What is critical thinking? Dr. Richard Paul defines it as, ‘the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it.’

To me, critical thinking has always been about looking at something, whether a poem, a piece of art, or an idea, appreciating what is good about it, and questioning what I felt was not good about it, while trying to keep an open mind to the opinions of others, but maintaining my own independent opinion. This is something I encourage my students to do; praising independent thought and ideas that are new, even if strange. Also to me, critical thinking is something that requires creativity. But what is creativity? Hodges (2005:53-54) outlines the following as features of creativity:

1. Using imagination

2. Pursuing purposes, aiming to come to a particular finishing point

3. Being original

4. Judging value, i.e. assessing quality, coming up with one’s own ideas, as well as looking at their ideas and those of others in a critical light.

To this, I would add the following in my lessons to encourage critical thinking:

5. Provoking thought, rather than just checking language comprehension, language use and practicing skills.

6. Exposing students to a variety of literature, art and music.

Keeping these 6 elements in mind, below I explore some of the practical possibilities they open up in every day lessons, looking at poems, comics and music, all of which I have experimented with in class and used as platforms to encourage creativity in my students and make learning more fun and diverse. For each, I have included question types I would ask to provoke thought, force students to be imaginative and think creatively and critically.

Poems

Poems are a great way to learn language, especially with higher levels. They provide examples of various grammar structures and are rich in vocabulary. They also provide examples of punctuation use, but most importantly, they provide a lot of food for thought. Working with poems, students can explore various themes, look at rhymes, and tap into their feelings and emotions through poetic expression. In class, students can look at shape poems and create their own around an object of interest to them. They could look at poems from various periods of history and from various cultures, identifying elements of politics, or tradition. They could explore deeper meanings and try to read the mind of the poet, each providing their own opinions on what the writer was thinking and why they think so. Another idea might be listening to a poem and drawing the images that come to mind or writing down one’s feelings as they listen to a poem. A good example of this kind of activity might be This Is Just to Say by W C Williams, with which students might pick on feelings of enjoyment, followed by guilt and the seeking of forgiveness. They may also be able to relate to the speaker in the poem, as he describes a normal incident that could happen to anyone.

Questions: How does the shape affect the poem? Do you think the shape means something? Why did you choose that particular shape? Which poem do you identify with and why? What is the poet trying to say? Which lines in the poems tell you this? Do you agree with the poet? Has something like this happened to you? How did it make you feel?

Comics

Comics present students with a more colourful and friendly way to do some reading. They provide spoken language in context and expose students to a variety of grammar structures. Their stories and the characters in them are also quite popular with the younger generation who have seen them in movies or animations growing up. The most famous of these are Batman, Spiderman and other well – known superheroes. Working with comics, students can be presented a problem in society that needs fixing, such as bullying in the neighbourhood, or a large company destroying the environment. Students can identify good guys and bad guys, creating a plot around the story of a superhero. This would require the creation of a superhero, identifying his or her super powers, costume details and other information about them. They could then illustrate and write their comic. It seems like a large project to work on and may take some time but scaffolding and breaking it up into a few focused lessons will make it easier for everyone.

Questions: Which character do you like most in this comic, and why? What are my superhero’s options in this scenario? What are the powers that would be most useful to my superhero? Whose superhero do you like the most in the class? Why? What do you like about this plot? What would you have written differently in this comic?

Music Music helps people relax. It provides common ground for discussion and sharing interests. It brings people and cultures together. It also provides language, much the same way as poetry or comics do and allows students to explore emotions and themes in a language context. As such, it has its own place in the classroom, especially with the youth. In class, students could listen to songs they like, sharing their favourite ones and talking about the kind of music they like and why. Students could take lyrics from songs to inspire their own songs, creating one of their own and sharing with or performing for the class.

Questions: Which one did you like better, and why? What was good about the first song? What did you not like in the second song? What do you think of the singer as an artist? Which artists would you like to see do a song like this? Which lines in the poem are your own? How can I change the ones I stole to make them mine? What can I do to make the rhythm better?

References: Hodges, 2005. Creativity in Education. University of Cambridge. pp. 53 – 54

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