Critical Thinking Skills

Critical Thinking Skills
Critical thinking skills are vital tools that we need to hone and use. We need to practice them so that they become second nature. Here are a few exercises you may find helpful.
Approach 1: S.A.D. 
While reading, watching TV, surfing the net, or flipping through a magazine, we encounter many messages. Sometimes it is obvious and sometimes it is not. Commercials are a good example of this. Let's pretend you just saw a commercial on TV advertising the latest juice product.
Step 1: Stop
Don't accept what was said at face value.

Step 2: Ask
Ask yourself questions such as "What is this ad trying to get me to do?" "What are the intentions of the ad's creators?" "Are they promising the product will provide things it can't- like popularity or acceptance?"
Step 3: Decide
After reflecting on your answers, decide the best course of action. In our case, maybe it is, "The drink is expensive and won't actually make me popular. I'm better off skipping it."
Maybe you can remember this strategy because of its acronym. In order to avoid truly being sad, critically think SAD. 
(Perhaps, the name is cheesy, but the ideas behind it are good!)
Approach 2: Write Out Your Options 
In this strategy, you list what your dilemma is. For example, "Should I cheat on my math test?"  Next list at least two possible answers and their consequences. In our example, it might look like this:
  • Yes, I should cheat on my test.
    • Consequence: I might not get caught and get a better grade.
    • Consequence: I might get caught and get in a lot of trouble.
    • Consequence: I know I will feel guilty about it later, even if I am not caught.
  • No, I shouldn't cheat on my test.
    • Consequence: I may not do well on the test.
    • Consequence: I may do better than I anticipate.
    • Consequence: I will know that I was honesty and true to myself.
 After thinking through the options and possible consequences, ask yourself what is the most important value involved and why? In our example, perhaps the most important value to you is your integrity. Even if you got away with cheating, you would know that you weren't true to who you are and you let yourself down.
Finally, ask yourself when all the options, consequences, and values involved are compared, "What is the best choice?" Make sure you can explain why to yourself, too!
(This approach is adapted from one created by Carol Lynch and can be found on pages 254-257 in the Lickona book listed below.)

Approach 3: Create a Chart/List
When making a big decision, sometimes it is helpful to list the "pros" and "cons" of that choice. You can use the format you find most helpful. For some, it is a list. For others, it is a t-chart. After listing all the "pros" and "cons," reflect on what you wrote. Try to see if the correct answer is clear because one side has more advantages, or if one side is too costly. 
For example:
Should I try out for the volleyball team?
Pros: I love playing volleyball.
         Playing a team sport would teach me important lessons like good sportsmanship.
         I may make new friends.
         I may learn new skills and improve at the sport.
         I may improve my overall health.
Cons: It takes a lot of time.
          I would have less time to hang out with my friends.
          There would be late nights. 
          I might embarrass myself while trying out. Maybe I am not as good as I think I am.
What "pros" or "cons" would you add or eliminate? Which option would you choose? Why?

One last note...
Don't forget to seek advice if you need it. Sometimes by expressing what we are thinking, people who care for us can help us see something we are missing. Sometimes just articulating your problem helps you sort it out. And sometimes, especially if you are asking a trusted adult for advice, he or she might have some insight into the situation.

Lickona, Thomas. (1991). Education for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect and Responsibility. New York: Bantam Books.