Critical Thinking Activities for Middle School

by Christopher Cascio

Critical thinking skills are essential to helping middle school students develop into intelligent, open-minded adults. Activities for developing these skills can be performed in any classroom or at home, and they often encourage students to question aspects of their own personalities and the opposing perspectives of others.

Rock or Feather?

Have your students stand and gather in the middle of the room. Tell them that you will ask a question that gives them a choice, and they will have to answer and explain why their choice is true. Ask your students if they are a rock or a feather. Tell the rocks to move to one side of the room and the feathers to move to the other side. Then, one by one, ask each student to explain why he made his choice. By answering this question, your students are forced to make definitive choices and examine the qualities that support their decisions. You can repeat the exercise with other questions, such as "Are you a bat or a ball?" or "Are you a comedy or a drama?"

Word Wizards

This activity puts a student's analytical skills to the test. Write a word or phrase on the board. Then ask your students to write a list of all the words they can think of that use only letters in that word. For example, if the word is "tomatoes," their words could include "too," "toes" and "same." Have students repeat the exercise with a different word, but while working in groups of two or three instead of individually. Students tend to come up with more answers to the problem when they're working collaboratively. The group portion of this activity can encourage students to observe and adopt critical thinking skills displayed by their peers.

How Is a Peanut Like Me?

On the chalkboard, write "How is a peanut like me?" Give your students five minutes to write a list of at least five ways they are similar to a peanut. Tell them not to worry about being literal; their answers can be creative and figurative. For example, a student might claim to be thick-skinned, or that he cracks under pressure, just like a peanut. By answering this question, your students identify some of their own personal characteristics and investigate the nature of those characteristics.

Opposing Debates

A major aspect of critical thinking is considering opposing viewpoints, and this activity will require your students to do so. Write a list of controversial topics on the board familiar to your class, such as school uniforms, standardized testing and zero-tolerance policies in schools. Then ask who agrees with each side of each topic. Pair students with opposing viewpoints together. Assign each student to write a two-minute speech that argues for the opponent's side of the debate. They can't fake it or use a false argument to support their own ideas; they must argue for the opposing side. Have each pair read their speeches, and then ask them if they have a better understanding of why their debates are so difficult to resolve.

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