Critical Thinking Exercises

Tour guide for an alien
Sharpen your critical thinking skills. Matthias Clamer/Stone/Getty Images

Critical thinking is a skill that students develop gradually as they progress in school. This skill becomes more important in higher grades, but some students find it difficult to understand the concept of critical thinking.

The concept can be difficult to grasp because it requires students to set aside assumptions and beliefs to think without bias or judgment. That is difficult to do!

Critical thinking involves suspending your beliefs to explore and question topics from a "blank page" point of view. It also involves the ability to know fact from opinion when exploring a topic.

These exercises are designed to help you develop critical thinking skills.

Critical Thinking Exercise 1: Tour Guide for an Alien

This exercise provides an opportunity to think outside your normal way of thinking.

Pretend that you have been assigned the task of conducting a tour for aliens who are visiting earth and observing human life. You're riding along in a blimp, viewing the landscape below, and you float over a professional baseball stadium. One of your aliens looks down and becomes very confused, so you tell him that there is a game going on.

Try to answer the following questions for him.

  1. What is a game? 
  2. Why are there no female players?
  3. Why do people get so passionate watching other people play games?
  4. What is a team?
  5. Why can't the people in the seats just go down on the field and join in?

If you try to answer these questions fully, it will quickly become apparent that we carry around certain assumptions and values. We support a certain team, for instance, because it makes us feel like we're a part of a community. This sense of community is a value that matters to some people more than others.

Furthermore, when trying to explain team sports to an alien, you have to explain the value we put on winning and losing.

When you think like an alien tour guide, you are forced to take a deeper look at the things we do and things we value. They don't always sound so logical and true from the outside looking in!

Critical Thinking Exercise 2: Fact or Opinion

Do you always know fact from opinion? It's not so easy to tell sometimes. Recent developments in the media have made it easy for groups with political agendas to masquerade as impartial sources, and for fake websites to offer fake information, and that makes it more important than ever for students to develop critical thinking. You must use trustworthy sources in your school work!

If you don't learn the difference between fact and opinion, you'll get stuck reading and watching things that only reinforce beliefs and assumptions you already own. And that is the opposite of learning!

Try to determine whether each statement sounds like a fact or an opinion and discuss with a friend or study partner.

  • My mom is the best mom on earth.
  • My dad is taller than your dad.
  • My telephone number is difficult to memorize.
  • The deepest part of the ocean is 35,813 feet deep.
  • Dogs make better pets than turtles.
  • Smoking is bad for your health.
  • Eighty-five percent of all cases of lung cancer in the U.S. are caused by smoking.
  • If you flatten and stretch out a Slinky toy it will be 87 feet long.
  • Slinky toys are fun.
  • One out of every one hundred American citizens is color blind.
  • Two out of ten American citizens are boring.

You will probably find some of the statements easy to judge but other statements difficult. If you can debate the truthfulness of a statement with your partner, then it's probably an opinion!