3 Easy Content-Based Games to Encourage Critical Thinking

This week’s #sschat explored the topic of critical thinking and how educators can better incorporate higher level thinking skills into daily practice.  What is critical thinking?  The Partnership for 21st Skills identifies the following skills related to critical thinking:

  • Reason Effectively
  • Use Systems Thinking
  • Make Judgments and Decisions
  • Solve Problems

The chat on Tuesday got me thinking about how games can be a great way to get students thinking critically because they naturally involve creativity and many other critical thinking skills.   Teachers often ask me if there are quick games they can tweak to fit their content area without a lot of preparation. The games described games below require little preparation, fit into any content area, and help students practice these important skills:

1.  Would You Rather? – Would You Rather is an excellent game that can easily be applied to any content area.  Divide students into groups of 3-4 and prepare (or have students prepare) a list of questions that apply to your content area.  Cut the questions into strips and put them in an envelope.  Make an envelope for each group.  Students should draw one question out of an envelope, and write down their answer.  The other members of the group should discuss the question and come to a consensus to predict how the person answered.  After they’ve reached a consensus, the person will reveal the answer that was written down.  Of course, this should lead to discussion in which the person justifies his or her answer.  You can assign points for guessing the answer correctly, but this game is just as much fun without keeping score.  For a twist that encourages even more higher-level thinking, ask students to assume the role of a famous person, historical figure, or fictional character when answering.  Here are some examples:

  • Would you rather be Marie Antoinette or Joan of Arc?
  • If you have extra money, would you rather save it or invest it?
  • You are looking for a place to settle your civilization.  Would you rather have a natural barrier to enemies or settle along an already-established trade route?

2.  20 Questions – Have students draw a concept you have studied from a hat.  Other students in their group can ask 20 yes or no questions to guess the concept.  This helps students develop their own working definitions of words and understand the specific characteristics of important terms.  Good concepts include specific items when you are studying several similar things.  For instance, you could use the organelles of a cell, world religions, or the characters from a novel.

3.  2 Truths and a Lie – Place students in small groups of about 4 and assign each student a role related to the material you have covered.  Give students a set amount of time to research or review material about the concept (you might supply class notes, Internet access, a textbook, or another source of information to help them).  After time is up, have each student present 2 truths and a lie about the concept.  The other students must guess which statement is the lie.  Good topics for this game include historical figures, political philosophies, major wars or time periods, scientific theories, famous scientists, mathematical properties, or famous authors.

How do you use games in your classroom to help students practice critical thinking and problem solving?