Critical Thinking Lesson Plans (PDF) for Middle School / High School
Transferrable learning skills to help students make informed decisions and solve problems (even when angry or during a pandemic)
Here are some critical thinking lesson plans (PDF) to hook your middle school and high school students!
- Are your students biased?
- Do they know what fake news is?
- Can they see things from different perspectives?
Critical Thinking and making informed decisions is part of Social Emotional Learning. Lesson plans, script, discussion questions, and sample student answers… you get it all!
Let’s help students navigate all of the information we get about:
- viral news stories,
- academic concepts,
- and of course, rumours we hear about our classmates!
How can we use logic and reason to form opinions, make decisions and solve problems?
New and Improved!
Nov 9, 2021: I’m in the process of updating these Critical Thinking activities so it’s even easier for teachers to use.
Right now, the 6Cs Critical Thinking Unit is on SALE.
The price will go back up once all 5 sections are updated:
A. Lost at Sea
Help students develop critical thinking skills by prioritizing a list of 15 items to help them survive if lost at sea.
- 80 slides,
- 5 pages of handouts,
- 23-page detailed critical thinking lesson plan (PDF).
Lost at Sea is a classic activity that can be found all across the Internet.
The original activity comes from , which published the “Lost at Sea” activity in the public domain.
Instead of relying solely on emotional, intuitive responses, I’ve adapted this activity to highlight the importance of criteria-based thinking (critical thinking).
Ultimately, the goal is to begin a conversation about critical thinking and how to use criteria to make informed decisions.
B. Thinking about Thinking
Help students improve Self-Awareness and Social Awareness by guiding them through this series of Social Emotional Learning activities!
- By becoming aware of who we are,
- we can begin to think more critically to understand the perspectives of others –
- especially those from different backgrounds or points of view.
Students explore three activities to understand better how our emotions, thoughts, and values can influence our point of view.
C. Search Engine Bias Experiment
Update – coming soon!
D. Fake News
Update – coming soon!
F. Consolidation / Review
Update – coming soon!
Teach students HOW to think critically to solve problems
We live in a world filled with news media and social media focus on sensational topics.
This is especially true today with new information constantly coming to us about Coronavirus (Covid-19)
It’s easy to get overwhelmed. We’re constantly overloaded with information.
Also, it’s easy to get caught up and respond emotionally.
We all need to be able to think critically when we’re drawing conclusions.
How many of your students get caught up in these situations:
- something goes viral on social media.
- someone spreads a rumour on the school yard.
- something scary happens in the world.
- something unfair happened to them.
These Critical Thinking Lesson Plans do not contain specific information, examples, or language about the Coronavirus pandemic.
And, that’s a good thing! It makes this lesson package timeless.
So, you can use this lesson today during Covid-19. And, you can use it again when the next obstacle appears.
Also, we don’t want to give your students outdated information. Nor do we want to trigger anxiety by hyper-focusing on Covid-19. So, this package includes other examples for your students to develop critical thinking strategies.
A lot of people might say that critical thinking skills and strategies are really just common sense.
But, as we all know from teaching in the classroom, there’s nothing common about common sense.
Explicitly teaching strategies help provide a foundation for critical analysis of everything we see, hear and learn.
Social-Emotional Learning includes critical thinking – whether we’re talking about
- helping students with responsible decision making
- figuring out how to resolve conflict and develop relationship skills
- having self-management skills to set (and work towards) personal goals
- being open-minded and embracing social awareness to ensure we have lots of high-quality information instead of relying on stereotypes
- having self-awareness and examining who we are, and how that might introduce prejudices, biases, and filter the way we see the world.
Sometimes, the news gives us a skewed view of the world.
Critical Thinking skills help students work to use logic and reason instead of emotion and fear when making decisions or drawing conclusions. This is a lesson students need but don’t often realize they need.
Critical thinking lesson plans can help teachers empower students to make informed decisions in everyday life independently.
We can do this by giving students specific strategies on how to think critically in multiple situations. Whether you are:
- dealing with fake news
- trying to make an opinion or drawing conclusions
- trying to be fair
Teach students to have opinions based on high-quality information and to seek out opposing points of view to make an informed decision.
- Use criteria
- Be Full minded.
- Be Open minded
(Psst, want a free taste of these 3 critical thinking strategies? Check out this free slideshow lesson and worksheet package.)
Students are often told to find different points of view on an issue or in a story. But, students don’t always recognize that simply identifying the missing point of view is not the same as figuring out what that missing point of view would say.
This lesson package helps students to recognize different aspects of their identity, points of view that might be different from theirs, and the need to figure out those viewpoints to help us make an informed decision.
Sometimes, we don’t even realize we need to think critically!
Here’s an example:
Students often know we need to use the critical thinking process to make informed decisions about the information we receive.
But, did you know we also need to think critically about the information we are fed in the first place?
Notice how that sentence says “the information we are fed” and not “the information we find”?
That’s because computer algorithms are “curating” the content we receive:
- Search engines personalize your results.
- Social media personalizes your feed.
- Streaming media like Netflix personalizes suggestions for other shows you might like to see.
This means, we get information we want to see and not necessarily other points of view.
(Here’s a lesson to help teach students about this search bubble.)
Teaching critical thinking strategies to students is especially important right now to help students solve problems.
This can be in your language arts class, your homeroom, or beyond!
Critical Thinking High School – English
This lesson package would work well in a 9th Grade or 10th Grade English class.
I used to teach 8th Grade in a grade 7-12 High School. Here’s what I often heard from my secondary colleagues:
- Students coming up from elementary school often don’t know the basics.
- Their paragraph structure might be weak.
- Independent grammar and spelling skills have gone by the wayside in an era of spellcheck and Grammarly.
- Students often can’t infer deeper meaning and hidden points of view in a text.
The Common Core State Standards recognizes the importance of informational texts across subjects as students progress from elementary to middle to high school.
Good critical thinking skills are key in academic success as well as to help out when we are drawing conclusions in everyday life. Critical thinking strategies are transferable.
- Teach students HOW to think critically about search engines, news media or social media by putting the focus on the critical thinking strategies we use. Explicitly focus on different strategies…
- Then, when we teach subject-based content or explore informational texts in our English language arts classes, we can refer to these critical thinking strategies and draw back on our prior experiences when we analyzed search engines or debunked fake news.
Critical Thinking Middle School – English Language Arts / Homeroom / Advisory
These critical thinking activities for middle school work well if you teach in a 7th or 8th grade English Language Arts class. (Also, 6th grade if you teach at a grade 6-8 middle school or junior high school.)
Middle school is a great age! Students are old enough to delve into more complex issues, but still young enough to care. (They’re like giant marshmallows! Tough on the outside, but still sweet on the inside!)
Making the critical thinking process meaningful to students is one way to drive student engagement and participation in class.
- The search bubble lesson is interesting because students are collecting real-time data and comparing results. This isn’t a simple web quest where the answers are in the teaching manual. This is a real-world analysis of search results.
- The fake news lesson is a great way to teach point of view. The lesson walks middle school students through different perspectives of the Sinclair Script incident where 193 local news anchors said the exact same script about fake news.
- The invisible lens / thinking about thinking lesson is fun because students get to explore who they are and how that filters the world they see. Plus, your middle school students will be completely shocked that they’ve missed the bear. (Unless they’ve seen it before.)
Critical Thinking for Elementary Students
There’s a lot that older elementary students can get excited about.
One of my favourite parts in the critical thinking lesson plan (PDF) is when students analyze the differences between social media and traditional news media.
We often think that because citizen journalism in social media can be heavily biased because, well, anyone can post on social media.
Then the slideshow lesson asks students to analyze this video:
The critical thinking lesson plan PDF file provides a detailed script to help your students make an informed decision about social media vs traditional media.
Usually, we use the critical thinking process to help students realize not to trust everything they see on social media.
But, to be fair, we need to use that same critical thinking process regardless of where we get our information!
Critical Thinking Strategies When Reading
This critical thinking lesson unit ties in nicely with critical thinking reading strategies.
Sometimes students have difficulty using critical thinking strategies when reading.
But we evaluate stuff all the time in real life!
So, if we start our reading strategy lessons first by showing how we think critically all the time in real life, then we just tell our students that we use the same strategies when reading!
Here’s a free YouTube video lesson on the evaluating Comprehension Reading strategy. It goes nicely with this critical thinking unit:
5 weeks of Critical Thinking Lessons (ELA)
We spent over 120 hours of research and lesson development in this product so you wouldn’t have to.
IMPORTANT: You will have to spend a little bit of time going through the slides and handouts to tweak it to fit your specific needs.
The teaching slideshow has been split into 6 smaller slideshows for each mini unit.
This would be idea for teaching critical thinking in English Language Arts as you get more options to divide the content throughout the year.
Note, the critical thinking lesson plans (pdf) includes screenshots of each slide as well as slide numbers to help you get oriented. It’s a big file.
Slides 1 – 539: ALL
- Slides 1– 80: Lost at Sea
- Slides 81 – 189: Thinking about Thinking (Teaching Point of View in English Language Arts)
- Slides 190 – 306: Search Bubbles
- slides 307 – 492: Fake News
- slides 493 – 520: Videos
- slides 521 – 539: Understanding
IMPORTANT DISTANCE LEARNING NOTE:
Distance Learning – Designed for Google Classroom (English Language Arts)
The lessons on hidden search engine bias (Slides 190 – 306: Search Bubbles) has been broken apart into smaller files that can be easily uploaded to separate Google Classroom assignments.
In the Critical Thinking Search Engine Bias Informational Text section, you would set up 9 assignments. Each assignment would have
- a lesson (Google Slides file with the appropriate slides) – you share this VIEW ONLY
- a work handout (Google Doc) – you set the Google Classroom assignment to make every student their own copy of the work handout.
YOU GET 5 WEEKS (24 days) of Language Arts lessons to do with your class to help them think more critically by using strategies: USE CRITERIA, BE OPEN MINDED, BE FULL MINDED.
IN THE ZIPPED FILE, you get…
- 543 slides in GOOGLE SLIDE format
- 24 Critical Thinking Lesson Plans (PDF) – approx 45 min per lesson
- LOST at SEA activity (CRITERIA BASED thinking)
- THINKING about THINKING activity (The invisible gorilla, The invisible lens, Aspects of Identity)
- Should SEARCH ENGINES and ONLINE DICTIONARIES give us the same results? (Two online experiments exploring filter bubbles)
- Fake News activity
- BREAKING NEWS examples on social media
- The MONEY behind FAKE NEWS (How websites make money online and what this had to do with FAKE NEWS in the US election.)
- LOCAL NEWS media and the Sinclair script from 6 different POINTS of VIEW. (Oh, not sure what the Sinclair script is? Sinclair Broadcast Group Sinclair made local news anchors recite the same script, word for word. Check out this video that went viral.)
- Vocabulary Building Graphic Organizer HANDOUT
- Critical Thinking Learning Skills SELF-EVALUATION handout
- Critical Thinking Review Assessment – What did you learn? (12 short answer questions and answer key)
If you want to teach CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS, we just saved you an incredible amount of prep work!
English Language Arts Critical Thinking Lesson Plans (PDF) Table of Contents
24 DAYS of English Language Arts Lessons in 5 WEEKS.
PART 1. EXPERIENCE
- DAY/LESSON 1 – Introduction / Lost at Sea (slides 1-35) – 45 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 2 – Lost at Sea continued (slides 36-80) – 50 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 3 – Thinking about Thinking (slides 81-102) 45 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 4 – Thinking about Thinking cont (slides 103-145) 50 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 5 – Thinking about Thinking cont (slides 146-170) 50 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 6 – Thinking about Thinking cont (slides 171-189) 45 MINUTES
- DAY/LESSON 7 – Sources of Information (slides 190-225) 50 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 8 – Online dictionary experiment (slides 226-233) 45 MINUTES
- DAY/LESSON 9 – Online dictionary experiment cont (slides 234-236) 40 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 10 – Search engine experiment (slides 237-276) 50 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 11 – Search engine experiment cont (slides 277-302) 45 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 12 – Search engine experiment cont (slides 303) 50 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 13 – Search engine experiment cont (slides 304-306) 40 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 14 – Fake News (slides 307-334) 50 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 15 – Fake News continued (slides 335-363) 45 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 16 – Fake News continued (slides 364-398) 55 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 17 – Fake News continued (slides 399-430) 50 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 18 – Fake News continued (slides 431-455) – 45 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 19 – Fake News continued (slides 456-492) – 50 MIN
PART 2. WATCH
- DAY/LESSON 20 – Part 2 Videos (slides 493-500) – 55 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 21 – Part 2 Videos continued (slides 501-509) – 50 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 22 – Part 2 Videos continued (slides 510-520) – 50 MIN
Part 3 UNDERSTAND
- DAY/LESSON 23 – Vocabulary Builder (slides 521-537) – 50 MIN
- DAY/LESSON 24 – Self Evaluation / Review – (slides 538-539) – 50 MIN
This is the good stuff. No, seriously. Check out the preview PDF to see everything that you’re getting.
HEADS UP WARNING! YOU MAY WANT TO MODIFY SLIDES FOR YOUR SCHOOL
(This warning is also in the critical thinking lesson plans PDF)
Everyone has a different school reality:
- Some of the examples we use in this resource may not be appropriate for all grades, school climates, and classroom realities.
- Sometimes, as much as we’d love to, we simply don’t have time to have our lessons derailed into teachable moments.
We tried to come up with different examples from various perspectives, but of course, we are human and have an unconscious bias as well.
PLEASE ASK US YOUR QUESTIONS. THIS IS A FANTASTIC HIGH-INTEREST MEGA LESSON ON CRITICAL THINKING in ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS.
Here are a few of the slides that we wanted to give you a heads up about. There may be other slides that you may want to modify. We suggest going through the material to make sure everything fits your needs.
NOTE: All of our slideshow files and handouts can be modified.
- Slide 170 looks at various protected grounds in Canada as a way to help students brainstorm different groups of people. The slide discusses race, ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity / expression, marital status, family status, disability, genetic characteristics and convictions for which a pardon has been granted or a record suspended.
- Slide 180 looks at possible answers for different aspects of identity. The slide lists: socio-economic status, nationality, language, colour, age, religion, orientation, gender, race, ability, and culture.
- Slide 320-323: Wikileaks release of alleged CIA documents showing CIA covert hacking program to listen through SMART TVs and other devices
- Slide 324-331: Death of Osama bin Laden which was reported on Twitter first.
- Slide 459: The title of article is “We’re journalists at a Sinclair news station. We’re pissed.”
- Slide 481: The title of article is “How I made a dumb video making fun of Sinclair Broadcasting and somehow started a media war”.
NOTE: YOU CAN MODIFY, DELETE, and EDIT ALL of the lessons, handouts, and presentations.
- You get GOOGLE SLIDE and GOOGLE DOCS formats SO YOU CAN CHANGE THINGS FOR YOUR CLASS.
- The critical thinking lesson plans pdf is comprehensive and includes suggested talking points for each slide.
Critical Thinking Lessons about Hidden Bias in Search Engines
Informational Text unit designed for Google Classroom
A search engine is an informational text that we should think critically about.
But, not everybody knows how to analyze the Search Engine Results Pages effectively to identify hidden bias. (Heck, most people don’t realize the search results we get in everyday life are very personalized and influenced by our search habits.)
We need to think more critically before we draw conclusions- not only about the information we read online but also about the information choices we receive from our digital gatekeepers (search engines, media streaming platforms, any other online service that provides a personalized experience based on algorithms.)
Informational texts are things that are based on facts.
- They can include things like biographies, speeches, opinion pieces, and historical or technical accounts.
- Informational texts can also include information that appears in graphs, charts, and maps.
- All of these examples are different from fiction and literature which includes things like novels, short stories, drama, and poetry,
Here are 9 critical thinking lessons to help you explore search engine results.
This is the literacy lesson we should be teaching our students, but it’s a text form and topic that not everyone is familiar with. Search Engine results pages are informational texts that we can (and should) analyze.
Use these high-interest slideshows to help you teach and break down the following concepts.
- critical thinking strategies and the concept of bias
- different search engines used around the world
- how search engines work
- how to read a Search Engine Results Page
- understanding form, conventions and techniques when it comes to this informational text
The Google Slideshow critical thinking lessons will teach and walk students through two activities:
- an dictionary experiment to explore whether different dictionaries give the same results
- An search engine experiment to explore whether different search engines and search conditions (i.e. browser, geographic location, date) give the same results
The big guiding question for students to explore in everyday life: Are Search Engines biased?
- Should different search engines give us different results for the same search phrase? Why or why not?
This unit can be taught in the classroom or for distance learning using Google Classroom.
- The Google Slides presentation has been cut into lessons so you can easily attach the mini lesson to your Google Classroom assignments