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How to Teach Critical Thinking by Forming Opinions

Teaching Critical Thinking through Forming Opinions

Teaching students to distinguish opposing viewpoints on a topic, then to determine their own viewpoint is a critical skill. Students need to be able to look at media critically. It’s important they understand that what they see on the news, articles, radio, and television are often swayed by the creator’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Students need to be able to review information critically. It is important for them to learn to recognize when information is influenced by opinions, and learn to form their own opinions based on their personal experiences and values. In this post, I share tips and strategies for teaching critical thinking through forming opinions along with some of my favorite critical thinking resources.

Critical Thinking Topics

I strongly believe that we should not shy away from controversial or polarizing topics, including current events. Students see what is going on in the media, and it is important we don’t make real-life topics taboo. Instead, we should lead appropriate discussions about different perspectives and why it is important for people to believe in different things. After all, it is in the diversity of thought that truly makes us individuals. As Maya Angelou said, “in diversity there is beauty, and there is strength.” Exploring challenging critical thinking topics is a great way to build inclusiveness and understanding in your students.

Modeling Critical Thinking Skills

The best way to teach this skill is to provide real-life examples of opposing viewpoints. Model by reading different newspapers or article clips with different viewpoints. Have classroom discussions about how students feel about these topics. Then outline the different facts and opinions shared in each example. To integrate different media, show two different news media clips from a current event. Have a discussion about the different viewpoints displayed. While using these real-life discussions, model and show students the importance of respecting different viewpoints and disagreeing respectfully.

Here are some relevant topic ideas students care about:

  1. Are aquariums harmful or helpful?
  2. Which candidate would make the best president?
  3. Should students have homework?
  4. Should kids eat junk food?
  5. Should immigration laws be more lax or more strict?
  6. Should the government pay for health care?
  7. Should schools have a police officer on campus?
  8. Should we celebrate and read Dr. Seuss?
  9. Should transgender kids be allowed to choose the bathroom they are comfortable with?

Prompts for Teaching Critical Thinking Skills

  • I respectfully disagree with you because I feel___________________________________.
  • I understand __________________ is important to you. On the other hand, ____________________ is important to me.
  • I think it was a great point when you said ____________________. I think ____________________.
  • You said __________________________. Another point to consider is ________________________.

Student-Led Critical Thinking Exercises

Once students develop the skills to think critically and interact respectfully, they can work on their own critical thinking topics.

Allow time for students to brainstorm their own topics that are important to them. Then they can interview classmates using the prompts above.

image showing students on stairs outside a building holding speech bubbles with different opinions on them.

Using Differentiation to Teach Critical Thinking

Foundational Skills

  • If students are struggling with this skill, you may need to revisit distinguishing fact from opinion. A foundational skill to critical thinking is understanding the difference between facts and opinions, so it can be difficult for students who cannot differentiate facts and opinions proficiently.
  • If you are looking for resources to help students understand differentiating facts and opinions, check out these grade specific Fact v. Opinion units.

Cover of Fact and Opinion in nonfiction resource for first grade showing images of reading passages and activities. Cover of Fact and Opinion in nonfiction resource for second grade and thirds grade showing images of reading passages and activities. Cover of Fact and Opinion in nonfiction resource for fourth grade and fifth grade showing images of reading passages and activities. Cover of Fact and Opinion in nonfiction resource bundle for second grade, third grade, fourth grade, and fifth grade showing images of reading passages and activities.

Classwide Support

  • Because it requires exploring various viewpoints and understanding how opinions are formed, critical thinking is a skill that can be developed through interaction better than individual study. Allowing more time for class discussions can help struggling students grasp this skill.

Use Less Challenging Materials

  • Students can be limited in their critical thinking skills because of their lack of reading comprehension skills. It is hard to think critically about a text that you struggle to read and understand. Try displaying photographs that show opposing viewpoints. Then discuss how people feel differently about the topics.
  • Use differentiated passages at individual student levels. My Skill & Strategy Series resources are Lexile leveled and vary throughout each text complexity band. They are perfect for differentiating across the entire classroom.

Opposing Viewpoint Resources

Finding the right resources for opposing viewpoint skills can be difficult. That’s why I created a set of grade specific resources just for teaching these skills!

 

Opposing Viewpoints cover showing images of reading passages and question sets focused on teaching 2nd grade and 3rd grade how to understand different viewpoints. Opposing Viewpoints cover showing images of reading passages and question sets focused on teaching 4th grade and 5th grade how to understand different viewpoints. Opposing Viewpoints cover showing images of reading passages and question resource bundle focused on teaching 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade how to understand different viewpoints.

 

Give these strategies a try, then let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below or sending me a note!

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