Creative Suggestions for Critical Thinking

The following suggestions are taken from the 1997 edition of CWP’s publication “The Writery.” They are adaptations from John Bean’s Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. The classroom examples feature various past and present MU writing intensive instructors.

Think of tasks that would let students link concepts in your course to their personal experiences or prior knowledge.

  • In Peter Campbell’s and Marsh Lyons’ Expressive Media class, students create digital autobiographies, which are digital interactive, multimedia “essays” students design to tell others about themselves. By focusing on a subject of which they have deep knowledge, students have a place to practice their emerging skills and develop proficiency in technological applications such as: Photoshop, Hypercard, SoundEdit, etc. These applications motivate students to explore programs further and become able to think through which are best suited for their own sense of audience, purpose, and context.

Ask students to teach difficult concepts in your course to a new learner.

  • Miriam Golomb mixes majors with non-majors in her Freshman Biology class peer groups. Thus, majors must learn how to craft their language to present difficult concepts to beginners, and beginners must learn how to incorporate other sources of authority into their thinking.

Think of problems, puzzles, or questions you could ask students to address.

  • In a Freshman Agriculture course, Dennis Sievers asks students to use risk/benefit analysis as a way to bring ethics to bear upon difficult resource decisions. Working in groups, students address questioins such as, “What should the water allocation policy be for states along the Missouri River? and “What policy should govern pesticide use by lawn-care companies within the city of Columbia?”

Give students raw data (lists, graphs, or tables) and ask them to write an argument for analysis based on the data.

  • In a junior-level Biochemistry course, Susan Deutscher provides her class with data obtained from a transposed mutagenesis experiment. Using the data provided, students write a microtheme addressing questions such a s, “Could we isolate mutants without selection?” and “How many lac-operant mutants would we expect if transposition were entirely random?”
  • In a sophomore-level Biology course, Gerald Summers adds a twist to the “data-provided microtheme” by providing data as propositions that students must synthesize into a meaningful essay.
  • In a sophomore level Entymology course Elain Backus provides students with a set of related terms such as “mate, location, gift, aggregation, pheromes, fireflies, aggressive, and releaser,” which they then have to connect in a meaningful way.

Have students role-play unfamiliar points of view (imagine x from the perspective of y) or “what if” situations.

  • Bill Hawk has his Art Appreciation students assume the role of museum curator and write a formal propoasl to the museum’s board of director arguing for why they should buy a particular painting for an exhibition at the museum. Students need to craft arguments which are not onley persuasive but which accurately describe the painting they’ve selected.

Select important articles in your field and ask students to write summaries or abstracts of them, or ask students to write summaries of your lectures.

  • As a way to help students think and read critically about major issues in Art History, Kathleen Slane has them summarize difficult articles. Students engage in the kind of foundational thinking necessary before they write essays comparing and evaluating works of art.

Develop cases by writing scenarios that place students in realistic situations realevant to your discipline, where they must reach a decision to resolve a conflict.

  • In Nursing, Donna Dixon asks students to read case studies and explore various ethical and legal dilemmas, for example, “To what degree, and under what circumstances, must nurses collude with physicians in active euthanasia?