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50 Activities for Developing Critical Thinking Skills

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50 Activities for Developing Critical Thinking Skills contains 50 fully reproducible training activities to develop quick thinking, creative thinking and analytical thinking skills. This compendium of activities will add real value to your training by taking critical thinking skills out of the box and into the workplace. Learners will sharpen their critical thinking skills and develop a thought process that are creative, accurate, and assumption-free.

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#1: The Name Game

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#1: The Name Game

Overview:

Participants will develop memory skills in general and the ability to recall names in particular after taking part in this activity. Recalling information is a critical cognitive skill: Only through deliberate practice can individuals become proficient in it.

Objective:

To afford practice in recalling specific information.

Supplies:

Time:

Transparency #1-1

Overhead projector

Pictures of faces from magazines (optional)

Token prizes (optional)

20 minutes

Advance

Preparation:

Arrange the room, if possible, so that table groups of seven or eight participants can work together. Make a copy of Transparency #1-1. Should you choose to include the Extended Activity, you will also have to cut out large pictures of faces from magazines—enough so that each person receives one picture.

Participants/

Application:

This activity will work with any size group. It is ideally used at the beginning of the training program so participants can learn everyone’s name in a relaxed exercise that also develops their recall abilities.

 

#2: Attending to Attention

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#2: Attending to Attention

Overview:

This activity provides participants with a means of efficiently encoding information by using a framework with which to organize important information in a meaningful way.

Objective:

To provide an opportunity for participants to process information more efficiently.

Supplies:

Time:

Copies of Handout #2-1

15–20 minutes

Advance

Preparation:

Make enough copies of Handout #2-1 for the entire group. Arrange the seating so it is easy for groups of three or four to share their responses.

Participants/

Application:

This activity works with any number of participants and is especially useful when one must take notes on significant material presented by a facilitator in a lecture format. It can be used each time a lecture (or mini-lecture) is presented.

Introduction to Concept:

“Tomorrow’s illiterate,” Herbert Gerjuoy asserts, “will not be the man who cannot read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.” An important part of the learning process is paying attention to material we are putting into our storage banks. If we are not concentrating, if we are bored, or if we are anxious or distracted, tired or ill, depressed or excited, we may not be giving the knowledge the attention it deserves. Later, when we go to retrieve it, we will probably have difficulty finding it. When there are gaps in our knowledge, there will be corresponding gaps in our ability to critically assess situations.

 

#3: Rhymed Reductions

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#3: Rhymed Reductions

Overview:

Participants will first work on a brief illustrative activity via an overhead transparency and will engage in a longer activity, in teams, to analyze a lengthy passage and reduce it to its simplest terms.

Objective:

To stimulate critical assessment and the ability to translate excessive information into valuable nuggets of knowledge.

Supplies:

Time:

Transparency #3-1

Overhead projector

Copies of Handout #3-1

About 25 minutes

Advance

Preparation:

Make a transparency for Transparency #3-1. Also make copies of Handout

#3-1 (enough for each participant) and staple the two pages together. If possible, arrange tables and chairs in groupings of five or six.

Participants/

Application:

This exercise, suitable for any number of participants, works especially well as an introduction to the course. It serves to remind attendees to take notes—not on every single word they hear, but rather on the points they have deemed, through a critical-thought process, to be most important. It can also be used as an energizer.

 

#4: The Endless Question

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#4: The Endless Question

Overview:

Whether one is in a job interview (“womb-to-tomb” employment is no longer a realistic possibility for most of us) or is simply asked an unexpected question, quick-wittedness is a valuable skill to have. This activity, a challenging one, helps participants gain a few extra thinking moments by asking a question instead of giving an immediate answer. The question will often elicit the kind of information needed in order to respond in a cogent, albeit quick, manner. It also allows us time to gather our thoughts.

Objective:

To provide participants with a tool for responding quickly and intelligently to unanticipated prompts.

Supplies:

Time:

Copies of Handout #4-1

Token prizes or certificates (optional)

15–20 minutes

Advance

Preparation:

Make copies of Handout #4-1, one per participant. If possible, arrange seating so that each participant can easily converse with a partner. Invite a member of senior management to serve as judge. You may also wish to buy token prizes or prepare certificates to award to the winning pair.

 

#5: The Questionable Question

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#5: The Questionable Question

Overview:

In a recent Forbes magazine article written by Nina Munk and Suzanne

Oliver (“Think Fast!” March 24, 1997, page 146), the authors assert, “To gauge an applicant’s ability to think quickly and creatively, employers now routinely ask mind-bending brain-teasers.” The ability to think fast, innovatively, and logically as needed—in other words, the ability to think critically—is a prized commodity in the business world today. This activity is designed to strengthen that ability.

Objective:

To develop confidence in every participant’s ability to answer questions easily and articulately.

Supplies:

Time:

Have paper and pencils available in case they are needed.

About 20 minutes

Advance

Preparation:

If possible, arrange seating so teams of four can work together.

Participants/

Application:

This exercise is an adaptable one. It could be used to kick off a session, giving participants an opportunity to get to know one another. It can be used as a filler when there are spare moments before or after a break. It could also be used to reinforce instructional elements by having participants write questions related to the concepts presented.

 

#6: The K-W-I-C Technique

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#6: The K-W-I-C Technique

Overview:

With this activity, participants are given an acronymic tool for organizing their thoughts quickly and coherently.

Objective:

To use a structure that forces cogent and quick thinking in response to a given verbal stimulus.

Supplies:

Transparency #6-1

Overhead projector

Time:

At least 15 minutes. (The exercise may require considerably more time, depending on the size of the class and the number of participants who opt to read their work aloud.)

Advance

Preparation:

Make a transparency of Transparency #6-1. If possible, have a podium in the room for participants who may choose to deliver their K-W-I-C composition aloud.

Participants/

Application:

This exercise works well as a session-stimulator. Before or after delivering an instructional chunk, you may wish to generate discussion about the points you will make or have made. The feedback you will receive in the K-W-I-C replies will provide excellent discussion points for debriefing. The activity can also be used at the beginning of a session as an icebreaker, or at the end as a summarizing tool. Ideally, the class size will not exceed 20.

 

#7: Verbal Velocity

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#7: Verbal Velocity

Overview:

Intelligence is defined as “rapid and suitable response to a situation requiring such. “This activity, employed in numerous executive development training programs, gives participants an opportunity to develop rapid and suitable verbal responses.

Objective:

To develop the ability to respond quickly to set parameters.

Supplies:

Time:

Blank transparency

Overhead projector or flipchart

Six token prizes

Optional: One dictionary for each group of five or six participants

Approximately 15 minutes

Advance

Preparation:

None required

Participants/

Application:

This exercise works with any number of participants. Ideally, the seating permits individuals to work in pairs initially and then in small groups.

Introduction to Concept:

Empowerment-driven policies have taught us that anyone can be a leader—no matter what his or her position is in the organization. And because leaders are expected to handle unanticipated situations with confidence and composure, training that teaches us to respond with verbal assuredness to out-of-the-norm situations is meaningful indeed. There are numerous ways to develop the ability to exhibit grace under pressure, to remain verbally fluid rather than frozen.

 

#8: On a Roll with Roles

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#8: On a Roll with Roles

Overview:

By working on these role-play situations, participants will be better equipped to share information with co-workers, despite the discomfort they may initially feel at the thought of doing so. The activity provides practice in how to quickly select the most appropriate verbal channel for the message to be delivered.

Objective:

To develop verbal skills necessary for honest but diplomatic exchanges.

Supplies:

Time:

3” x 5” index cards

Transparency #8-1

Overhead projector

20–25 minutes

Advance

Preparation:

This exercise works best if seating can be arranged in clusters of three. Make a transparency for Transparency #8-1. Write open-ended prompts on the board of flipchart.

Participants/

Application:

Any number of participants can engage in this activity. (When the triads are formed, if one person is left over, he or she can serve as a second observer in the group. If two are left over, they can perform the role-play and you can serve as observer.) Because interpersonal skills are valued no matter what the organization or setting, the skill developed in this role-play will serve participants in numerous situations. Here are some ways you can help participants apply what they’re learning.

 

#9: Juxtaposed Pairs

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#9: Juxtaposed Pairs

Overview:

This activity asks participants to think quickly and logically when given seemingly disparate bits of information. The ability to synthesize, to make connections, to discern relationships not readily apparent is an integral element of critical thinking.

Objective:

To give participants a chance to practice seeing relationships and making associations within a limited period of time.

Supplies:

Time:

Copies of Handout #9-1, cut into strips

3” x 5” cards (three for each participant)

Flipchart (optional)

Approximately 15 minutes

Advance

Preparation:

Make copies of Handout #9-1 (one-third the actual number of participants, as the handout can be cut into three strips). If possible, arrange participants in table groups of four.

Participants/

Application:

This exercise, which can be used with any size group, is flexible enough to use at any time during the training day. It serves equally well as a warm-up, as a session-stimulator, and as a summarizing activity (with the stipulation that the remarks would have to serve as concluding statements).

 

#10: Presidential Pursuits

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#10: Presidential Pursuits

Overview:

When we are asked to generate detailed information within a particular timeframe, we call upon a special kind of intelligence. This intelligence permits us to filter all we know through the sieve of specificity in order to isolate information that conforms to the criteria we have been issued. This activity asks participants to respond quickly but appropriately to the matrix provided.

Objective:

To present participants with the opportunity to generate specific data in response to given prompts.

Supplies:

Time:

Advance

Preparation:

Participants/

Application:

Transparencies #10-1 and #10-2

Overhead projector

Timer

25 minutes

Make a transparency of Transparency #10-1 and Transparency #10-2.

Whenever you sense that the energy level is dropping among participants, you can use this exercise. It is a quick means of recapping the major concepts thus far presented. It begins with a warm-up, which works especially well when participants are seated in table groups of five to eight participants. From there, participants work a second time to generate as many ideas as possible within time limits.

 

#11: The Umbrage Not Taken

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#11: The Umbrage Not Taken

Overview:

Those whose mouths are wide enough to accommodate their frequentlyinserted feet have not practiced the skill of saying the second thing that comes to mind. This activity will assist participants to think fluidly, critically assess a situation, and then translate thought into words most appropriate for the circumstances.

Objective:

To instill confidence in participants’ abilities to think before they speak.

Supplies:

Time:

Advance

Preparation:

3” x 5” cards

Transparency #11-1

Overhead projector

Flipchart

Approximately 20 minutes

Make a copy of Transparency #11-1. If possible, arrange seating flexibly, as participants will first work in pairs, then in teams of four, then in teams of six, and finally in teams of eight. (Exact numbers are not important because leftover participants can easily fit into any existing team.)

Prepare the 3” x 5” cards by writing one of the following sentences on each of 15 cards. (If the class has more than 30 participants, write additional sentences—one for every two participants.)

 

#12: If the Hat Fits

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#12: If the Hat Fits

Overview:

In the business world, we are often asked how we feel about a particular point of view. This activity develops critical thinking by asking participants to tell if they concur or disagree with a point of view they take “out of a hat.”

Objective:

To develop quickness of thought by reacting to presented quotations.

Supplies:

Time:

Old hat

Handout #12-1, cut into strips

Transparency #12-1

Overhead projector

Podium (optional)

5–10 minutes, plus 1 additional minute per participant

Advance

Preparation:

Cut the quotations on Handout #12-1 into strips; fold each strip, and put them into an old hat. Make a transparency from Transparency #12-1. Arrange seating facing the front of the room and near a podium, if possible.

Participants/

Application:

Because some participants may be fearful of making a presentation, no matter how brief, suggest that the presentations could be made from their seats or even not at all, should someone wish to decline. The exercise works with any size class. It should be used in the second half of the training session to give participants the opportunity to get to know each other better and thus lessen their nervousness.

 

#13: Brainstorming/Brainsqueezing

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#13: Brainteasing/Brainsqueezing

Overview:

Brainteasers for some represent a competitive (sometimes self-competitive) challenge. When brainteasers are used in hiring situations with the prospective employer timing the candidate’s response time, however, we may feel our brain is being squeezed rather than teased. This activity gives participants a chance to make educated guesses or calculated answers to various questions—some of which are actually part of interview situations.

Objective:

To enable participants to estimate numerical answers more accurately.

Supplies:

Time:

Copies of Worksheet #13-1

Copies of Handout #13-1 (optional)

20 minutes

Advance

Preparation:

Make copies of Worksheet #13-1 (and Handout #13-1 if using the extending activity), one for each participant.

Participants/

Application:

This exercise works well as an icebreaker, in which case you would ask small groups to work together. It also works as a post-break segue to the

“mindbending” material you plan to present in the next instructional segment.

 

#14: Perceptual Shifts

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#14: Perceptual Shifts

Overview:

Two short but challenging activities are presented here. Each is designed to heighten sensitivity to the separate structural elements of a situation, whether a single word is involved or a workplace problem.

Objective:

To encourage the development of multiple perspectives from which a given situation or problem can be viewed.

Supplies:

Time:

Transparencies #14-1 and #14-2

Overhead projector

Copies of Worksheet #14-1

10–15 minutes

Advance

Preparation:

Make transparencies for Transparency #14-1 and Transparency #14-2. Make copies of Handout #14-1 (one for each participant).

Participants/

Application:

This mind-bending exercise can be used at any time during the course of the training program by any number of participants who can work alone, in pairs, triads, or in small table groups.

Introduction to Concept:

Optical illusions allow our eyes to play tricks on us. We seem to have a fixed perceptual view but when a slight shift occurs, that perceptual view becomes another, often quite different, view.

 

#15: Table Turning

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#15: Table Turning

Overview:

Participants will team up to formulate quick-witted responses to six real-world scenarios. Then each team shares its responses, which are evaluated by the other teams in terms of cleverness. The team with the highest score wins a token prize.

Objective:

To provide practice with seeing the big picture and translating it into an appropriate verbal response.

Supplies:

Time:

Worksheet #15-1

Scrap paper

15–20 minutes

Advance

Preparation:

Make copies of Worksheet #15-1, one per participant. Arrange seating so participants can work in groups of three or four.

Participants/

Application:

This exercise, which can be used with any size class, can also serve as a warm-up activity, a session-stimulator, or even a concluding activity (as explained in the Extended Activity).

Introduction to Concept:

The 1997 runner-up in the Miss Universe pageant was asked what she would do if she learned that one of the other contestants had obtained a copy of the question to be asked during the final test, the impromptu response to an unseen question. The first reaction of most people would be to report the incident, which could give one contestant an unfair advantage over the others. Miss Venezuela, however, did not give the obvious, straightforward reply. With a smile, she explained that she would ask the person with the advance copy of the questions to share them with all the other contestants, so that they could all improve their chances by using quickwittedness in a situation with weighty consequences. With this response, she moved from being among the top six to being among the top three finalists.

 

#16: Organizational Oxymorons

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#16: Organizational Oxymorons

Overview:

There are two parts to this activity. Participants begin with easy, lighthearted oxymoronic expressions. Then, they are asked to amplify oxymorons in relation to the workplace, developing as they do so the awareness that the first step in learning is confusion.

Objective:

To expose participants to dialectical thought, requiring them to make sense

(synthesis) of two seemingly contradictory viewpoints (thesis, antithesis).

Supplies:

Time:

Worksheets #16-1 and #16-2

Long table (optional)

Approximately 25 minutes

Advance

Preparation:

Make copies of both worksheets, one of each per participant. If flexible seating is possible, arrange for participants to sit together in groups of four. If a long table is available, put it in the front of the room with several chairs

(enough for a spokesperson from each group). The spokespersons will sit facing the other participants.

Participants/

Application:

This exercise can be used as a brainteaser at the beginning of a training session or as an energizer at any point during the program. Depending on the nature of the training being done, the organizational oxymorons can be tailored to coincide with particular instructional emphases in such areas as supervision, management, team-building, or planning and preparation for the future.

 

#17: Stratification

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#17: Stratification

Overview:

First, participants will work on an activity that frequently appears on intelligence tests and entrance tests for high-intelligence organizational groups. It asks participants to find a word that is linked to three other words in each entry. Participants will then shift to an exercise that will improve their ability to spot emerging trends.

Objective:

To help participants develop the ability to make associations.

Supplies:

Time:

Worksheets #17-1 and #17-2

Flipchart paper

Masking tape

About 25 minutes

Advance

Preparation:

Make enough copies of the worksheets so that each participant has a copy of each. If possible, arrange the seating to permit small groups of three or four to work together.

Participants/

Application:

This exercise works with any size group. It is flexible enough to be used as an introductory warm-up, as a mid-point time of reflection, as an energizer, or as a means of wrapping up the training program (especially if the first extended activity is presented).

 

#18: Particular Virtues

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#18: Particular Virtues

Overview:

Creative thought is new thought. With this activity, participants are encouraged to think new thoughts about the work being done in their organizations. Working in teams, they will critically examine current practices and ways to ameliorate them.

Objective:

To engage participants in the process of improving how individuals, teams, and organizations get things done.

Supplies:

Time:

Transparency #18-1

Overhead projector

Flipcharts (ideally, one per table group)

15–20 minutes

Advance

Preparation:

Make a transparency of Transparency #18-1. Arrange seating, if possible, so participants can sit in table groups of five or six.

Participants/

Application:

This exercise can accommodate any number of participants. It works best either at the very beginning of the training as an over-arching framework for continuous learning/continuous improvement imperatives, or at the end of the training session, to summarize the need for lifelong learning.

Introduction to Concept:

Educator Rudolph Flesch once commented, “Creative thinking may simply mean the realization that there is no particular virtue in doing things the way they have always been done.” There is, by contrast, a distinct virtue in doing things the way they have not always been done. Good examples can be found in the book by Robert Kriegel, If It Ain’t Broke, Break It: Unconventional

 

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