _____ _____


Identifying Assumptions

Read the following story and answer the questions that follow.

When it happened, a disturbing mix of feelings bubbled inside you. It sickened you to watch the boat slip beneath the waves and disappear forever; so much work had gone into maintaining it and keeping it afloat, but at least everyone was safe in the tiny lifeboat you'd had just enough time to launch. You secretly congratulated yourself for having had the foresight to stock the lifeboat with a few emergency items such as a small amount of food and water, but you knew that a boat built to hold three, maybe four people wasn't going to survive too long with such an overload of passengers.

You looked around at your companions: the brilliant Dr. Brown, whose cleverness and quick wit had impressed you on many occasions; Marie Brown, pregnant and clearly exhausted from the climb into the lifeboat; Lieutenant Ashley Morganstern, a twenty-year veteran who'd seen the most brutal sorts of combat; the lieutenant's secretary and traveling companion, whose shirt you noticed for the first time bore the monogram "L.B," but whom everyone called, simply, "Letty"; and Eagle-Eye Sam, the trusted friend who'd been at your side for many years as you sailed the oceans in your precious, now-vanished boat and whose nickname had been earned from having the ability to spot the smallest objects seemingly miles away at sea. 
Seeing the fear on your passenger's faces, you tried to comfort them: "Don't worry; we'll be fine. They'll be looking for us right away. I'm sure of it." But you weren't so sure. In fact, you knew it wasn't true. It might be days before you were found since you'd had no time to radio for help. Rescuers probably wouldn't be dispatched until Friday, five days from now, when your failure to show up in port would finally arouse concern. 
On the third day, your passengers showed increasing signs of frustration, anger and fear. "Where are they?" Marie cried. "We can't go on like this!"

You knew she was right. We can't, you thought, not all of us anyway. 

On the fourth day the food was completely gone and just enough water remained to keep perhaps three people alive for another day, maybe two. Suddenly things got worse. "Is that water?!" Marie screamed pointing a shaking finger at the bottom of the lifeboat. Horrified, you looked to see a slight trickle of water seeping in at the very center of the boat. Dr. Brown grabbed a tee-shirt that was lying in the bottom of the boat and used it like a sponge to absorb the water, wringing it out over the side and plunging it into the invading water again and again. But it was no use; the water began to seep in faster than Brown could work.
"We're too heavy," the lieutenant insisted without emotion. "We've got to lighten the load. Someone has to get out and swim."

"Swim?!" Marie gasped in disbelief. "Are you insane?! There are sharks in these waters!"
"Who's it going to be, Captain?" the lieutenant asked almost coldly, staring you square in the eye. "Which one of us swims?" 

"Me. I'll go," you say, swinging your leg out over the side of the boat. 

"No," Letty insisted. "You're the only one who knows anything about boats or the ocean. If you go, we'll all die. You must choose one of us to sacrifice.

And so you did. 

A. Answer the following questions individually:

1. Which one did you choose? Why? Why didn't you choose the others?

2. As you read, you probably imagined what the characters looked like. From the image you had of them, describe the following characters in a few sentences:

The Captain
Dr. Brown
Marie Brown
Lieutenant Ashley Morganstern
Eagle-Eye Sam

3. What is the relationship between Dr. Brown and Marie Brown?

B. Now get into groups of three, and complete the following tasks:

1. Compare your responses to Question 1 in Part A. Discuss your reasons for your decisions. Is there any consensus in the group?

2. Do you all agree on the relationship between Dr. Brown and Marie Brown?

3. What evidence is there in the story to support your answer for Question 3 in Part A? Is it possible that they are related in another way or not at all?

4. Look at your portraits of Dr. Brown. How many assumptions did you and your group members make about the doctor's gender, age, appearance, and profession? What evidence in the story supports your image of the doctor? If your images are similar, what do you think accounts for that similarity? Are your mental images similar to ones we normally see in the media for example?

Look at your portraits of the other characters. First, what similarities do you find among your group members? Second, what evidence is there in the story to support your assumptions? Are other assumptions possible? Finally, where do you think your mental images came from?

Debating Definitions

As a group read and respond to each situation given below. Your answer will depend on how you define the key word in the question. Group members might debate the definitions and the application of the definition to the given situation. Use any strategy for defining terms or a combination of strategies. You may have to consult outside sources in deciding on your definitions, and you may want to agree on some contextual details that are not provided in the question. Some students, for example, might argue that the first question depends on how long the couple has been dating. 

  1. You just caught your boyfriend or girlfriend carrying on a sexually explicit dialogue with someone in an electronic chat room. Has your mate �cheated� on you?
  2. As a �computer genius,� you can access the college�s computer files anytime you like. You can review your transcript, check your medical records, read what your high school guidance counselor said about you, and so forth. All of this information would be provided to you if you asked, but you didn�t. Can you be accused of �stealing�? 
  3. A sign posted outside the auditorium reads, �No food or drink in the auditorium.� During a lecture, your neighbor is loudly sucking on a lollipop. You remind him that food is not allowed. He tells you he doesn�t have �food.� Who�s right?
  4. Jack knows that the college to which he�s applying gives preference to minorities. He argues in his application letter that his being a second generation Irish immigrant distinguishes him from other people applying to the college. Is he a �minority�?
  5. Nancy has a paper due tomorrow morning. She has written a very rough, undeveloped draft. Last semester Nancy�s roommate, Sharon, wrote a paper on the very same topic. Sharon gives Nancy the paper and tells her to �take as much of it as you want.� With Sharon�s permission and help, Nancy uses Sharon�s paper to develop her own. Is Nancy guilty of �plagiarizing�? 

Collecting Fallacies

Find examples of the fallacies discussed in this chapter from everyday life (newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, etc.). Collect your examples in a notebook or portfolio. For each example, indicate where you found the fallacy and give a brief explanation why you think it commits the fallacy you allege. Be prepared to share your examples with the class.

Name That Fallacy!

This exercise is a game we call Name That Fallacy! Here�s how the game is played:

1. The instructor divides the class into teams of four or five students.

2. The instructor reads an example of a fallacy (or puts it on an overhead).

3. The first team to raise a hand gets a chance to identify the fallacy.

4. Before the instructor reveals the correct answer, the other teams are given the opportunity to challenge the first team�s answer.

5. Scoring is as follows:

Correct answer: 5 points
Incorrect answer: -5 points
Correct challenge: 5 points
Incorrect challenge: -5 points

Editorial Role Playing

Imagine that you have been hired by a publisher to edit an introductory anthology of English Romantic poetry. Your instructions are to bring together in a small, inexpensive volume those poems or parts of poems by Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats which best exemplify the characteristics of Romanticism and at the same time will have great appeal to the first-time reader of Romantic poetry. Select the poems that you would include in this anthology, arrange them in whatever order you prefer (it need not be either chronological or according to author) and write a well-organized three-page (typed) introduction to your anthology in which you identify the characteristics of Romanticism that are embodied in the poems, and indicate the special appeal of the poems you have selected to the first-time reader of Romantic poetry.7 

[Answers to Testing Overconfidence Survey: 1. 39 years; 2. 4, 187 miles; 3. 12.68 % (1997); 4. 39 books; 5. 2, 160 miles; 6. 390,000 lbs.; 7. 33, 871, 678 (2000); 8. 1756; 9. 5, 959 miles; 10. 36, 198 feet.)]

1Source: Grayson H. Walker Teaching Resource Center, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, �Teaching Strategies to Help Promote Critical Thinking.� Available online at <www.utc.edu/Teaching-Resource-Center/critical.html>.

2Adapted from Richard Paul, Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive in a Rapidly Changing World (Rohnert Park, Ca.: Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique, 1990), pp. 276-277.

3Adapted from an exercise developed by Deborah Morel, quoted in Vincent Ryan Ruggiero, Teaching Thinking Across the Curriculum (New York; Harper & Row, 1988), p. 161.

4Source: Grayson H. Walker Teaching Resource Center, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, �Teaching Strategies to Help Promote Critical Thinking.� Available online at <www.utc.edu/Teaching-Resource-Center/critical.html>.

5Source: Richard W. Paul, �Critical Thinking: What, Why, and How�, in Richard W. Paul, Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive in a Rapidly Changing World (Sonoma, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking, 1990), p. 60.

6Adapted from J.E. Russo and P.J.H. Schoemaker, Decision Traps: Ten Barriers to Brilliant Decision Making and How to Overcome Them (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989), p. 71.

7Slightly adapted from an exercise developed by Ann Trivisonno, quoted in Vincent Ryan Ruggiero, Teaching Thinking Across the Curriculum (New York: Harper and Row, 1988), p. 160.

URL: <ww.king.edu/celt/handbook/crttt1>
Copyright � 2005 Greg Bassham
Last Revision: 19 July 2005
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