Lesson Plan On Critical Thinking For Children

Life is full of adventures! You never know what wonderful twists or turns lie ahead.  A few weeks ago, I had applied to be a guest writer on Rachel Lynette’s blog, Minds in Bloom. With so many other applicants, I never thought I would even be considered! I was absolutely floored when I received an email from Maggie, Rachel’s assistant, letting me know that they were ready for me to submit my post! Whaaat??  So cool!  So, here I am…writing as a guest blogger for Rachel Lynette!

One of my greatest passions as a teacher is to create an excitement…a buzz…a quest for learning in students.  There is nothing more exciting than to see that “Aha!” moment in a child’s eyes, the realization that he/she “gets it” and now knows how to share it with others.  Creative and critical thinking enables the student to better understand the world around them.  The concepts taught, combined with different kinds of thinking strategies can create a fabulous feast for the mind while training the brain to have the know-how to fearlessly meet real-world problems head on!

What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking requires fluidity!  It is divergent AND convergent. It is finding a solution to a problem–a solution that works best for that particular situation, time, and experience.  Critical thinking is active, not passive.  It engages the student in complex thinking, wherein they are forced to make choices, defend their choices, and harder yet, change their choices as needed when better or more complete information is found and understood.  Critical thinking is essential for solving complex problems as logic and reasoning skills are put to the test.

What is Creative Thinking?

Creative thinking is very similar to critical thinking in that it also requires fluidity and is essential for problem solving.  Creative thinking can be taught with practice and typically produces something unique, original, and fresh.  SCAMPER is a mnemonic device I use quite frequently with my students; it stands for substitute, combine, adapt, minify/modify/magnify, put to other uses, eliminate, and rearrange. SCAMPER is a great way to help a student understand what is needed to spark creativity from within.

How to Teach Your Students to Think…About Thinking

Using Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge higher-level question stems, students can better understand and eventually master inquiry-based questioning skills.  Incorporate these kinds of questions stems when discussing a wide variety of concepts with your students. Questioning activities:  Try them out!

Treat your students to a “taste” of questions!  Give each student a piece of gum and a serving of cotton candy.  Talk about the properties of each and how they relate to questioning strategies.  Cotton candy questions are lower level thinking questions and can usually be answered with a “yes” or a “no.”  On the other hand, bubble gum questions require the student to consider different kinds of answers, a mulling or “chewing” of answers.  These questions simply require more work! Just as your jaws get tired from chewing gum, your brain gets a workout when using just the right kind of questions!

2.  Mystery Objects

Bring a “mystery” object for the class to see, feel, and/or smell.  Students ask questions about the object and try to identify what the object is, where it came from, how it is made, how it is used, etc.  I had a friend bring a piece of sea glass to class one day.  Being from Utah, we don’t get a lot of sea glass, so this was something I had never seen or felt.  Believe me, I had a lot of questions about this object. Really fun!


Tips, Tricks and Ideas

The following list of ideas can be used across the curriculum, as well as with team or class building.  Try just a couple of these in one of your lessons and see how it goes!

Go Noodle

The Learning Station

Be Physically Active

Get your students moving around the classroom when working on projects.  Have them take a break and stretch or move to pre-made workouts found on different websites like  The Learning Station and Go Noodle.

Brainstorm/List Ideas

Take time to have your students generate solutions, ideas, reasons, etc.  Be careful not to judge!  Accept everything, and then have your students apply what fits or works for the given situation.

Make Connections…Create Extensions…Welcome Challenges

Encourage your students to make connections to the topic.  They should always be looking for how the conversation, topic, or concept affects them personally.  Create learning environments that extend their thinking.  Have them interview, create, decide, judge, combine, research, examine, re-examine, tweak!  Empower the students to welcome challenges with an “I’ve got this!” type of attitude.  No wimps allowed!

Consider the Opinion of Others


Students can be very territorial of their opinions and answers to a question.  It’s important that they learn to consider what others are saying, as well.  One of my favorite activities to practice this skill is called “Lost at Sea!  A Critical Thinking Adventure.”  Students are given the task of choosing 20 items to take with them as they swim to a deserted island for safety.  Once they choose, they must compare their list with their partner’s list. If the items match, great!  If they don’t match, students must try to convince each other why their choice is better for the situation at hand, or they must change their mind and agree with their partner’s choice. FREEBIE ALERT!  I love this activity, so it is my gift to you!  This resource will be free for you to download until August 1st, 2015.  Yay!  Prizes!

Establish a Positive Classroom Community

Students will be more likely to participate in discussions, class projects, activities, and assignments if they feel they play an active role and are an important element in their classroom.  Team building and class building activities are essential!

Communicate and Collaborate

I have yet to meet someone who is a master of everything!  But, I have met several who are masters of at least something!  Communication and collaboration will spur on critical and creative thinking.  Students are more successful by sharing their ideas and talents with a group.  Give your students time to work together.  Encourage them to find the solution to a problem together as a team of workers.  There is nothing better than a classroom involved in “controlled chaos.”

Invite Students to Question Their Thinking and Reflect Often on Their Learning

Einstein thought questioning and curiosity were the key elements to learning.  He constantly questioned his own thinking and was eager to find those cracks, those mistakes in his theories because it was one step closer to proving what didn’t work and finding the solution for what did.  Students should  question their thinking often, welcome the mistakes, and celebrate the successes.  Find time for critical, reflective learning moments.  Take time for students to soak in learning, as well as recognize what still needs to be done better.

Help Students Learn How to Justify Beliefs or Be Willing to Change Them

The way we think, including how we think, is largely based upon our personal experience.  It stems from the environment in which we live.  Guide students to recognize their beliefs and whether or not those beliefs are based on facts or emotions.  Students need to understand that it is okay to change their minds about previously held notions.  To think critically and creatively requires great flexibility.

Activities to Enhance Critical and Creative Thinking

Here are a few sites and activities I’ve used with my students to increase and enhance critical and creative thinking skills.  Although these activities may not align exactly to your curriculum, they are fabulous for teaching these important skills to your students! I hope you find them very helpful!


Hour or Code: Teach critical and creative thinking skills with coding activities.


Actively Learn: Add your own questions to enhance your student’s reading experience!

Graphite from Common Sense Media: One of my favorite sites…ever!  Great for finding lesson plans, apps, sites, and game-based activities perfect for developing critical and creative thinking.


Cinderella!  A Critical Thinking Activity: Take a look at the traditional story in a new way.


I Need a Hero! WebQuest: This three-week unit of study will have your students working together to save the day!
Teaching with Bloom’s TaxonomyPosters, Task Cards, Apps and Sites
Teaching with Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Posters, Task Cards, Apps and Sites


Logic Line-ups:  BUGS!: Work together as a team to solve each logic line-up problem.
Pamela Moeai is an Educational Technology Specialist, a trainer, a coach, a teacher, a mom, Grammy Pammy, and a baker of pies!  She is passionate about critical and creative thinking and loves to bring out the very best in students and teachers.  She received her B.A. in Elementary Education and her M.Ed in Instructional Technology. For more resources by Pamela Moeai, please visit her Teachers Pay Teachers store, Grow Wise with Pamela Moeai.  Connect with Pamela on Twitter, Instagram, and Grow Wise blog.

Rock or Feather?
A Critical-Thinking Activity

A simple activity can reveal much about the students you work with each day. Students make and defend their choices in this activity, called Rock or Feather? Included: Comments from teachers who've used the activity -- and a printable activity sheet!

Are you more like a rock or a feather? summer or winter? the city or the country? Which word in each of those word pairs best describes you, your personality, your dreams?

That's the idea behind a very simple activity that teacher Dick Fuller calls Rock or Feather? Last fall, Fuller shared the activity with members of an online listserv for middle-school teachers. Many teachers tried the idea and continue to use it.

Fuller, an exploratory teacher at Renfroe Middle School in Decatur, Georgia, first used the Rock or Feather? activity when he was an Outward Bound teacher. The idea behind the activity is simple, he says. Students make choices. For example, are they rocks or feathers? They have to choose one -- the one that describes them the best -- and they have to be able to explain why they made the choice.

Students might consider the following pairs:

  • drama or comedy
  • rock band or string quartet
  • clothesline or kite string
  • Big Mac or sirloin steak
  • river or pond
  • bat or ball
Click Rock or Feather? for a printable work sheet to use with your students.

"Of course, a lot of kids want to be able to pick something in the middle," added Fuller. That isn't allowed, however.

Some teachers might use the activity as a simple either-or checklist; kids use a pencil to mark their choices and a follow-up discussion ensues. Fuller puts a little more action into the activity. "Just to make it interesting and physical," he said, "instead of using it as a work sheet exercise, I make all the kids stand in the middle of the room. Then, for each pair of words, they have to move to one side of the room or the other. This makes it a little tougher for them because their actions are right out there and they can't hide."

Teacher Janice Robertson likes the Rock or Feather? activity so much that she uses it as an icebreaker when school opens. "The activity quickly let me know which kids have higher-level reasoning [skills], which kids are shy about speaking out loud, and which kids are followers," said Robertson, a seventh-grade teacher at Tecumseh Public School in Mississauga, Ontario.

Like Fuller, Robertson lets her students move around the room when she uses the Rock or Feather? activity. "The students really appreciate being able to move around, and they watch in amazement as some of their peers choose and justify their -- to them -- bizarre selections," she told Education World.

The variations on the Rock or Feather? activity are endless. Some teachers use it as a simple checklist. Others give the assignment for homework and ask students to write the reasons for their choices. Some use the individual word pairs as prompts for journal writing. Others invite students to think up word pairs to add to the activity.

All agree that it's a great opportunity to challenge students to think critically, make choices, and learn about themselves and others.

"I use the activity as a time filler in my eighth-grade health classes," said Anitha Diol, a health teacher at Dowagiac (Michigan) Middle School. "The students always laugh when I tell them their options. The students seem to like it, and I enjoy learning more about them."

Some teachers use another variation on the activity -- one that uses four corners of the room rather than two sides. One teacher posted to Middle-L some examples of four-choices questions:

  • Are you a 911 Porsche, a Cadillac Seville, a Toyota Camry, or a Ford Windstar?
  • Are you a mansion, a farmhouse, an apartment, or a semi-detached?
  • Are you an elephant, a gazelle, a Siamese cat, or a falcon?

"I have to confess I did use the four-corner ones because I like forcing adolescents to make decisions," added Robertson. "I also wrote the words on construction paper and had them arranged in piles -- one pile in each corner. When we were ready to go to the next group of choices, one student in each corner lifted the top card. I really believe that, whenever possible, being able to see the words as well as hear them helps students think."

Dick Fuller has tried yet another twist with eye-opening results. He has the advantage of teaching seventh graders in a single-sex setting. Last year, he did the activity with his all-boy and all-girl classes. This year he did it with the same kids, who are now in mixed-gender eighth-grade classes.

"In the seventh grade, girls and boys could be either a rock or a feather," recalled Fuller. "They could justify their answers and there was no competition between the sexes to get in the way. In that all-male setting, there was mutual acceptance of all the answers. [The same was true in the all-girl classes.] With the same group, now in a mixed class in the eighth grade, all the girls were feathers and all the boys were rocks! From that, we had a springboard into a good talk about stereotypes.

"Boys not only will talk, they want to talk," added Fuller, who has observed that in his all-boy classes. "I believe, however, they are not given much opportunity and they are forced to suffer from lack of expression because 'real men' don't express their feelings.... Separated, without the competition of girls in the class, they will talk about the double standards they face, how they pick role models, their fears and successes, and the pain of death and divorce. They just need to be given the chance."

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor in Chief
Copyright © 2005 Education World

Originally published 10/15/2002
Updated 01/08/2010


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