Critical Thinking And Problem Solving Exercises For Teenagers

Getting students to dig deeper and answer questions using higher-level thinking can be a challenge. Here are our favorite tips for teaching critical thinking skills, adapted from Mentoring Minds’ Critical Thinking Strategies Guide, that help kids solve problems by going beyond the obvious response.

1. Slow down the pace.

It’s easy to fall into a routine of calling on one of the first kids who raises a hand. But if you wait even just 3 to 5 seconds after asking a question, you’ll probably find the pool of students willing to give an answer grows significantly. Plus, it helps the speedy kids learn that the first answer that pops into their head isn’t always the best. There are times you may even want to wait up to a minute or longer if the question is particularly complex or time-consuming. To avoid an awkward pause, you can let kids know that they have 10 seconds to think before answering the question or that you need to see 10 hands raised from volunteers before you hear a response.

2. Pose a Question of the Day.

Put a new spin on bell ringers by asking a Question of the Day. Use a questioning stem (e.g., create a riddle that uses the mathematics term “multiply” in one of the clues or write a letter to a classmate recommending this book) and put it on the board. Students can write answers in their critical-thinking journals. Then have a class discussion at the end of the day.

3. Make a response box.

Write a random critical-thinking question on the board, (e.g., Is there a better way to work out this problem? Explain your thinking.). Give students a specified amount of time to provide a written response and put it in the response box. Pull out entries one by one and read them aloud to the class. Alternatively, you can give a prize—like a homework pass or free time—to the student with the first appropriate response whose name is drawn from the box or to everyone who submitted appropriate answers.

4. Take a side.

First, read a statement that has two opposing views (e.g., Do you agree or disagree with the author? Why?). Ask kids who agree to stand on one side of the room and those who disagree to stand on the other side. Then have kids talk about why they chose each side. They can switch sides if they change their minds during the discussion.

5. Ask “why?” five times.

When you encounter a problem in class, you can help the class come up with a solution by using the Why? Five Times strategy. Ask the first why question (e.g., Why didn’t the class do well on the spelling test?), and after a response is given, ask why four more times (e.g., Why didn’t students study for the test?, Why didn’t students have time to study for the test?, etc.). The idea is that after the fifth question is asked, the problem will be solved.

6. Role-play.

Come up with an imaginary scenario and have kids work through the steps to solve a problem as a class. First, identify the problem and write it as a question (e.g., Why didn’t the science experiment work as planned?). Then brainstorm ideas to solve it and choose the best one to write as a solution statement. Finally, create an action plan to carry out the solution.

7. Go “hitchhiking.”

Practice creative thinking by collaborating on a storyboard. Write a problem on an index card and pin it on the top of a bulletin board. Then put different headings on index cards and pin them below the main card. Have kids brainstorm ideas that develop each of the heading cards and let kids pin them on the board. Encourage kids to “go hitchhiking” by building onto their classmates’ ideas.

8. Turn around.

A great way to focus on the positive in not-so-positive situations is the Turn Around thinking strategy. If a student forgets to bring his homework to school, you can ask, “What good can come of this?” The student can answer with ideas like, “I will change my routine before I go to bed.”

9. Put your pocket chart to good use.

Choose six completed questioning stems from different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and put them in a pocket chart. Choose some strips as mandatory and let kids pick two from the higher levels to answer aloud or in a journal.

10. Hold a Q&A session.

One way you can figure out how well kids are grasping critical-thinking skills is by holding question-and-answer sessions. Ask a variety of questions one-on-one or in small groups and take note of the levels of thought individual students use regularly and avoid over time. You can review your notes to help build more higher-order-thinking questions into your lessons.

FREE E-BOOK! How to Build a 36-Week Character Education Program. Support social-emotional learning through a critical thinking lens with 36 projects and activities plus tips, research, and more!

10 Team-Building Games That Promote Critical Thinking

by TeachThought Staff

One of education’s primary goals is to groom the next generation of little humans to succeed in the “real world.”

Yes, there are mounds of curricula they must master in a wide breadth of subjects, but education does not begin and end with a textbook or test.

Other skills must be honed, too, not the least of which is how to get along with their peers and work well with others. This is not something that can be cultivated through rote memorization or with strategically placed posters.

Students must be engaged and cooperation must be practiced, and often. The following team-building games can promote cooperation and communication, help establish a positive classroom environment and — most importantly — provide a fun, much-needed reprieve from routine.

10 Team-Building Games That Promote Collaborative Critical Thinking

You can purchase a classroom-ready version of team-building games that promote critical thinking here.

1. If You Build it…

This team-building game is flexible. Simply 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.

Skills: Communication; problem-solving

2. Save the Egg

This activity can get messy and may be suitable for older children who can follow safety guidelines when working with raw eggs. Teams must work together to find a way to “save” the egg (Humpty Dumpty for elementary school students?) — in this case an egg dropped from a specific height. That could involve finding the perfect soft landing, or creating a device that guides the egg safely to the ground. Let their creativity work here.

Skills: Problem-solving, creative collaboration

3. Zoom

Zoom is a classic classroom cooperative game that never seems to go out of style. Simply form students into a circle and give each a unique picture of an object, animal or whatever else suits your fancy. You begin a story that incorporates whatever happens to be on your assigned photo. The next student continues the story, incorporating their photo, and so on.

Skills: Communication; creative collaboration

4. Minefield

Another classic team-building game. Arrange some sort of obstacle course and divide students into teams. Students take turns navigating the “mine field” while blindfolded, with only their teammates to guide them. You can also require students to only use certain words or clues to make it challenging or content-area specific.

Skills: Communication; trust

See also: 10 Team-Building Games For A Friendlier Classroom

5. The Worst-Case Scenario

Fabricate 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. Ask them to work together to concoct 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.

Skills: Communication, problem-solving

6. A Shrinking Vessel

This game requires a good deal of strategy in addition to team work. Its rules are deceptively simple: The entire group must find a way to occupy a space that shrinks over time, until they are packed creatively like sardines. You can form the boundary with a rope, a tarp or blanket being folded over or small traffic cones. (Skills: Problem-solving; teamwork)

7. 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.

Creative collaboration; communication; problem-solving

8. It’s a Mystery

Many children (and grown-ups) enjoy a good mystery, so why not design one that must be solved cooperatively? Give each student a numbered clue. In order to solve the mystery — say, the case of the missing mascot — children must work together to solve the clues in order. The “case” might require them to move from one area of the room to the next, uncovering more clues.

Skills: Problem-solving, communication

9. 4-Way Tug-of-War 

That playground classic is still a hit — not to mention inexpensive and simple to execute. For a unique variation, set up a multi-directional game by tying ropes in such a way that three or four teams tug at once. Some teams might choose to work together to eliminate the other groups before going head-to-head.

Skills: Team work; sportsmanship

10. 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.

Skills: Problem-solving; communication

While education technology is a basic and crucial component of the 21st century classroom, educators must still ensure that students are engaging with each other in meaningful ways. Team-building exercises are a great way to do this, and because of this, they will never go out of style.

See Also: 10 Team-Building Games To Promote Critical Thinking 

Aimee Hosler is a writer and mother of two living in Virginia. She specializes in a number of topics, but is particularly passionate about education and workplace news and trends. She hold a B.S. in Journalism from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and is a contributor to several websites including; 10 Team-Building Games For Kids, Teenagers, or Adults


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