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Advice for teachers -
Extended Investigation

Critical thinking activities

While Unit 3 Area of Study 3 deals specifically with critical thinking, the study design indicates that students should develop and use critical thinking skills throughout both units. The following exercises may be useful for developing and using critical thinking skills during some or all of the five areas of study. They can be undertaken as whole class or individual activities.

  • Goldilocks (docx - 80.67kb): Students examine a particular topic or issue, posing questions about the issue that are ‘too hot’ and ‘too cold’, ‘too hard’ and ‘too soft’, and ‘too small’ and ‘too large’.
  • Russian dolls: This task focuses on understanding the components of a topic. Students create an initial list of key ideas for a research topic. They then expand on this by generating sub-questions or sub-topics from the initial list. This process can be replicated two, three or more times, highlighting the complex connection between ideas within a topic or research area.
  • Pro Con tables: These tables can be used in several ways when teaching about critical thinking. The central purpose is always to make clear the connection between arguments and counter-arguments. These activities include:
    • providing an issue with supporting material and asking students to identify the main arguments for and against the topic.
    • providing an incomplete Pro Con table and asking students to construct the missing arguments.
    • providing an issue, a list of arguments and counter-arguments, and asking students to sort them into ‘for’ and ‘against’, and subsequently to match each argument with its counter-argument.
  • Venn diagrams: Students draw three intersecting circles. Each circle represents a topic or component of an argument and the intersection represents the connection between these. Students develop arguments that intersect across multiple perspectives or interests within the topic.
  • SHEEP-T (docx - 80.67kb): Students use the SHEEP-T acronym (social, historical, environmental, economic, political, technological) to consider an issue from multiple perspectives. They first generate questions and core ideas connected to a topic within each area, and then develop arguments for and against the proposition within each area.
  • Argument mapping: Students identify the contention, premise(s), evidence, conclusion(s), reasons, and/or propositions within arguments. This task can become more elaborate over time with arguments that are initially short (with minimal elements) becoming more complex (with interconnected elements). Consider starting with tweets or letters to the editor.
  • Stakeholder responses: This activity helps students to understand that a proposition or topic can be understood from multiple perspectives depending on the cognitive bias or background brought to the topic by different stakeholders. Students are first asked to identify the key stakeholders in a debate and then undertake basic background research on their position. They then try to write arguments from the perspective of one stakeholder. These arguments are shared with the class to indicate the varied perspectives that can result.
  • Cognitive bias flow chart: Students break down sources of evidence into a series of cognitive biases that may have led to the evidence being used. They engage with the SHEEP-T acronym to further identify the focus of the cognitive bias within evidence. They then represent the connection between these ideas as a flow chart.
  • Research question flow chart: Students break down their own investigations into a series of steps. Alternatively, a sample investigation can be used as a preliminary activity when students are preparing their investigation and exploring different research questions. This activity highlights the critical connection between research question and method.
  • Bias and assumptions analysis: Students are provided with articles on a specific issue. They identify the assumptions that are made within the articles and identify any bias on the part of the authors.