Critical thinking matters, especially when it comes to defending convictions and upholding the truth. Here’s what it means to think critically, plus 17 writing prompts to encourage critical thinking.
You know what you believe, but do you know why you believe it?
What about people who disagree with you? Do you know why they say you’re wrong?
Do you stick to what you’ve always known because you’ve always known it?
Here’s a tip.
Let’s talk about why, and how.
Convictions matter and truth exists. But you can neither defend your convictions nor uphold the truth if you don’t know why they exist in the first place. Just as babies must learn to move and communicate independently, so we must learn to think and discern in a rational and critical way. How else will we be able to engage in fruitful discourse or make strides in restoring our broken world?
Memes won’t do it. Soundbites won’t do it.
Critical thinking will.
Defining Critical Thinking
Last year, my husband came home from work with a little blue pamphlet called “The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools”. Authored by Drs. Richard Paul and Linda Elder, the booklet provides an overview of the skills necessary for critical thought and the steps required to attain higher level thinking.
According to Paul and Elder, most of our thinking is egocentric and sociocentric. We approach issues from our own frame of reference, making choices and assumptions based on what is logical and beneficial to us. Critical thinking requires that we consider the bigger picture: what are the broader implications of this idea? What is the reasoning behind this opposing view?
Paul and Elder identify critical thinking as “the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it.” I would go one step further: it is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to applying it in our studies, our conversations, and our daily interactions. It’s a skill once taught with relish and embraced by the world’s greatest thinkers.
Now we’re lucky if high school graduates can identify who won the Civil War.
The Elements of Thought
Let’s go back to the questions I asked at the beginning of this post:
Do you know why you believe what you believe?
Do you know why people disagree with you?
To that second question, I’m going to add one thing:
Do you know why people disagree with you, other than the fact they’re misguided? Dumb? Worse?
I know. It rankles a bit. But it’s true – we tend to look at “the other side” as inferior and uneducated. I’ve experienced it firsthand:
I’m a traditional, conservative Catholic. Plenty of people have ideas about what that means until they actually get to know me.
This is why true critical thinking is so very important. Modern society is fractured. We label and vilify instead of reaching out. We take headlines at their word and live in self-fulfilling social media echo chambers. If we’re going to change the way we behave, we need to change the way we think. To that end, I’d like to draw attention to Paul and Edler’s Elements of Thought. They identify issues we often ignore and help bring our attention back to more fruitful, critical thought:
- Problem: what is the problem at issue?
- Purpose: what are the goals and objectives?
- Information: what data, facts, reasons, observations, experiences, or evidence do we have?
- Interpretation and Inference: what conclusions can we make? What solutions do we have?
- Concepts: what do we know about certain theories? Definitions? Principles? Models?
- Assumptions: what are we presupposing? Taking for granted?
- Implications: what are the consequences?
- Point of View: what are the varying frames of reference? Perspectives?
17 Writing Prompts for Applying Critical Thought
Learning to think critically requires that we learn to ask good questions. Here are 17 writing prompts for encouraging critical thinking, based on Paul and Edler’s Elements of Thought.
What is the inherent problem in _________________?
Why is ________________ an issue for _________________?
What are the goals of those who support ____________________? How are these goals rational? Irrational?
Identify the objective of _______________ in ___________________. How are their motives selfless? Selfish?
List ___________ things you’ve noticed about ______________. What opinions have these observations fostered?
Discuss your experience with ________________. How has this impacted your choices?
Interpretation and Inference:
Consider the decision made in _______________ (you can use a SCOTUS decision, a historical event, etc.). How must the decision makers have felt?
Identify the problem inherent in ________________. What solution can you offer? Why?
Apply the principles of ______________ to ________________. What happens as a result?
Replace your local/state/national laws with those of Ancient _______________. How would life be different?
How does ______________ meet the definition of ________________?
What assumptions are made about ________________? Why?
What assumptions do you make about ________________? Why?
How can you counter those assumptions?
Implications and Consequences:
What would happen if _________________?
How would the world be different if ________________ had never occurred/had occurred?
Point of View:
Consider those in favor of _____________. What are the material reasons they support this cause? What are the objective pros and cons of this support?
Convictions matter, and the truth exists. Learn to think critically, and you’ll better serve them both.
This post is part of the iHomeschool Network Writing Prompt Link-up.