Critical thinking

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking, is as The Oxford Dictionary describes ‘The objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement’. It encompasses a variety of elements. Most importantly it relates to how an individual person uses logical thinking, and reasoning. It is the ability to look at information and decipher what is the most useful, or the most relevant to an argument; and to differentiate between what is fact, and what is opinion. It is then how we use that information, in a rational manner, as evidence for an objective judgement or conclusion. 

 Critical thinking is structured through different stages, to reach a logical conclusion. One way to highlight the various stages of critical thinking is through The RED scheme. R - recognise assumptions. This means that a person is able to recognise what is fact, and what is an opinion, or rather to recognise when a statement lacks evidentiary support. To question these statements, to search for evidence in support or opposition to such assumptions is to use critical thinking. It is the first stage a person must complete to arrive at a logical and objective conclusion. E - evaluate arguments. This is the follow on. Once the evidence has been collected, it must be analysed objectively, without bias, to weigh both sides of an argument, to establish a logical solution. This stage of critical thinking also requires an understanding of how emotions can affect our ability to evaluate, and how it influences the conclusions we make. D - draw conclusions. Once everything has been taken into consideration, a conclusion must be made.This is the end result of critical thinking; for it is the combination of a person’s analytical, rational and logical skills to reach the most objective answer, once every option has been weighed up and evaluated. The ability to make a decision, unswayed by personal emotions, allegiances or influences from other people is the main purpose to critical thinking, in the hope of reaching a better end-product. As philosopher Bertrand Russell states ‘The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holders lack of rational conviction’. Russell explains that emotion, or passion, often make for poor or rash decisions, which is not in the individual’s best interests. Therefore the art of critical thinking is to search past emotions, to use logical and rational thought to better one’s ability to make conclusive, unbiased and sound decisions.

Another aspect of critical thinking, which links somewhat to the RED scheme, is polemics. Polemics is the use of controversial debate, in the process of decision-making. For example, the role of The Devil’s Advocate, who takes the conflicting view-point, in order to engage others in an argumentative discussion.

This process, of arguing both sides of a point is an important aspect of critical thinking, as it relies on a person to analyse every eventuality to arrive at an outcome. A prime example of this, in regards to critical thinking, is Israel’s 10th man approach to politics. After the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, and Israel’s lack of preparedness for an Arab attack, they adopted the 10th man policy. Israeli officials were so convinced that a war between them and the Arabs would never happen, on account of many different factors, that no one thought to discuss the small possibility that an attack could have indeed been launched.

Thus when it occurred, they were vastly underprepared. After this, they adopted this policy, which stated that if 9 officials agree unanimously, it is the job of the 10th man to contradict it, and to provide evidence. It is his role to play devil’s advocate, to make sure that every possibility is exhausted, by providing ‘loyal opposition’. He must find a reason as to why the previous conclusion is flawed. If he provides enough evidence to prove he is right, then the group must consult and consider his proposition, but if he can’t find enough cause to disprove the original 9, then they can continue as they had previously planned. Critical thinking is our own personal ‘10th man’, providing ourselves with the contradictory stance to our previous decision, which we must use in very much a similar way. This part of critical thinking focuses on the idea of exhausting every possibility, to prepare for any eventuality and to achieve the most logical solution.

However, as well as this, another aspect to critical thinking is our use of it to achieve our goals objectively, promptly and successfully. This goal-orientation element to critical thinking combines other elements, as it relies on our ability to exhaust all our options, and our logical use of the information supplied to us, to form a resolution. This, therefore enables us to achieve our goals, or rather to prioritise other aspects to achieve our goals.

Hypothetically, if someone should need to achieve a Grade A in their maths exam, they would need to use some element of critical thinking, to plan and prioritise. They would need to think about their priorities, when to study, how long to study for and which other activities are important, or can be omitted. This is a basic example of how critical thinking is related to goal-orientation, and how it helps us to make decisions, not just to achieve long term goals, but also in everyday life.

Finally, critical thinking is our ability to form an idea or an opinion and create a logical way to explain that idea. It involves our communication skills, be it written or oral. Critical thinking helps us to develop such skills, in relation to expression and how we convey information, and our opinion. Although for the most part critical thinking is void of opinion or bias, it can be used to express our own and our individual theories, in clear and logical ways. It helps us to structure our thoughts to convey them across to other people.

Overall, Critical thinking can be described as understanding how we think, how to think logically, and learning how use that skill constructively. It is an individual skill, linked to our own way of thinking, our own mind, and our own definition of logic and rationality. However, critical thinking has the same goal for everyone, to use logic, evidence and all possibilities to reach a convincing conclusion, beit in regards to our own theories, or our ability to decipher information given to us. 

To illustrate the definition of critical thinking, here is two case studies of how critical thinking could have been used to improve the outcome.
Case Study 1; The Bay of Pigs 1961

A good example of where critical thinking would have been useful, is during America’s assault on Cuba in 1961, also known as The Bay of Pigs. President Kennedy was advised by CIA representatives that this operation, using Cuban exiles, was a quick and effective way to depose Castro’s government. Kennedy had some doubts, and was wary of America having direct involvement in an attempt to unseat another government. Despite his concerns, the representatives were unanimous, and were convinced that it would be successful.

However, this operation would turn out to be one of America’s biggest foreign policy failures. As Irving Janis, a foreign policy analyst explains ‘The more amiability and esprit de corps among the members of a policy-making in-group, the greater is the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink, which is likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions directed against out-groups’. Due to the unanimity of the officials in charge, critical thinking was not utilised in this instance. Other solutions were not suggested, nor were they explored. Not one member of the team thought to seek other alternatives, or played the role of the 10th man. Research wasn’t even conducted thoroughly. As such when the troops arrived at the beach, Cuban forces were waiting for them, and they were decimated. Amongst the many failings in this operation, not only were they blinded by close-mindedness, The CIA had not carried out enough research, and so, for example, had no idea that a radio broadcasting centre was located on the beach; which alerted the Cuban forces of the impending attack. Evidence had not been collected, nor was it analysed objectively or logically. However, as well as this, possible problems were not taken into consideration. The probability that these difficulties could have arisen was not discussed, nor did they address any queries or flaws in the original plan. And so, the conclusion to this example is that this group of officials, so misguided by the certainty of their decision, didn’t use any form of critical thinking, nor the skills attributed to it, to arrive at a more objective conclusion.

How would critical thinking affected this situation, had it been applied?

In this example it is possible to say that one member, at least, in the group should have sought out alternative options for the group as a whole to discuss. They had only one plan, whereas were critical thinking to be used they would have had multiple scenarios to discuss; and to weigh against each other, to make an informed decision. As well as this, sufficient evidence would have been collected, so in this instance, the CIA would have carried out more detailed research, or surveillance. A large aspect of critical thinking is how to use the information given: collecting it, analysing it and then using it. This process did not happen, which is one reason as to why the Bay of Pigs failed.

Case Study 2: The film The Day After Tomorrow

In this second case study, the Hollywood film, The Day After Tomorrow, helps to show the important benefits of critical thinking. Despite the fact that it is a fictional story does not diminish its utility in promoting critical thinking. Actor Dennis Quaid portrays a scientist, who’s a climate expert, who has the task to warn the American government of the imminent danger of climate change; mass flooding, dangerous storms and even the beginnings of the new Ice Age. It is his aim to persuade the government to act, to implement new legislation to help reduce their carbon emissions, and therefore, in theory slow down the effects of climate change. However, the government officials refused to believe him, despite all the evidence he provided to prove his theories. They were reluctant to believe that events could ever take place, or that it posed any real danger.

Therefore, when these natural catastrophes did indeed take place, the American government was not prepared, and suffered dramatically. Dennis Quaid’s actor was then re-called, to provide some explanation or resolution, but by then it was too late. Although this is just a fictional example, it is good as an example of the need for critical thinking. No one believed his theories, but had one person challenged the majority, or had decided to analyse the scientist’s research, and the data of corroborating scientists, perhaps they could have saved more people, or had put a plan in place, to prevent the subsequent events. This shows how developing theories, researching, even if it seems like an impossible eventuality, is a worthwhile task, as it may open the door to new possibilities or better solutions. Critical thinking is the exploration of all possibilities, to make an informed decision, which was lacking in this film, with regard to the American officials. This film is an extreme case of critical thinking, but it does highlight well that if there is any evidence, for or against the original idea, it should be investigated and taken into account. Maybe if this had happened, the American officials would have made a different decision.

What is it’s role in Western development?

Critical thinking is an important part of western culture. it is the main source of our development, and is, in theory, at the centre of our political system, and capitalism. However, as Siebold states in his latest work ‘177 Mental Toughness Secrets of The World Class’ as human beings we are emotional, ‘We're trained to think with emotions instead of using statistics, logic, reason, etc. Society fosters emotion-based thinking and decision making." Therefore critical thinking, does in effect contradict our natural thought process.

However, recently in Britain, companies have taken new initiatives in the workplace, to encourage and train staff in the art of critical thinking. For example, through team building exercises. Often now, employers have ‘workshop days’, or even weekends, to engage their employees in team building exercises, and also to develop their thinking abilities, where they must solve problems, and tasks together.

One example of this is ‘bridge building’. The team must make a bridge out of certain materials, chosen by the employers, which must be able to withstand a weight of approx. 1kg. This task not only is designed to improve communication skills, but also critical thinking. They must look at all their options, analyse them, and even to some extent employ the 10th man rule. It involves more than complying with the first idea given, but rather more about exploring the sources, looking at each option carefully, and selecting the most logical one after careful deliberation.

This is just one of many examples of how western businesses are adopting a critical thinking teaching plan, to develop and improve themselves. Another example or technique adopted recently by employers is staff projects and presentations in problem solving. Employees are given an issue to discuss, often unrelated to their field of work,  designed to stimulate the logical side of their brain, and are then asked to report back to their managers as to how they solved it, and what their conclusions were. Linking on from this, puzzles such as the following example are used to stimulate the logical part of the brain, to help motivate the employees to apply logic in their work.

Example: ‘what do the following words have in common? armchair, egg, imagination, over, understand’.

By using such tasks, Western employers hope to create a workforce which apply rational thought, and therefore improve their work, and their ability to develop their company. For example, in a company’s Human Resources department, if they were presented with a case, a decision to terminate or suspend an employee for misconduct in the workplace, they must apply critical thinking. They must take the initiative, and looks for evidence, to consider all angles, each person’s opinion, and must not be swayed by personal opinion or loyalties. This process, with critical thinking, is what western businesses hope to achieve by training their employees in critical thinking, as it benefits the company as a whole, and they can continue to grow and develop.

This shows how important critical thinking is becoming in Western development. In Britain, it is growing in importance as a desired skill in employees. Staff are encouraged, and even expected to solve problems on their own, and to debate ideas with other staff members, and in many cases to explain their ways of working to other members of the team.

Before now critical thinking hasn’t been explored as a topic. Although the western world has been at the forefront of technology, new inventions and new discoveries, the role of critical thinking hasn’t been explored until now. Areas at the centre of western innovation, such as science, medicine, philosophy, etc. are becoming increasingly aware of critical thinking as an entity, and are studying the role critical thinking plays in their research.

For example, in January 2014, The Association of American Medicine Colleges (AAMC) published an article entitled ‘More Than Memorizing Facts: Medical Schools Emphasize Research and Critical Thinking as Foundations of Learning’. For the first time the field of medicine acknowledged the role critical thinking plays, not only in diagnosing patients, or research into diseases and cures but also in teaching medical students. As the article explains new HEAL-X teaching techniques are showing students how to apply the information learned, rather than just memorise facts, such as symptoms and diseases. As it continues, it says ‘With a goal of graduating physician scientists who ideally will join the Tulane faculty, HEAL-X techniques emphasize “lifelong learning and the fact that medicine is everchanging,” said N.

Kevin Krane, M.D., the medical school’s vice dean for academic affairs. Class activities include application of learned materials to clinical cases, review of material using audience response systems, team-based learning, and small group discussions.’ This article is evidence of the growing importance of critical thinking, and how it is deeply rooted in western development.

 Following on from this point, critical thinking is also vital in economic growth and development. As the article ‘The Age of Critical Thinking is Here’ published on explains, critical thinking is helping to develop the economy, as it is increasingly becoming more influential in the employment world, as well as a desired skill amongst stock-brokers. Nowadays, economists are required to have, according to this article ‘higher-order thinking skills’ or ‘HOT skills’. These are:

  1. critical thinking,
  2. communication,
  3.  problem solving,
  4. collaboration,
  5. innovation.

This article proves that as critical thinking becomes more affluent in education, and in businesses, so too does it in the various sectors of western culture that fuel its society and development.

Western culture is, to an extent, founded on people’s ability to think individually, and to rationalise their own ideas and thoughts. Therefore, it is critical that schools develop this, as it is becoming ever more influential in western society.

The development of critical thinking (critical reading and writing

Critical reading and writing skills are important for many areas of life, and feature heavily in the western educational system. In many British schools there is a lot of focus on subjects such as English Literature and History. These two subjects in particular focus on critical reading and writing.

Critical writing ?

For example, writing essays or reports, explaining their views, is how schools are helping students to develop their critical thinking skills. One example is the use of the PEE system (point, evidence, explain) in particular reference to these two subjects .

 For example if a student were given a question such as “why is London the best city?”, the student must give a point: ‘It is the best because it has a lot of restaurants’. Following on from this, they must supply the according evidence, so for example ‘according to Tripadvisor there are 14,781 restaurants in London’. This is the proof that they have grounds for their statement, proving it to be more than just an opinion or assumption. Finally, they must explain why this is a reason their statement, for so for example ‘because there is variety, something for everyone to choose and to like etc.’ this is just an example.

Exercises like this are very common in British schools, which helps to develop critical writing skills, along with how to express our views and information when we write. It helps us to develop the mentality that we must provide evidence and an explanation to our views, to show that we have analysed everything, that we have exhausted every aspect of the area of the chosen topic, and have reached this conclusion objectively.
A current example of this: From the AQA GCSE History exam paper June 2015: To what extent did Britain face the same problems in the aftermath of both The First World War, and The Second? This type of question is typical in the development of critical writing skills in the British

Education System. By using phrases such as To what extent… and How far did… it asks the student to analyse all the information, to take into consideration all the facts, and review the different outcomes. Then they must come to their own conclusions, once the evidence has been taken into account. Subjects, and exams such as these, are not solely designed to test a student’s knowledge, but also their ability to think rationally, and to come to a logical conclusion, rather than a hasty one.

However, subjects such as science also encourage critical writing, as it relies heavily on collecting data to be used as evidence to prove or disprove a theory. It is completely void of emotional choices, which is exactly what critical thinking asks a person to do.

Recently, as well, the government created a new subject for post-16 education. There is now an A-level called ‘General Studies’ which aims to develop a student’s knowledge, and thinking skills. According to this subject aims to: encourage students to:

  • Think across specialist subjects
  • Engage successfully with issues through the use of stimulating authentic source material
  • Develop their thinking skills, capacity to construct arguments and ability to draw conclusions
  • Improve their communication and presentation skills
  • Work independently and with others

This subject is evidence to changing teaching methodologies, with a higher focus on how we think, and how to better our thinking skills.

Schools are developing ways to help students to individually develop their critical thinking. They are being encouraged to question what they are being told, to ask ‘why is it that?’, to offer alternatives, all of which develops the ‘10th man’ idea, and to put that into words. For example, at university, many degrees involve a dissertation, in the final year of study. It is an individual assignment, the student can choose their topic, their question, and more importantly what conclusions they hope to achieve. From here, they must then collect their data and analyse it, in order to prove whether their early assumptions were correct. This process aids the development of critical thinking, and more importantly individual thinking, without any direction from teachers or other students. It is tasks like these, in the education system that help to encourage critical thinking, and critical writing.

However, the development of critical writing isn’t solely present in schools. Workplaces too are encouraging employees to question what is around them, as it prompts change which can help to develop a company. For example, in some instances employees are asked to establish new procedures or protocols.

For example a new fire evacuation plan, or health and safety procedures. Exercises such as these not only re-educate staff on the importance of fire safety, and health and safety, but also enable staff to review previous work, to look for flaws, or improvements which could be made to make it a more seamless process, and therefore more logical.

Following on from critical writing, critical reading is also an important element of education, as well as critical thinking as a whole. Critical reading skills develop our ability to read information, and to deduct from it the most useful. Therefore when we first read a text, we must decide which is the most important piece of information. Often, in teaching, students are asked to skim-read a text, and then to summarise it, to show how they can distinguish between necessary information and surplus.

However, It is not only our interpretation of what we read, but also the consideration of the author’s opinion, how that has influenced their writing and to what extent it then influences how we read the text.We must think about why the author wrote the document, why they wanted to talk about this topic etc.

Critical reading ?
Critical reading is about interpretation as well, and how much influence to place on the author. Much like in previous examples, where the role of emotions had depleted the ability to make objective decision; so too does the emotions and the opinions of the author. It can affect how the text is read, how we value the information, or even what information is being given. Critical reading is the ability to read a text, and to evaluate its utility, its bias, and to what extent we can trust it.

Therefore, when reading a Newspaper article, for example from the British Newspaper The Times, entitled ‘Tube Strike to cripple network for a week’. A person can’t just read it at face value, and accept 100% everything they see. Instead, critical reading is taking into consideration the political allegiances of the author or newspaper, or their opinions of Tube workers, for example. This is an example of how developing critical reading skills can help a person to evaluate what they read, and not to accept everything as fact, but rather to question it.

This skill is also applicable to the internet. Critical thinking and critical reading give people the intuition and skills to understand and appreciate that not everything they read online is accurate, and that they should carry out their own research or investigations to reach their own conclusions, rather than to blindly follow what they have read online.

However, critical reading also encompasses another skill, the ability to find hidden meanings in a text. This directly links back to how emotions can affect our rationality, and how the emotions of the author can affect the objectivity of a text. Therefore it also relates to deducting hidden meanings in a text, ‘reading between the lines’ as it were; and similarly not taking the text just at face value, but searching for alternative interpretations.

There are many ways to develop critical reading skills. For example in British schools, often in subjects such as English Literature, students are given a text (a novel or a poem) and are required to discuss it, either in groups, via presentations or through essays.

For example: if a student was given the poem for example The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, they would have to analyse the text, look at Frost’s choice of words, his repetition of the phrase ‘two roads diverged in a yellow wood...’, amongst other things. They might receive a question such as ‘Looking at this poem, what do you think is the person’s motivation for choosing that path?’ This type of question requires critical reading, because there is no one answer, it is a personal interpretation of the information; as well as a personal view of the author’s opinions, emotions, and their reasons for writing the text. They must explore different eventualities, various elements and areas of a text, rather than focus solely on one aspect, or the most obvious option; and use the text as evidence to supply examples for their statements.

In many ways schools develop these skills in class discussions, rather than teachers directing the students as to what to write. Critical writing and reading link in to the subject of critical thinking on a whole, which therefore means that it develops individual learning and thinking, by promoting individual interpretations and reasonings. It is hard to teach critical thinking or writing as a subject, therefore teachers create activities or exercises that can improve the basic elements of critical thinking, without necessarily having any direct link to a subject. In order to help develop these skills, british students are given homework activities, away from textbooks, to help encourage individual thinking, rather than a set formats, with set answers. Doing work like this, at home, means that the student must use their individual skills, which helps develop their critical thinking, rather than being swayed but other people’s opinions.

As the online website The Conversation explains in its article ‘Teaching how to think is just as important as teaching anything else’ it is the role of the teacher to encourage inquiries, individual questioning and to encourage students to think about their thinking process. How young people in Britain develop critical thinking Critical thinking is a fairly new concept, especially in teaching. In reality, it has only been a part of the school curriculum for approximately 15 years. And yet, in that time its use and importance has continued to grow, as more and more businesses, and even schools recognise its utility in the world, and for development.

 In the UK, now, there are many youth organisations which promote the use of critical thinking skills. For many of the political parties, there also exists a youth party organisation. For example the Youth Green Party. Now, one of the biggest youth political parties, the Youth Green Party is a prime example of how critical thinking is developed amongst young people. These young people join together, to discuss the topics or the manifesto of their political party, and they are encouraged to seek alternatives, or ways to implement the proposed plans. This requires inquiries, search for evidence, and also encourages them to test these existing ideas. All this amounts to ever developing critical thinking skills. However, in addition to this, political youth parties are not the only way for young people in Britain to develop critical thinking.

In 2015 the first UK Youth Police Commissioner was appointed, whose role is to advise on matters relating to youth crime, and to create proposals for new initiatives to tackle the large problem in the UK. Roles such as these are new ways to encourage youth participation, and to stimulate young thinking and more importantly critical thinking, as they were tasked with finding solutions to existing problems. Schemes such as these encourage the development of critical thinking skills, as it is giving young people the opportunity to research and provide solutions or conclusions to existing problems.

Certain technology companies have now created games as well to encourage critical thinking.  For example Nintendo created brain training games, not only to stimulate brain function, but also a person’s ability to solve problems. These kind of activities encourage young people to think, to explore possibilities and develop the logical side of their brain, all of which contribute to critical thinking, as it develops a person’s logical thinking skills.

Social media is also helping us to develop our critical thinking skills. People have taken to social media to discuss the topic of critical thinking. On Facebook there is the page ‘Critical thinking in young people’, as well as various videos on YouTube, which also promote young people to use critical thinking in day to day life. Using the internet makes young people aware of critical thinking.  On websites such as Twitter and YouTube, young people are exposed to media reports, to articles and more importantly people’s personal opinions. By being exposed to this constantly, it develops a person’s ability to separate fact from fiction. On average young people spend 27 hours a week on social media sites, which means by creating videos, writing pop-culture articles on websites such as Buzzfeed, it exposes young people to the topic of critical thinking, and encourages them to use it.

 As well as this, TV and film help to promote critical thinking. As previously stated Disaster movies such as 2012 and especially The Day After Tomorrow promote critical thinking, which in turn can influence a lot of young people, as many watch these films. By using modern technologies young people are more exposed to critical thinking, and its advantages.

As well as new social developments, which encourage critical thinking, developments have been made in teaching. More recently, schools have been adding subjects such as Citizenship, and PSHE (personal, social, health, education) help to develop, not only a student’s social awareness, but their thinking skills, and in turn their critical thinking. It is in these subjects where students can debate topics, create projects etc.

For example, there is a topic in PSHE called futureworlds. Students are given three different sets of events, with different consequences, which result in 3 different worlds. Students must analyse how these different sequences have affected these 3 fictional worlds, to compare them.

Students, must decide, using the evidence, and analysing the results which of the three worlds is the best. They must also conclude how they would have done things differently, and what sort of world they would have created. These type of exercises develop critical thinking skills, because students must looks at the events, or the evidence, and analyse them. It is developing their ability to link information, to objectively critique, and to come to logical conclusions.

 As well as this, these kinds of activities help students to structure their ideas, to search for the evidence to support their theories, and then form a logical way to explain them, to either their peers or their teacher. These exercises also encourage class debate, which also draws on the ‘10th man’ idea. Students are encouraged to take different viewpoints, and to argue, using evidence, which is true, or which is the better.

A common example in British schools is the debate about Jaffa Cakes (a food snack). Students are asked to debate, ‘is a Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit?’ These exercises also help to develop a student’s critical thinking skills. As they are split into two groups, they cannot readily agree, they must collect evidence to support their contradicting stances. Once this is complete, they must weigh up everything that has been said, and then come to an objective conclusion.

Exercises such as these are becoming more commonplace in British schools, as there is an increase in the teaching of critical thinking. An article published recently on Psychology Today talks of how last year Reebok were forced to refund $25 million to customers, after a report published by The American Council on Exercise found that their EasyTone sneakers were no better than regular sneakers. However, as this article points out, had these customers used critical thinking when purchasing these shoes they wouldn’t have spent $100-$245 on supposed toning shoes; as they say this ‘illustrates the need for critical thinking among consumers who face an onslaught of marketing campaigns that seek to persuade them to purchase things that are ‘good’ for them.’ Consumers who use critical thinking can differentiate between marketing, and the truth. This is an example of how young people should embrace critical thinking, that it still needs to be developed. But, on the other hand, the fact that this article was published shows that there has been a change and a recognition of critical thinking, and its usefulness in everyday circumstances.

How to develop this ?

It is difficult to develop critical thinking skills, but it would use a good variety of tasks. It requires a mixture of activities, to develop the various areas of critical thinking, as it encompasses a variety of skills. Tasks that require in depth thought and discussion help to develop skills such as cognitive thinking and critical thinking.

 For example, a common exercise used in British schools and universities is:
If you were stuck on an island, alone, and you only had 3 items, what would you take with you?” The student must choose any three items they want, and then discuss and debate with other students why they chose those things. So for example one student may have “a lighter (to start a fire), bottled water (to drink) and a phone (to call for help)”. That is one suggestion. So then, this student has to argue why they chose those things. The idea is then that the other members of the group debate the pro’s and con’s of these items, with the aim to have one list, for the whole class to agree on, so that everyone discusses and debates the usefulness of their items.

Similarly to this, the US Coast Guard use a test called Lost at Sea for applicants, to test their critical thinking skills. This test can also be used for non Coast Guard personnel, as an example test to develop critical thinking skills:

‘You and your 3 friends have rented a boat, and are sailing out at sea. You have no previous sailing experience, and you are out in deep, open water, with no land in sight. Suddenly a fire breaks out, and much of the boat is destroyed, along with vital navigational and radio equipment. You and your friends have managed to save 15, undamaged items, as well as a box of matches and a rubber life boat. You must now rank the 15 items out of utility, 1 being the most useful, 15 the least:

  1. A sextant
  2. A shaving mirror
  3. A quantity of mosquito netting
  4. A 25 liter container of water
  5. A case of army rations
  6. Maps of the Atlantic Ocean
  7. A floating seat cushion
  8. A 10 liter can of oil/petrol mixture
  9. A small transistor radio
  10. 20 square feet of opaque plastic sheeting
  11. A can of shark repellent
  12. One bottle of 160 proof rum
  13. 15 feet of nylon rope
  14. 2 boxes of chocolate bars
  15. An ocean fishing kit & pole

Once you have ranked these individually, discuss them amongst the group. This is to compare choices, but also to make a collaborative list, which in turn should be better as every person has engaged some form of critical thinking.

These kind of exercises are good in promoting critical thinking, and developing such skills, because people must think rationally and logically as these are the tools needed to complete the task. Although people may find it difficult, they are developing that style of thinking, rather than relying on emotions or hasty decisions; or the opinions of other people.

It is hard to create a set curriculum to develop critical thinking, because it is a way of thinking; and is directly related to the individual person; and their thought process, rather than being a set formula which can be taught by anyone to another, with set guidelines. Some critics say that it cannot be taught, but rather only advised and encouraged in students.

However, despite this, schools to a certain extent can develop critical thinking amongst their students. Much of the time, in British schools, students are encouraged to think for themselves. The educational system is becoming increasingly more aware of making students question what they read and hear. They ask students to conduct their own research, or investigations.

For example: The Extended Project:  AQA Level 3 Extended Project Qualification. This is a part of the education system for 16-18 year olds. It allows a student to choose their area of study, to analyse their chosen topic, by collecting relative data and information. By introducing exercises like this, it encourages students to develop independent learning skills, and independent thinking skills; instead of just learning facts. Therefore, tasks such as these develop critical thinking skills, and should be introduced into school systems worldwide, as it goes a step further in teaching. For not only does it teach students facts and knowledge, but it also teaches students to explore further, to expand on this knowledge and to draw their own conclusions.

As well as this, schools have started introducing the ‘questioning technique’. By using questions such as “why is that?”, and “are you sure? 100% sure?” teachers to an extent play devil’s advocate. They encourage students to explain what we think, and why they think it. In many instances, it isn’t to achieve a right answer, for there is no right or wrong answer. These questioning techniques are an attempt to develop each student's’ personal 10th man, so they don’t blindly accept simple facts.

As well as this British schools are starting to rely less on textbooks for a lot of their subjects. teachers are able to plan their own activities; which therefore allows them to use more of these types of activities. Therefore, it is possible to say that one way in develop critical thinking is to use textbooks less often, and in conjunction with independent activities.

 The implementation of subjects such as “personal and social education”, which has been previously mentioned, can also help to develop critical thinking, by teaching students about how to be a good citizen, and to encourage young people to think about how they ought to behave, and how they can contribute to society.Following on from the addition of new school subjects, another way to develop critical thinking, especially in future generations, is through class projects. Students can choose a topic, for example: the environment.

Therefore, they must select the information they think is the most relevant, and explain it to their fellow students; they must talk about the problems related to their topic, so in this instance, the environment. Finally, in a project, the students must supply possible solutions to the problems outlined. Activities like these help to develop critical thinking skills.

As well as the development of schools, another way to develop critical thinking amongst young people, or even children, is the use of online games or activities. Websites such as: have a variety of games and activities for children, which parents can use to encourage critical thinking. There are different activities, such as ‘Solve a Problem’. This is an activity which asks young people to consider what things influence them to make a decision, such as their friends, their emotions, what they see on TV etc. The activity then asks them to solve several problems, taking into consideration how they normally make their decisions, but also by using logic. Once they have selected their choice the computer discusses the various other options, and conclusions, to encourage them to think about the alternatives. This is just one example of the many different activities on this web page, which are fun ways to encourage young people and children to develop their critical thinking skills.

Another example on this web page is ‘Make Your Menu’. This activity is designed for young children, aged 5-8. They must construct a menu containing 5 foods from various food groups, to create a balanced diet. Not only does this require them thinking about what foods make a healthy diet, but also they think about what foods they eat on a daily basis. This kind of personal reflection, even on a basic level, helps to develop a person’s critical thinking skills.

To develop critical thinking, a varieties of techniques must be used, as it is a development on how we think. To do this, in my opinion, a large focus should be placed on education, to make education more interesting. By doing this, we encourage students to get involved, and to enjoy learning; and as such to think about how they think. The main way to develop critical thinking is by encouraging students to participate in class, to voice their ideas, and to help them to learn how to explain them well. By encouraging the individual to create their own ideas, to express themselves, we encourage independent thinking, which is the start point to critical thinking.

Critical thinking is an individual development, so we as a society must teach young people about the importance of the individual, not only for themselves, but the power an individual can have in regards to society, and to civilisation. By encouraging people to better themselves, we encourage them to want to better society by seeking alternatives and improvements, which in turns develops critical thinking. In order to develop critical thinking, we must first learn to critique ourselves and society, which increases our awareness of the world around us. This all contributes to a person’s ability for critical thinking, as they are more open to suggestions, personal improvements, and development on a whole.

In time, with fundamental changes to the education system, critical thinking will become a fundamental skill, acquired through education and life-experience which will hopefully be encouraged by society. This will in turn emphasise to people how important it is to understand the decision-making process, to understand how we think and in turn will lead to future generations with a better ability to make logical, rational and objective decisions which can benefit society as a whole.


By Hannah E.J


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