Top 7 Critical Thinking Lesson Plans

Critical thinking is an essential 21st Century skill for today’s youth.

With 24/7 news, social media, and thousands of publications of every kind, students of every age are subjected to a constant flow of information.

That means your students are responsible for discerning what’s truth and fiction in their everyday lives.

Fortunately, you can teach digital thinking skills to help students work through that kind of problem. You can also help them learn sequential thinking, logical problem-solving, and much, much more.

With these seven lesson plans, you can help your students understand and apply critical thinking in a variety of ways to make them more independent and self-reliant individuals.

  1. Critical thinking lesson plans from the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics
  2. Critical Thinking Lesson Plans by TEDEd
  3. Critical Thinking Resources by Concordia University
  4. 10 Great Critical Thinking Activities That Engage Your Students by Global Digital Citizen
  5. Critical Thinking Resources & Lesson Plans by Teachers Pay Teachers
  6. The Believing Game & the Doubting Game by Morningside Center
  7. 10 Tips for Teaching Kids to Be Awesome Critical Thinkers by We Are Teachers

Let’s start with the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics!

1. Critical Thinking Lesson Plans from the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics

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The Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics is an ongoing project focused on the proceedings and history of United States law, politics, and civil discourse. It’s run and managed by the University of Pennsylvania out of Philadelphia with the goal to “develop a citizenry that demands and supports a functioning democracy.”

They do this by supplying lesson plans, ideas, and information that teachers can use with students of just about any age, depending on when your school starts civics education.

This includes critical thinking lesson plans, which approach critical thinking from the context of practical, real-world examples.

The Annenberg Institute presents a collection of 18 different lesson plans that run the gamut from detecting false information to understanding the differences between opinions based on beliefs and opinions based on behaviors. 

They also help teach students how to build an argument and how to detect flaws in others’ arguments as a way to identify truths and lies in everyday life.

However, topics such as these are becoming more difficult to teach in the classroom since politics has become an increasingly-hot discussion in American culture.

Still, the Annenberg Institute does a fantastic job of staying objective in terms of political allegiances, prompting teachers to have students evaluate claims from republicans, democrats, and non-affiliated individuals.

These lessons tend to focus on the 2012 presidential election between Barack Obama and John McCain, who, as the Annenberg Institute demonstrates, both made exaggerated claims that students can evaluate to discover kernels of truth.

The lessons may be a little dated, but the Annenberg Institute does a great job of providing clean, objective, and teacher-friendly lessons that you can use to have students practice critical thinking with real-world examples.

2. Critical Thinking Lesson Plans by TEDEd

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TEDEd — a subdivision of the organization that’s famous for its “TED Talks” — is a goldmine of free, open-sourced lesson ideas that you can use to shake up your classroom.

TEDEd’s critical thinking subjects give you the ability to introduce video, discussion, problem-solving, and a wide range of critical thinking elements all at the same time.

Some of these aren’t lessons per se, but fun classroom activities that present a challenge and require students to overcome it.

That includes instructions on time management, interactive math problems, physics paradoxes, psychological concepts, and good old-fashioned riddles.

With that in mind, TEDEd provides one of the most varied and diverse collections of critical thinking resources on the Internet.

Best of all, they’re ready to use with a single click. All you have to do is bring up the page on your projector (or have students access it on their devices) and click on the proper lesson.

Then, your students engage with the introductory portion of the lesson that establishes the concept.

After that, the lesson will prompt them to come up with a solution or answer. That’s when you can have students work individually, in groups, or as a class to exercise their critical thinking skills. 

TEDEd often splits these steps into Watch, Think, Dig Deeper, and Discuss.

And to make your life easier, TEDEd also gives you the expected answer at the end of each activity. The answer is then explained in a logical way that can help students refine their critical thinking skills, especially on a conceptual basis.

So while the Annenberg Institute’s lessons are based largely on real-world events, TEDEd’s are more like thought experiments and puzzles.

Depending on your classroom and what you want to achieve with your students, you can always use equal portions of reality- and fiction-based activities. 

3. Critical Thinking Resources by Concordia University

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Concordia University is a prestigious institution of higher education that’s aimed at helping current teachers expand their skillsets, innovate in the classroom, and generally improve in their careers.

That’s why they created a list of critical thinking resources oriented toward 21st Century learning.

These resources are all designed to help you teach critical thinking, as opposed to simply giving you pre-made lessons that you can use.

This actually makes sense, considering Concordia’s mission is to improve the way teachers teach, not just give them free resources that are proven to work.

In other words, Concordia doesn’t want to give you a fish — they want to teach you how to fish.

You may not be able to take their resources straight to your students, but you can certainly adapt these resources to your own teaching style.

In that respect, Concordia’s offering you something much more complex and skill-based than simple lesson plans. But the value you can derive from these resources lets you set the stage for continual professional improvement around critical thinking education.

Overall, that makes Concordia’s critical thinking resources an excellent start for any educator who has to teach students about 21st Century skills.

4. 10 Great Critical Thinking Activities That Engage Your Students by Global Digital Citizen

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The Global Digital Citizen Foundation (GDCF) is a non-profit organization with the mission of giving students a feeling of responsibility and ethics in a thriving digital world. 

(Heads up: This website contains ads.)

The GDCF pulls most of its critical thinking resources from Facing History, a non-profit organization that works to educate students about prejudice, how to identify it, and how to react to it. 

This conceptualization makes Facing History an excellent source for critical thinking in general, as it teaches students how they can identify biased sources, parse through stereotypes, and determine what information to accept as fact.

As GDCF explains, some of these critical thinking lessons are actually activities that place your students in the positions of discriminators or discriminated.

Others take a more abstract and artistic approach, such as the “body sculpting” activity, that emphasizes respect, kindness, and self-awareness.

Perhaps most importantly, many of these critical thinking lessons teach students how to disagree respectfully, empowering multiple students to arrive at multiple conclusions without the threat of being personally critiqued for their thoughts.

Overall, these lessons teach more than just critical thinking — they teach collaboration, cooperation, and even respect.

5. Critical Thinking Teaching Resources & Lesson Plans by Teachers Pay Teachers

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Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) is like Etsy for educators.

Teachers create their lesson plans, place them on the TpT marketplace, and let other teachers purchase the plans for a nominal fee.

Because TpT always has its doors open to new material, there’s a constant flow of critical thinking lesson plans throughout the year.

This may cost a few dollars — $20 at most — but that’s actually an advantage in many ways.

You’re supporting a teacher who creates great lessons, and you get to take part in those lessons knowing that you paid for them honestly.

But because TpT is open to any teacher, it’s important to read the layout of every lesson that catches your eye.

Some teachers may create lecture-based lessons that work well in traditional classrooms. Others might include a few videos to make their lesson more diverse in terms of content. Still others might write a script for student role-playing that takes an entire class period.

That’s why it’s important to think about what lesson plan you want and how you want it to fit with the rest of your classroom.

Once you know that, it’s just a matter of finding a compatible lesson on TpT!

6. The Believing Game & The Doubting Game by Morningside Center

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The Morningisde Center is a community-focused non-profit organization that strives to increase ethnic equity in schools while promoting social and emotional skills. 

As a result, they’re natural experts on critical thinking skills — specifically games.

Morningside Center’s games are called “The Believing Game” and “The Doubting Game.”

These “games” are actually conversations based on perspective and playing devil’s advocate.

The Believing Game entails you giving your students a powerful quote or excerpt on a controversial topic, like civil disobedience.

Then, you have students think of supports and critiques.

You can also wrap this into The Doubting Game, which requires a similar preparation process of showing students an impactful quote or thought.

Then, you have students question the thought. They can ask literal questions, pose counterpoints, and otherwise pursue a critical viewpoint.

Simple, right?

In fact, these “games” are so simple that they’re more or less the basis for a debate team.

Morningside Center offers a whole lot of examples that you can use directly with your students.

Depending on your grade level, you may need to tweak the examples or find new ones entirely.

Regardless of how you have to workshop the concepts, The Believing Game and The Doubting Game are two excellent additions to a critical thinking curriculum. 

7. 10 Tips for Teaching Kids to Be Awesome Critical Thinkers by We Are Teachers

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We Are Teachers is a well-known online education publication with thousands of readers every month.

They have a variety of writers create blog posts and articles for them, including one on tips to make students critical thinkers.

As opposed to the other items on this list, this blog post from We Are Teachers consists of general guidelines you can employ in a critical thinking curriculum.

This post in particular stresses the importance of slowing down your class’s pace to ensure every student gets the chance to apply critical thinking concepts to your material.

It also emphasizes a few ideas for prep work, like creating charts, planning classroom discussions, and figuring out thought-provoking questions before class begins.

We Are Teachers summarizes each of these tips with a handful of sentences, which is both good and bad.

It’s good because it gives you guidance without forcing you to only do one or two tasks with an idea.

It’s bad because it leaves a little too much space for you to work, so you may not always reach the goal that the idea promises.

Still, you’re going to have to do some work with these concepts to make them fit well with your class anyway.

Because of that, there’s no reason not to try these ideas at your next opportunity!

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