Someone with critical thinking skills is being able to understand the logical connections between ideas, identify, construct and evaluate arguments, detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning.
This skill is developed among students by engaging them in activities that require them to process questions and come out with solutions for the same helping them to develop this skill.
In order to help students develop this skill and come out with uncommon thoughts, it is important for educators to understand the role they play in developing critical thinking is different than the role they are typically playing. For students to be engaged in critical thinking, the educator needs to act as a facilitator to allow for discussion and encourage a wider and open thought process, as well as to encourage understanding of the different perception of every individual that comes with thinking critically. Also engaged in this skill, it is important to understand that students do not always end with a right answer, but instead sometimes ends in more questions or differing evaluations of the topic.
Below are some activities recommended for teachers that they can implement in the classroom to help students develop critical thinking skill and prepare them for a better future.
1. If You Build it…
This team-building game is flexible. You simply have to divide students into teams and give them equal amounts of a certain material, like pipe cleaners, blocks, or even dried spaghetti and marshmallows.
Then, give them something to construct. The challenge can be variable (think: Which team can build the tallest, structurally-sound castle? Which team can build a castle the fastest?).
You can recycle this activity throughout the year by adapting the challenge or materials to specific content areas. Apart from critical thinking students also learn to collaborate and to work in groups.
In this activity first asks students to consider a question on their own, and then provide them an opportunity to discuss it in pairs, and finally together with the whole class. The success of such activities depends on the nature of the questions posed. This activity works ideally with questions to encourage deeper thinking, problem-solving, and/or critical analysis. The group discussions are critical as they allow students to articulate their thought processes.
Re-group as a whole class and solicit responses from some or all of the pairs.
Advantages of the think-pair-share include the engagement of all students in the classroom (particularly the opportunity to give voice to quieter students who might have difficulty sharing in a larger group), quick feedback for the instructor (e.g., the revelation of student misconceptions), encouragement and support for higher levels of thinking of the students.
3. The Worst Case Scenario
Construct a scenario in which students would need to work together and solve problems to succeed, like being stranded on a deserted island or getting lost at sea/jungle/town. Ask them to work together and come out with a solution that ensures everyone arrives safely. You might ask them to come up with a list of 10 must-have items that would help them most, or a creative passage to safety. Encourage them to vote everyone must agree to the final solution.
4. Go for Gold
This game is similar to the “If you build it” game: Teams have a common objective, but instead of each one having the same materials, they have access to a whole cache of materials. For instance, the goal might be to create a contraption with pipes, rubber tubing and pieces of cardboard that can carry a marble from point A to point B in a certain number of steps, using only gravity.
5. Keep it Real
This open-ended concept is simple and serves as an excellent segue into problem-based learning. Challenge students to identify and cooperatively solve a real problem in their schools or communities. You may set the parameters, including a time limit, materials and physical boundaries.
6. Gap Fill In
Students are shown a picture, projected in the front of the room, if possible. At the top of their paper, students should write: "What is happening in this picture?" At the bottom of the page, they should answer with what they believe is happening in the photo simply in 1-2 sentences or according to the age/grade this activity is being done with.
In the middle of the page students write down all of the steps they took to arrive at that answer. Students are encouraged to write down the evidence they see that supports their conclusion.
This activity not only uses evidence, but supports Meta cognition skills by asking what prior knowledge brought you to your conclusion. This is a good activity to Bell Work or "Do Now."
Set up an inner circle and an outer circle in your classroom. Students should not be sitting in this setup yet, but rather in their regular classroom seats. The class should be presented with a question or a statement and allowed to reflect individually for a few minutes.
During this reflection period, count the class off into small groups by 3s, 4s, or 5s.
Students should now transition to the fishbowl setup. In the numbered groups, have students facilitate a conversation while others on the outside observe without comment. (For example, a teacher may have all 1s go to the fishbowl, while the rest of the class sits in the outer ring.)
Once the inner group has discussed for a bit, have the outer group evaluate two things: Their process is they actually listened to one another and their content from knowing whether they are providing evidence or just opinions.
8. Big Paper - Building a Silent Conversation
Writing (or drawing) and silence are used as tools to slow down thinking and allow for silent reflection, unfiltered. By using silence and writing, students can focus on other viewpoints. This activity uses a driving question, markers, and Big Paper. Students work in pairs or threes to have a conversation on the Big Paper. Students can write at will, but it must be done in silence after a reflection on the driving question. This strategy is great for introverts, and provides a readymade visual record of thought for later.
9. Barometer—Taking a Stand on Controversial Issues
When posed with a thought-provoking prompt, students line themselves up along a U-shaped continuum representing where they stand on that issue. The sides of the U are opposite extremes, with the middle being neutral. The teacher starts a discussion by giving equal opportunity for individuals in each area of the continuum to speak about their stand. The students use “I” statements when stating their opinion.
10. Journal Data Goals
Last but not the least, Students must be asked to maintain journals and update them on a regular basis. This can be done in the form of a blog as well. By doing so students become their own progress monitors and can assess the growth within oneself.
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It seems like these days, customs for communication are completely confused. Sending emails can seem like diffusing a bomb, or knowing which topic to approach with a co-worker like stepping over landmines.
With massive online social media usage changing how the world communicates, it’s no wonder some struggle to properly communicate their thoughts and feelings and tailor them to the right audience.
Communication is such a broad, multi-layered word. To understand how to better your skills at communicating, it’s probably best to establish that good communication is made up of many things including:
- active listening
- appropriate posture and body language
- friendly/appropriate tone
- eye contact
- speaking clearly and concisely
- demeanor of confidence and friendliness
- empathy and respect
- knowing which medium of communication to use for which situation (Doyle, 2017)
Communicating effectively is, undoubtedly, a skill that must be practiced, reinforced, and learned about.
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5 Communication Games & Team Building Activities (+PDF)
Using games and activities to learn a skill is a fun, focused way to improve communication deficits. Each of these activities focuses on an element of working in groups, giving or receiving directions, listening, resolving problems, and learning to portray and interpret emotions. In order to make small, determined improvements in every-day interactions and in irreplaceable relationships, try implementing some of these activities in your own groups or in your students’ groups.
Mega Mini Golf
For children and young adults especially, a creative project is a great way to glue a team together and help them figure out how to work with others and compromise on their own wishes. In this activity, small groups are put together to design and build a hole of a mini-golf course.
- Each group is given some materials to build their course, including:
- Large plastic cups
- Hockey sticks or golf clubs
- Whiffle balls or tennis balls
- Extra equipment that could be used as design pieces, i.e. chairs, cones, blocks, boxes, mats, etc.
- Give the kids a large room or field to work with and set out the equipment.
- Divide them into small groups of two or four.
- Each group gets one, large plastic cup to use as the hole for the course. Allow them to place obstacles around the hole.
- When each group is finished with their design, have each group explain their reasoning to the rest of the class for their design.
- Finally, put one group at each hole and play a round of mini-golf. (Mega Mini Golf, n.d.)
You can read more about this activity at this link.
This activity can be modified for all ages, but may be especially important for adults. Often, failures to communicate can be traced back to a lack of attentive listening, or misinterpreting someone’s words. This activity can help bring more awareness to the listening process.
- Give out the worksheet included in the booklet linked below. Explain to the participants that the average person is able to speak about 150 words per minute, but we are able to hear at about 1,000 words per minute. Ask participants what they do with this extra time.
- Ask the group to brainstorm things they could do to focus better on what is being said to them. Perhaps practice some of these tips in a real conversation:
- Pay attention to the tone, inflections, body language, and words of the speaker, taking note of minute actions and changes to better get the message the speaker is trying to convey.
- Try not to think about how you’re going to respond when the other person is speaking as this will help derail your concentration on the present moment.
- Interact with the speaker with short interjections that affirm them, “I see,” “I understand,” or “Mhhm.” Nod or respond with facial expressions to tell the speaker you are fully engaged in what they are saying.
- Focus on not interrupting or finishing the other’s person’s sentence. Listen all the way through before thinking of how to respond. (Garber, P.R., 2008)
You can access the worksheet here (p. 23-25).
The Elephant List
This activity mingles problem resolution, communication, and team building. It is relevant for an adult work place situation, or sports and academic teams. Often times when a workplace is experiencing contention, or workers are unhappy with the environment they work in, no one feels safe enough to express their concerns. No one feels like their opinion on how to make the team better would be valued.
This activity allows for open, honest communication that will help the team experience camaraderie and allow management to solve real issues.
- Place an experienced and trusted facilitator/manager in charge of this activity. Prepare some sticky notes or pieces of paper with elephants on them and give each individual their own set.
- Begin the exercise by explaining to the participants that the objective of the activity is to create an environment conducive to open communication. Explain to them that they don’t need to fear reproach for expressing their honest concerns, or the “elephant in the room.”
- Have each participant spend five minutes writing one of their “elephants” and label them according to the C-I-A principles: issues they have control over, issues they can influence, or issues they have to accept.
- Collect the elephants and read them aloud to the group. Place each elephant on a circular or U-shaped chart with sections for C, I, and A and put the elephants in the section the individual chose.
- Discuss with the group whether the elephants in each section should be in the section they were placed.
- Once agreed upon, let the A elephants go and spend time discussing ways to resolve the C and I elephants. Ask questions through the four W’s. “Why are we doing this?/Why is this happening?” “What are we doing about it?” “Who can resolve this issue?” “When can we resolve this?” (Team Building Exercises – Communication, n.d.)
You can read more about this activity here.
Guess the Emotion
This activity is simple and effective, especially for children, but it could easily be helpful to adults. Many people don’t seem to be aware of the expressions they make that could either reinforce or detract from what they’re saying, or could give the wrong signals to those they are listening to.
- Divide your group into two teams.
- Give each team a set of cards with an emotion on it.
- Have a participant from Team A act out the emotion on the card until his or her team guesses correctly. Switch and have Team B act out their card.
- Cycle out opportunities so that each group member has a chance to act.
- Make it competitive. Award points and assign short time limits such as one or two minutes for the group to guess. (Guess the emotion, n.d.)
You can read more about this activity here.
It can be stressful and damaging to have poor communication running through your relationships, professional or personal. In most cases of Divorce or separation, communication is cited among the most common reasons for the split (Gravningen, K., Mitchell, K. R., Wellings, K., Johnson, A. M., Geary, R., Jones, K. G., & … Mercer, C. H., 2017).
In this activity, the participant evaluates what’s wrong with their most important relationships. Probably, they will say things like, “We argue too much,” “They never listen to me,” or “We hurt each other’s feelings all the time.” Fill out this worksheet to bring a mindful awareness to what is damaging your most important relationships and how to bring positive change to them.
- Fill out the first worksheet which asks you to think about past behaviors and relationships that have suffered because of them. Think about ways to make amends.
- After practicing the ideas you wrote on the previous worksheet, give it some time and then fill out the second worksheet. The second worksheet asks you to evaluate the effectiveness of your techniques and how it affected the damaged relationships. It even asks you to talk to the people close to you and ask them how you have changed. (Bartholomew, N.G. & Simpson, D.D., 2005)
You can read more about this activity here (p. 9).
5 Communication Skills & Activities for High School Students
Learning to participate in healthy, communicative relationships is especially important for high school aged students. Forming these skills will take them through high school, into higher education, or into their careers. Of course, many of high school age would love to take a break from the tedium of a lecture environment and interact with other students or just do something new, and that’s just what these activities allow.
Nonverbal communication is one of the trickiest skills to develop. After all, so much of how we communicate with our face and bodies is subconscious. This activity forces participants to communicate lines in a script with body language. It will bring awareness to participants of how important and effective simple gestures and expressions can be in conveying a very specific message.
- Divide students into groups of two and designate one student in each group as A, and the other as B.
- Give each student a copy of the script linked to below.
- Student A will read their lines aloud, while student B will respond with their lines using only body language.
- On the paper for each group is a different emotion that the wordless actor must portray such as, “in a rush,” “feeling guilty,” or “bored.”
- After the dialogue, student A must guess what emotion or affliction was being expressed by student B. (Fleming, G., 2017)
You can read more about this activity here.
This activity requires deliberate question modeling and critical thinking. It’s great for high school students because it gives a break from lecturing, gives them a chance to interact with others, and allows them to work their brains in a fun way. It also allows students to find more focused ways of obtaining information that forces them to think more quickly and more efficiently.
- Write some famous pairs on two halves of a sticky note, things like: peanut butter and jelly, Lois and Peter Griffin, Homer and Marge Simpson, fish and chips. You could also use synonyms and antonyms.
- Line the students up shoulder-to-shoulder and place one half of a pair on each back. The students must communicate with the person directly beside them to figure out who they are. It is recommended that rules be established about what questions can be asked, such as only allowing yes or no questions. They are not allowed to ask “Who am I?” You may also give them a time limit to add a level of difficulty.
- Once all students know who they are, they must find their pair without looking at anyone’s sticky notes. They ask the teacher at the end of the activity if they are correct. (Florin, S., 2012)
You can read more about this activity at this link.
Listen, Interpret, Draw
Most students would probably jump at the opportunity to get permission to draw during class. This activity gives all students a chance to draw while practicing their listening and inference skills.
- Pair students and tell them to choose to be either Student A or Student B.
- Give them each three pieces of paper, plus pens, pencils, or crayons.
- Give student A two minutes to draw. Student B is not allowed to talk to Student A or see what he or she is drawing for the duration of the time.
- the timer goes off, Student A must then describe the drawing to Student B so they can draw it. Allow five minutes for this step. Student B cannot speak during this time, only listen and draw.
- Switch roles and discuss the results at the end.
- In the next difficulty tier, have the students do the same thing, but when they have their partner draw what they drew, the artist may only ask yes or no questions.
- Debrief at the end of the activity by asking what the difficulties and successes were. (Ford, R., 2002)
You can read more about this activity here.
Roleplaying and Conflict Resolution
Conflict resolution is a highly-important skill in high school students. It’s easy for out of control gossip, name calling, or hurt feelings to get out of hand, and people can get hurt physically and emotionally if problems aren’t solved effectively. This activity focuses on using conflict resolution skills and communicating with a group about solving problems. Plus, it’s in a low-risk, fun situation that will put them more at ease about discussing real-life issues.
- Begin by asking students if they’ve ever been involved in conflict. On the board, take down examples of conflicts they’ve experienced and some emotions that went along with them.
- Create groups within the class and assign them scenarios to act out. Have one student come into the scenario and give ideas on how to solve the problem. The actors in the group act out the resolution proposed.
- At the end of the scene, have the entire group identify the problem, possible feelings involved, ask what choices could be made and what consequences might come with those choices.
- Ask students to volunteer a situation in which they experienced peaceful conflict resolution they were a part of. (Roleplaying and Conflict Resolution, n.d.)
You can read more about this activity at this link.
This activity stresses the point that asking questions on the part of the listener, and being clear and concise on the part of the speaker are essential for obtaining intended results. Of course, it involves markers and drawing in class, so it’s perfect for your typical high school student.
- Have papers and markers set on each desk before class begins.
- When class begins instruct the students that there is to be absolutely no talking.
- Give them their instructions and do not answer any questions. Tell them to draw a circle, a triangle within the circle, a square in the corner, and to sign “your name” on the paper.
- When everyone is finished have them show their results while showing them yours. Of course, all of them will look different from each other. Ask them why it is that nobody managed to make theirs like yours. Take their suggestions and implement them in the next attempt.
- In this attempt, you will be much more clear with your instructions: draw a circle four inches in diameter in the center of the paper, draw a triangle in the circle so that all three corners are touching the circle, draw a one inch square in the bottom, left corner of the paper, sign “your name” spelled Y-O-U-R-N-A-M-E on the bottom, right side of the paper.
- Show the results. (Practicing Communication Skills Activity, 2013)
You can read more about this activity here.
How to Teach Communication through Activities
As a teacher, counselor, or manager, you will find infinite resources on the internet that can help you teach a student vital communication skills, but it’s also possible for you to engineer your own activities. In order to create the right environment and activity, there are some things you will need:
- Good rapport with students or employees.
- Patience and open-mindedness
- Stimulating material and environment
- Personal mastery/modeling of the skills being taught
- Time and repetition
There’s no way to infuse instant skill into a child or adult, it takes molding and time to learn situational awareness, e-mail etiquette, problem resolution etc. These are all topics that no one ever perfectly gets the hang of.
To gain a mastery of communication skills, awareness of the components and each individual’s problem area is the best place to start. After that, time and creativity will make that slow but sure progress in the mind of your student.
How to Develop Communication Skills
Just like any other skillset, communication is one that needs practice. If interacting with others is difficult for you, then identify where you see the most problems first, and then you can develop a plan for how to round out your social hard edges. If you’re handling this without the help of a class, there are still some methods to help better ingrain those skills:
- Listen with Intention
Listening with intention is a great way to increase overall comprehension and produce better responses. Get rid of distractions, make sure you’re not in a hurry and carve out some real time in your schedule to listen to people, ask questions and clarify what you may have misunderstood, listen without preparing your response, maintain eye contact. (PDF).
- Record/watch yourself talk.
A lot of what we do when speaking normally, we do unconsciously. Perhaps, we even brush past mistakes in the moment that watching on tape or in the mirror for ourselves would bring to our attention. In the same way that it would help to watch yourself and make note of what could be improved, it would be perhaps more beneficial to critically analyze the speeches of great public speakers. Watch how their stand, their arm and hand movements, their tone and volume, and the words they use.
- Read fiction, news, memoirs, and blogs.
Empathy and open-mindedness are huge parts of good communication skills. Try learning about different viewpoints and not adhering so strongly to your own. Think about things from other people’s perspectives and about the issues everyday people face.
- Make sure you have all the information before acting on something.
This includes regular conversation, when sending an email or text message or making a call, when bringing a complaint or issue to your boss, or tackling a family issue at the dinner table. Don’t be hasty or impulsive, but think before you speak. Intentionally, carefully, think about the information you have and what the best way is to respond. The more thoughtful you become in regular interactions, the more thoughtful you become on all levels of communicating.
A Take Home Message
It can seem like the end of the world when we accidentally call a manager or teacher mom, or when we become so wrapped up in how many times we’ve blinked in one minute that we missed what our interviewer was asking us, but you need to know that it’s okay. It’s not the end of the world; in fact, it’s not even a blip in anyone’s radar how you screwed up some social situation on a random Wednesday in November.
It’s possible to learn from your mistakes to avoid funny faux paus in the future, and I promise you that no one remembers your mistakes but you. If you’d like to improve the quality of your social and communication skills, and more importantly, if you’d like to improve the quality and duration of your most important relationships, it’s within your power to do so.
About the Author
Taylor Leasure is a graduate of Harding University with degrees in English and Psychology. She is a published poet, short fiction writer, blogger, and novelist. She loves to make things with her hands and use her degrees to better understand people and great works of literature.
- Bartholomew, N.G. & Simpson, D.D. (2005) Ideas for Better Communication. Texas Institute for Behavioral Research. Retrieved from http://ibr.tcu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/TMA05Aug-Comm.pdf
- Communication Skills. (n.d.) University of California Medical Center. Retrieved from https://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/hr/hrdepts/asap/Documents/Communication_Skills.pdf
- Doyle, A. (2017). Communication Skills for Workplace Success. Retrieved from https://www.thebalance.com/communication-skills-list-2063779
- Fleming, G. (2017). 4 Helpful Nonverbal Communication Activities. Thought Co. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/nonverbal-communication-activities-1857230
- Florin, Suzanne. (2012). Using Communication Games with Older Students. Bright Hub Education. Retrieved from http://www.brighthubeducation.com/high-school-teaching-tips/3314-communication-games/
- Ford, Rob. 2002. Drawing Lesson Improves Communication Skills. Education World. Retrieved from http://www.educationworld.com/a_tsl/archives/02-1/lesson020.shtml
- Garber, P.R. (2008). 50 Communications Activities, Icebreakers, and Exercises. State University of NY, Cortland. Retrieved from https://www2.cortland.edu/dotAsset/c1a635f6-a099-4ede-8f15-79b86e315088.pdf
- Gravningen, K., Mitchell, K. R., Wellings, K., Johnson, A. M., Geary, R., Jones, K. G., & ... Mercer, C. H. (2017). Reported reasons for breakdown of marriage and cohabitation in Britain: Findings from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3). Plos ONE, 12(3), 1-13. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0174129
- Guess the Emotion. (n.d.) Training Course Material. Retrieved from https://www.trainingcoursematerial.com/free-games-activities/communication-skills-activities/guess-the-emotion
- Mega Mini Golf. (n.d.) Games for Groups. Retrieved from http://gamesforgroups.com/teamworkgames.html
- Practicing Communication Skills Activity. (2013). Teachers. Retrieved from https://teachers.net/lessons/posts/4719.html
- Roleplaying and Conflict Resolution, n.d. San Diego County District Attorney. Retrieved from http://www.sdcda.org/office/girlsonlytoolkit/toolkit/got-05-communication.pdf
- Team Building Exercises - Communication. n.d. Mind Tools. Retrieved from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/team-building-communication.htm