Critical Thinking Lesson Plans

Background Beliefs
When two people have radically different background beliefs (or worldviews), they often have difficulty finding any sort of common ground. In this lesson, students will learn to distinguish between the two different types of background beliefs: beliefs about matters of fact and beliefs about values. Students will work to go beyond specific arguments to consider the worldviews that might underlie different types of arguments.

Building a Better Argument
Whether it’s an ad for burger chains, the closing scene of a "Law & Order" spinoff, a discussion with the parents about your social life or a coach disputing a close call, arguments are an inescapable part of our lives. In this lesson, students will learn to create good arguments by getting a handle on the basic structure. The lesson will provide useful tips for picking out premises and conclusions and for analyzing the effectiveness of arguments.

Combating the Culture of Corruption
It's a classic film concept: the idealistic new senator heads to Washington where he finds that his hero is accepting bribes. Now, the Democratic National Committee claims that presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain is the villain, not the hero. Students will dig into a recent bribery scandal to assess McCain’s real role in the culture of corruption.

Everything You Know Is Wrong 1: Us and Them
Humans aren't instinctively good reasoners — most of the time, the way our brains work isn’t rational at all. This lesson, the first of two, focuses on the ways that people define themselves and others—how we develop our personal and group identities, how we treat people whose identities are similar or different, and how this affects our ability to reason.

Everything You Know is Wrong 2: Beliefs and Behavior
Humans aren't instinctively good reasoners — most of the time, the way our brains work isn’t rational at all. This lesson, the second of two, focuses on how people reconcile their beliefs with the world around them, even when the evidence doesn’t seem to agree with those beliefs.

Health Care Hooey
In the hotly contested 2008 presidential election, one ad from Democrat Barack Obama created the perfect storm of election themes, accusing Republican John McCain of planning to increase taxes on your health care. But the ad used outdated sources to justify its claims. In this lesson, students will draw on independent experts to determine the accuracy of Sen. Obama’s charge.

Made in the U.S.A.
American companies are shipping many jobs overseas. Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards wants to stop U.S. companies from moving jobs offshore, and a group called Working 4 Working Americans ran an ad in support of his plan. But the story the ad tells doesn’t quite give the whole picture. In this lesson, students will examine the facts behind this potentially misleading ad.

Monty Python and the Quest for the Perfect Fallacy
If you weigh the same as a duck, then, logically, you’re made of wood and must be a witch. Or so goes the reasoning of Monty Python’s Sir Bedevere. Obviously something has gone wrong with the knight’s logic – and by the end of this lesson, you’ll know exactly what that is. This lesson focuses on 10 fallacies that represent the most common mistakes in reasoning.

Oil Exaggerations
Ever notice how political speeches and ads always mention "the worst," "the best," "the largest," "the most"? It’s effective to use superlatives, but it isn’t always accurate. For instance, President Barack Obama has said that "we import more oil today than ever before" – but do we? How can you find out? What do the numbers really mean? And why would he say it if it wasn’t true? In this lesson, students will weigh Obama’s superlative claim against the facts.

Olly Olly Oxen Free!
In a game of hide-and-seek, it's easy to determine what spots are "safe." But in debates about undocumented immigrants, the concept of sanctuary is more controversial. This lesson focuses on an argument between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani over New York’s alleged status as a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants. Students will explore the meaning of the term "sanctuary city" and determine whether New York City ought to be considered one.

PETA Pressure
Politicians, advertisers and others with something to sell choose words and images that will appeal to their target audience, enticing them to accept claims unquestioningly. Some of these manipulators, like the animal activism site, focus their attentions on teenagers and young adults. In this lesson, students won’t check peta2’s factual accuracy, but will learn to spot their manipulative tactics and why they should be skeptical about them.

Pump It
Remember the good old days, back in January 2007, when gas cost just $2.20 per gallon? According to presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, gas prices are high because some politicians still oppose lifting a ban on offshore oil drilling. But McCain’s ad leaves out some basic facts about offshore drilling. In this lesson, students will examine the facts behind McCain’s false connections.

Suspect Sources at the Republican Debate
Job growth is a stunning 17 times higher in America than it is in Europe. Perhaps that’s because Americans are all working as tax preparers, something they spend $140 billion a year on. Those "facts" are according to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain of Arizona. And they even had sources for their numbers. Unfortunately, those sources aren’t actually very good. In this lesson, students will cross-check the candidates’ claims against available data. They will then question whether bias may explain the conflicting data.

The Battle of the Experts
When we hear a piece of information that surprises us, we often react by saying, "Where’d you hear that?" It’s a good question, and one we should ask more often, because some sources are better – sometimes much better – than others. In this lesson, students will learn to distinguish between credible and not-so-credible types of sources. They’ll explore the biases of different sources and develop tools for detecting bias.

The Credibility Challenge
The Internet can be a rich and valuable source of information – and an even richer source of misinformation. Sorting out the valuable claims from the worthless ones is tricky, since at first glance a Web site written by an expert can look a lot like one written by your next-door neighbor. This lesson offers students background and practice in determining authority on the Internet – how to tell whether an author has expertise or not, and whether you’re getting the straight story.

The Language of Deception
It’s a phased withdrawal, not a retreat. Except that the terms actually mean the same thing. But "retreat" sounds much worse, so politicians avoid using it. That’s because they understand that there is a difference between the cognitive (or literal) meaning and the emotive meaning of a word. This lesson examines the ways in which terms that pack an emotional punch can add power to a statement – and also ways in which emotive meanings can be used to mislead, either by doing the reader’s thinking for him or by blinding her to the real nature of the issue.

U.S. Generals…Support the Draft
Rumors of the return of the draft abound. Those rumors are especially scary when they seem to originate from U.S. military commanders. This lesson examines an advertisement sponsored by Americans Against Escalation in Iraq asserting that military officials plan to continue the war in Iraq for an additional 10 years and that that plan will require reinstating the draft. Students will examine whether quotations from Gen. David Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute really do support AAEI's claims.

Despite its founder's stated views that Wikipedia provides "good enough" knowledge, students keep using it – and teachers keep giving out Fs. This lesson illustrates the potential pitfalls of Wikipedia. Drawing on two controversies – Stephen Colbert’s on-air altering of his own entry and his call for viewers to alter a second entry, and the false biography of John Seigenthaler – students will discuss the ease with which false or misleading information can be added to Wikipedia, and they’ll search Wikipedia entries for inaccuracies.