What if there was a simple way to teach the core 21st century competencies of creative and critical thinking, collaboration and communication skills in one educational programme?
The Hexis21 Critical Thinking Course offers a solution for schools interested in providing opportunities to address this essential requirement.
We currently offer free educational resources under a Creative Commons License (Attribution-Non-Commercial CC BY-NC) that present real world issues along with thinking strategies to evaluate and solve them.
The premise behind this project is the development of critical thinking skills. Critical thinking skills need to be taught as they provide students with essential life skills that help with but also go beyond academic achievement.
The following extract is taken from UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ 2019 message on International Youth Day, observed on 12 August:
International Youth Day is 20 years old. This year, Youth Day highlights the theme of “Transforming Education” to make it more inclusive, accessible and relevant to today’s world.
We are facing a learning crisis. Too often, schools are not equipping young people with the skills they need to navigate the technological revolution. Students need not just to learn, but to learn how to learn.
Education today should combine knowledge, life skills and critical thinking. It should include information on sustainability and climate change. And it should advance gender equality, human rights and a culture of peace.
All these elements are included in Youth 2030, the United Nations strategy to increase our engagement with young people and support them in realizing their rights. Today, we celebrate the young people, youth-led organizations, Governments and others who are working to transform education and uplift young people everywhere.
This aim of this project is to address the teaching of critical thinking skills in order to equip students with an understanding of how to think and learn.
The main idea behind the project is for students to think about their thinking: to develop their metacognitive skills. They will also practise the skills of self-regulation, self-evaluation, listening, collaboration, skim reading, definition-finding, analysis, evaluation, goal setting, decision-making, and public speaking.
This project can be differentiated so that it challenges students from a wide age range. The duration of the project will depend on a variety of factors. At its minimum time frame, this project will last between 8 and 10 hours.
The project is suitable for a class or year group project, for a series of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), Critical Thinking lessons, Modern Studies, Politics, Civics or Citizenship lessons. It would also suit an end of semester project.
Scriven (1996) highlighted the importance of critical thinking as,
“…the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action"
Angelo (1995) points to critical thinking
"… as the intentional application of rational, higher order thinking skills, such as analysis, synthesis, problem recognition and problem solving, inference, and evaluation"
These skills complement but also transcend the learning and teaching of content, and once taught and practised, they can become the tools upon which students can draw to navigate the world around them.
The project includes individual tasks, group tasks, the possible use of ICT, literacy and numeracy. The worksheets can be used by students or used by the teacher as a guide to structuring each task. Sticky dots and sticky notes would be useful for Task E.
The tasks and skills contained within this project can help schools to meet national education targets such as:
Learning for Sustainability (GTCS Professional Standards Framework):
Equality and justice and recognising the rights and responsibilities of future as well as current generations
Committing to the principles of democracy and social justice through fair, transparent, inclusive and sustainable policies and practices in relation to: age, disability, gender and gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion and belief and sexual orientation.
Valuing as well as respecting social, cultural and ecological diversity and promoting the principles and practices of local and global citizenship for all learners.
Demonstrating a commitment to engaging learners in real world issues to enhance learning experiences and outcomes, and to encourage learning our way to a better future.
Respecting the rights of all learners as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and their entitlement to be included in decisions regarding their learning experiences and have all aspects of their well-being developed and supported.
In this project, students will use critical thinking strategies in order to research, analyse, evaluate and make judgements about possible strategies to tackle poverty in the fictional country, Darwan.
As an introduction to the fictional country of Darwan, here is a video showing an overview:
The Project exposition begins here:
The teacher can begin by introducing the concept of critical thinking. The first three slides of the presentation can be used at this point.
It is important for the teacher to use repeatedly and consistently the terminology associated with critical thinking so that students are aware of what they are doing.
The teacher could begin with a short exposition demonstrating their thought processes. Here, the teacher is verbalising the issue and demonstrating the way that they linked ideas with their prior learning and ultimately arrived at a solution.
The teacher could present a scenario where he/she is considering his/her mode of transport to school in terms of convenience, cost, time and environmental impact:
This morning I drove to school in my car. I know that this is not very environmentally-friendly, especially since it takes diesel fuel. I could have taken my bike but it was raining and I would have been wet on arrival to school. It also takes twice as long as the car journey and I had got up late that morning. I took the bus a few weeks ago and the journey was shorter than my car journey because the bus can travel in the designated bus lane. This means that it can avoid all of the traffic. I read in the local newspaper last week that buses in the city use Eco-fuels. The bus has free WiFi so I could listen to my favourite podcast on my way to work. The bus stop is right outside the school gates. I think the best option is to take the bus during the school week and only use my car when going to the supermarket on the weekends.
The teacher should tell the students that what he/she has just demonstrated is known as ‘thinking out loud’ and that this is going to be a very important thinking skill that they will be practising during this project. The teacher should mention that one of the benefits of this thinking approach is that different ideas can be explored and weighed up before a decision is made, as opposed to making a snap decision and then have to quickly think of ideas to justify it or backtrack and abandon it.
The teacher should explain that communication is also going to be an important skill that students will practise during this project. The next task requires clarity of instruction and careful listening skills from the students.
The teacher should now divide the class into small groups (no more than 6 students). One student should be selected to come out to the front of the room. This student will be the ‘builder’. The builder be given 8 pieces of Lego and will build a random structure using the pieces of Lego provided. The same style and number of pieces of Lego should be given to each group.
The groups are now required to replicate it exactly, including the size and colour. Only one member from the group can check out the original structure at a time and go back to describe it to the team while they try and create the structure.
Task A: Introduction to Darwan.
Slide 4 in the presentation can now be shown. The teacher introduces the premise of the project: the students will be assessing the current state of the fictional country of Darwan.
Slide 5 incorporates a video about Darwan. The video lasts a little over three minutes. Before the video is played, the teacher could offer students a small piece of plain paper and ask them to sketch note some of the main ideas that they hear in the video. This could involve stick people, words, symbols or more elaborate drawings. More information about sketch noting as a learning tool can be found here.
Slide 6 asks students to consider which groups of people may enjoy living in Darwan, and which groups would face challenges. The teacher should prompt students by asking students to explain their ideas. A simple way to do this is to adopt the Hochman Method. While this method relates to the improvement of literacy through writing, it could be employed easily to this scenario:
If a teacher poses the question:
“Which groups may face challenges in Darwan?”
A student may give the answer as:
The teacher should tell students that answers will only be accepted if they are followed with the words “because…..so…..but” These words could be written up onto a white board to remind students.
An answer using the Hochman Method would be:
"Ethnic minorities would face more challenges because they suffer from higher levels of homelessness so this would mean that they will struggle to find employment but if the government builds more suitable and affordable houses, ethnic minorities will not face such inequalities.” The teacher may wish to stretch their students and could require more complex sentence structures that need to begin with the following words:
As a result
This could remain an oral task, however it could also be translated into a written task.
More information about the Hochman Method in action can be found here.
Slide 7 shows the three infographics that can be printed and perhaps laminated for future use.
In small groups (6 is ideal), students should look through the brief points that relate to the make-up of Darwan.
These points offer additional information about Darwan in relation to its:
Electricity by voltage
Not all of this information will be immediately relevant to the students. They will need to sift through the infographics for relevant information. This act is an example of being able to think critically about information that adds to the requirements of the task, and being able to sidestep information that may distract them or is actually irrelevant to them at this point. Click on the image to download the infographics:
Depending on the age and ability of the students, it may be useful to use the Important Vocabulary worksheets (Slide 8 and below) to note any definitions of words that are unfamiliar to them. They can be encouraged to look up the words or try to infer the meaning of some of the words from the sentences. Students should be encouraged to add in more words or phrases which are unfamiliar to them. Download the vocabulary sheets here or access an editable online template here:
If time is an issue, it may be more beneficial if the definitions are presented to the students at the same time as the infographic.
Students should then move on, in their groups, to make an initial analysis of the country of Darwan using the three analysis worksheets (download here or access an editable template here) These are shown on Slide 10. Their notes and sketch notes from the video may also be used for this task:
The point of this task is to get students to think about how to categorise different factors. One idea could be modelled by the teacher, for example:
If we were to look at the second infographic, we would categorise ‘Civil Rights’ as a political factor. Although it is related to society, it is a legal issue and we can see from the text that rights are not protected or guaranteed by the Human Rights Act, particularly those of pressure group members and activists.
The teacher should lead a whole class discussion asking for ideas from each group. The student responses should be followed up with the question:
What would the implication of this issue be if this were to continue in the long-term?
Slide 11 requires the teacher to pose two follow up questions:
What predictions can you make about the future of Darwan?
What additional information about Darwan would be helpful at this point?
Students should be given thinking time to write down two or more responses. They can use the Critical Analysis worksheet (Slide 12) to help them organise their ideas. Download this worksheet here or as an editable online resource here:
Each student will then turn to the person next to them and discuss their ideas. The pairs must combine their ideas and come up with the two best answers to the two questions. These should be added to their worksheet. The teacher will then ask for feedback from each of the pairs in front of the whole class.
By this point, students will be gaining in confidence as no one knows any more than anyone else does at this stage. Be aware that for some students this will present frustrations especially if they are used to being the best in the class in relation to a particular topic area. This task places all students on a level playing field which should encourage a growth mindset.
TASK B: Analysis of the Briefing Paper on Poverty in Darwan.
The next next task is to read the Briefing Paper on poverty in Darwan (Slide 14). Students should be encouraged to skim read the article first to identify sub-headings.
The teacher should ask students what they think the Briefing Paper is about. This is a simple question, but it is valuable because it is guiding students in how to approach an extended piece of text. For some students, a piece of continuous prose of this length will feel overwhelming. However, if the teacher can model a way to break down the text, students can feel as though it is more manageable than they may have first believed.
The students should skim read the text in the first instance. The teacher could explain what this means. The website, myspeedreading.com states that skimming:
is the strategy to get the main idea or the most important point in the passage or book.
involves running your eyes through the texts, visually searching the sentences and passages of a page for clues.
implies looking only for the general or main ideas. This is especially suitable for factual material and one can skip the rest while looking for the important issues.
is to know what is happening. It is just like glancing through something to know what it is about.
Students should then be given dedicated reading time.
During this time they should be encouraged to underline or highlight any words or phrases that are unfamiliar to them.
The teacher should go around the room assisting students with these terms (or if time allows, students could look up the words themselves) and helping them to infer meaning from the text. This is not the same as guessing – guessing should not be encouraged. The teacher could help students to identify parts of a difficult word in order to ‘work out’ the meaning.
The teacher should encourage students to self-monitor and self-regulate. This can be done by stopping students after a few minutes of reading the first section of the text and asking:
What is the issue that you are reading about?
Does this information link with anything that you already know about poverty in Darwan?
The teacher could then ask students to pause after a few more minutes has passed (depending on the reading speed and ability of the class) and pose questions, such as:
How would you explain this issue to a five-year-old?
What conclusion(s) can you draw from the information in the Briefing Paper?
Schraw (1998) outlines the processes required to foster and encourage meta cognition, or ‘thinking about thinking’:
1. Slow down (Stop, read and think about the information)
2. Activate prior knowledge (What do you already know? What don't you know?)
3. Mental integration (Relate main ideas. Use these to construct a theme or conclusion)
The Briefing Paper task is a ideal opportunity for meta cognition to be talked about by the teacher and practised by the students. The task encourages students to think about their thinking and the process of learning. Instead of passively reading, they are encouraged to self-monitor and ask themselves questions about their grasp and interpretation of the information.
The students should now make their notes about poverty in Darwan using the Briefing Paper and Knowledge Organiser (Slide 15). They should identify four significant points that they feel are worthy of mention. There are many more – this will result in students selecting different ideas/statistics/quotations.
All students need to write a sentence showing the link between the four points. The link could be a cause or short/long-term impact. It could be that gender or ethnicity links all of the points, or perhaps a lack of healthcare or a comprehensive welfare state. Download the pdfs below here or access an online editable template here.
The teacher could now lead a problem solving task as follows (click image to download):
The idea is that Issue A leads to Issue B which leads to Issue C. Teachers may choose to hand out blank templates of this Road to Poverty worksheet for student to complete. The above example can be used by the teacher as a model.
The teacher should move around the room asking questions and offering prompts for students that are finding this task challenging. One way to prompt a student would be to ask:
Imagine if you were in that position. What would it mean for your future prospects? What kinds of things would you be able to do in society? What kinds of things would be very difficult for you to do if you were facing this issue?
Another option could be for the teacher to present this simple flow diagram:
The teacher explains that students need to try to find links between some of the ideas that they have discussed and read about so far.
The teacher could model his/her thinking so that the processes are clear to the students. Students can see how he/she is actively thinking out loud about the relationship between ideas and using the Hochman Method to deepen the analytical thinking.
The teacher might say:
If I begin with the issue of gender in Darwan: I can make a judgement that women experience more income and inequality than men. This is because they do not receive maternity benefit from the government. When gender is linked to ethnicity, we can see that income inequality is greater for ethnic minority women, particularly women from the Romany community. As a result, it could be argued that there is a direct correlation between gender, ethnicity and poverty. This is because ethnic minority women experience discrimination and a lack of access to education. Ethnic minority males also experience a lack of opportunities, however this is not as great as those experienced by their female counterparts.
So the teacher could ask students to write down their ideas on some paper. A writing frame could be offered, such as:
From the evidence, I can make a judgement that…….This is because…….When this issue is linked to…….it is clear that……..As a result,…..This is because…
TASK C: Analysis of graphical data
The next task requires students to analyse and draw conclusions from graphical data.
There are six sources that can be used in this task: four bar charts, one line graph and one doughnut pie chart. Each graph reveals information about poverty in Darwan. Download them here.
Students will have the opportunity to make connections between and within the graphs.
In groups of six, students can be allocated one graph each:
Graph 1 shows the relationship between child poverty and ethnicity in Darwan.
Graph 2 shows the average school-leaver age by ethnicity in Darwan.
Graph 3 shows a projection of poverty levels in Darwan.
Graph 4 shows levels of homelessness by ethnicity and gender in Darwan.
Graph 5 shows life expectancy of males in Darwan according to ethnicity.
Graph 6 shows life expectancy of females in Darwan according to ethnicity.
Students should be encouraged to spend a few minutes interpreting their graph. They can use the worksheet below to help them organise their thoughts. The worksheet shows the process of reading and interpreting the graph.
The teacher could move around the room during this task offering guidance. Some students will find this task challenging. This is because they need to identify relationships between the factors shown in the graphs. Where students struggle with this interpretation task, they can be encouraged to verbalise their thinking about what they are seeing before them.
From the graph (4) above, some students may be able to comment that poverty will go up but they could be prompted to think in terms of ‘a gradual increase over the course of the next 45 years’. Depending on the ability level of the class, it could be wise for the teacher to use this as an example of the level of thinking and interpretation that is desirable here. Download the worksheet below here or access the online editable template here.
Once each student has completed the task above, they should form a group of six so that each graph is represented. One person in the group should be designated as the scribe. Each person within the group will tell their peers what they found out from their graph. The scribe will collate the ideas and complete the first section of the following knowledge organiser (download the worksheet here or access an online editable template here):
The scribe should now pose the subsequent four questions to the group. These questions require students to move from knowledge-acquisition to deeper analysis of why poverty needs to be tackled and the social, economic and political implications of poverty in Darwan. Students are required to draw upon their prior knowledge and think critically about the implications of the information that they have gathered up to this point.
A whole class discussion can follow where ideas of the groups are shared. Groups can note any new ideas to their worksheets.
This will help the groups to keep building up a base of knowledge, understanding and analysis of the issues facing Darwan.
TASK D: Analysis of textual and visual sources of information
Within their groups, students will move on to analyse six textual/visual sources.
A short discussion could be led by the teacher about the importance of assessing the credibility of sources of information. Students may link this idea to the prevalence of fake news today.
The teacher could ask the students how they might ascertain whether a source of information is credible or reliable. The teacher could then ask students about the political affiliations of national newspapers, the broadcasting regulations that television is bound by (UK), the sources of information found on social media etc.
The teacher should ask students if all sources are useful even if they are fake news or biased. The teacher could point to recent examples of fake news to discuss this further. The teacher could then ask if state-funded newspapers and TV news programmes are reliable and /or useful. The teacher should encourage students to develop their ideas by using ‘because’ in order to explain their points.
The Credibility Checker should be introduced to students. This is shown below and appears on Slide 23. Download this document as a pdf here.
Students should each be given the following Individual Source Analysis worksheet so that they are ready when they receive their source. Download this resource here or access an online editable template here.
In groups of six, students will each be given a source of information to read and analyse:
A newspaper report
A pressure group newsletter
Political opposition party poster
Government website page
Tweet from a TV presenter
Click on the images to download as a pdf:
A new scribe is appointed in the group and together, the students discuss their thoughts. The following Source Analysis document can be used by the group to prompt them to find corroboration, contractions, truthfulness, claims and motivations. The group will also have to consider the use and choice of images in the sources. (all sources except the Tweet include images):