Cape Fear Community College

Lesson Ideas to Promote Critical Thinking (by Academic Department)

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Advanced Technologies / English / Health Sciences / Humanities and Fine Arts

Marine Technology / Math, Science, & PE / Social and Behavioral Sciences


Advanced Technologies

Students are asked to create 3 different space planning arrangements for a specific set of requirements.  After that, they are asked to analyze their planning according to functionality, principles of design and use of design elements.  They are also asked to consider safety principles.  The plans plus their analysis is presented to the class for discussion. 

     This project utilizes a problem set out, a questioning procedure as the student considers and applies learned information and principles. In addition, the student considers exercises previously discussed and scenarios already viewed in analyzing the current situation.  The analysis is the consideration shown to the three possibilities and an evaluation of the best solution made.  The student then justifies choices based on criteria set.

     We feel that if the student explores three different possibilities and justifies their selections with reasonable and accepted standards of design that they have successfully displayed the skills.  The application of principles of design is also a tool which may be graded. All of this has some subjectivity as we are also guided by accepted standards that we know from the industry that we are engaged in.  But all in all, isn’t everything very much perception of people.

     We feel that also the development of 3 alternate plans shows consideration of various possibilities and also the development of solutions.  This is measurable by the justification that occurs in writing and in presentation.  This assignment is very typical of the type of assignments that are used in our curriculum.  (from Cindy Parker, interior design instructor)




Students are asked to read “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and then to write an essay applying his ideas to a current issue of injustice or inequality.  (from Lynn Ezzell, English instructor)

Students are given the opportunity to choose their own writing topics in my writing courses (ENG 095, 111, 114, 102), which requires critical thought to foresee the success of various topics.  The entire writing process from choosing the topic to writing and organizing the paragraphs to editing requires critical thinking.  With the theory that all writing is persuasive and a form of argument, writing essays clearly fits the CT definition.

     The English Department has grading rubrics designed specifically to evaluate the components of an essay (and summaries and analyses in ENG 095).  Since most aspects of good writing require critical thinking, in essence CT is constantly being evaluated.  (from an English instructor)

Critical Popcorn: Thinking Critically at the Movies (submitted by Margo Williams, English instructor)

A good way to get students to read (and think) more critically is to have them use a highly structured worksheet to develop a sound analysis and response/evaluation upon reading a text.  The attached file is an example of such a worksheet.





Health Sciences

Active Critical Thinking (ACT) Project (from Associate Degree Nursing)



Humanities and Fine Arts

(1) In online classes, students are given 5 questions to answer per week.  The majority of these questions do not simply test on information, but ask them to form opinions and evaluate the issues involved for each week.  Students are also allowed to question each other's answers.

(2) Classroom sections are assigned term papers that require research, as well as analysis and evaluation of arguments.

     I am beginning to ask some of the questions used online also in my classroom sections.  Hopefully, in the future, this will make for less lecture and more participation, even in the classroom sections.  (from George Isham, philosophy and religion instructor)

Examples of critical thinking exercises from a course on logic (submitted by Robert Sutton, philosophy and religion instructor)



Marine Technology

All of our species identification exercises require critical thinking skills.  A student is presented an unidentified animal and must use field guides and other materials to reach an identification.  This requires a student to use a combination of the organisms’ physical traits, habitat requirements, and distribution to reach the appropriate outcome.  The use of dichotomous keys is an excellent demonstration on how critical thinking should work for identifications.  (from Jason Rogers, marine science instructor)

I do not give bubble tests.  All exams are essay questions in which students must solve typical boat building problems.  After lecture, problems are presented to students in the lab and they must figure the proper procedures to use to fashion the structure.  [What aspect of critical thinking is emphasized within this assignment?]  Mostly responding to spatial problems and figuring how to measure and  cut the bevels and curves needed to fit boat timbers together. Another aspect is the choice of the most efficient way to cut joints and the proper tools needed to be efficient. 

      Problem solving, in my opinion what critical thinking is all about, applies to all my core courses.  In my program, all the core courses are hands-on labs that require problem solving at every step.  (from Ed Verge, boat building instructor)



Math, Science, & PE

In a trigonometry class students are assigned groups within the class, given mathematical tools (large protractor and metre stick) and, without specific direction, asked to cooperatively find a given distance within the classroom without directly measuring it.

[Aspects of critical thinking emphasized]:

The % error of the calculation of each group is compared to the actual measurement.  The groups are then ranked by % error.  Level of critical thinking should be directly reflected in each group’s numerical answer.  This type of assignment can be applied to many science and math courses.  (from Morris Elsen, math instructor)

I ask my students to complete a portfolio for most of the math courses that I teach.  Within this portfolio I assign problems that require more from the student than just doing the problem in the traditional way.  Many of the problems actually do require them to “think” and can lead to some in-depth discussions in class.  I will provide examples of these types of problems if necessary.  . . .  [S]omeone who is knowledgeable in both critical thinking skills and mathematics would be able to use one of these portfolios to quantify a critical thinking component.  I would say it applies best to MAT 140 Survey of Mathematics, MAT 171 Precalculus Algebra, MAT 172 Precalculus Trigonometry, and MAT 263 Brief Calculus.  (from Valerie Maley, math instructor)           



Social and Behavioral Sciences

In both general psychology and developmental psychology, I often ask students to write short one-page papers to reflect on controversial issues when we discuss them in class.  For example, abortion, use of animals in psychological research, legalization of marijuana, etc.  Students are asked to combine what they knew before my class with what we have learned together, specify their position with regard to the topic, and defend it. I have in the past asked students to take the above assignment a step further and participate in an actual debate.  That’s a nice way to get folks thinking critically about certain issues.  (from Myssie Mathis, psychology instructor)

In addition to regular test and quiz assignments, I utilize Article Analysis’ which have a 12-point criteria for critical analysis and interpretation.  [Is it possible to quantify the portion of this grade that measures the level of critical thinking displayed by the student?]  Yes. In identification and analysis of thesis, primary and secondary sources, opinion, historical relevance, accuracy, and significance.  I have been very satisfied with this assignment combined with a Source Identification Project (S.I.P.) that I have utilized the past two years.  I would be glad to share the format with anyone interested.  (from Phil McCaskey, history instructor)

Students in my Intro to Sociology class (SOC 210) are asked to view a specific television show (my selection) or to go to a specific business location, to pick out sociological principles/perspectives at work, and to verbally report to the class their observations, and to defend their findings.  Several times throughout the semester I will take a specific point/issue from the text, and ask students if they agree with the position the author has stated.  I will also ask them to cite the rationale for their stance.  At semesters end, I look to ask students to submit a statement giving their opinion (subjective since it will not be graded) as to the where they now see sociology in practice when they had not seen it previously, &/or to communicate what skills they gained from taking the class.  (from sociology instructor)

1) Abbreviated research essay (term paper)—7-9 pp (text), based on 3 to 5 full-length primary or secondary sources approved by me in advance.  Assignment is divided into two parts.  The first is a topic and source list, submitted two weeks into the semester.  All topics are Focus Questions from the course textbook, used verbatim but chosen by the students.  Sources must either come from the textbook bibliography or be approved by me on a case-by-case basis.  I provide detailed written guidelines to the students explaining proper source selection.  The second part of the assignment is the paper itself, an expository essay whose purpose is to attempt to answer the topic question by employing information from the sources.  Critically evaluating the sources themselves in the paper is optional but encouraged and rewarded.  I return the essays with marginal comments and notations, a detailed standard evaluation form, and a typed general comment sheet.

2) Three essay examinations—two 50 minute, final 75 minute.  The first two contain three essay questions, each of which addresses a central issue from one of the chapters in the textbook, and which are chosen from a list of six questions distributed to the class one week before a group review session held the meeting before the exam.  The actual questions are chosen at random from the study lists at the last minute.  This requires the students to prepare for twice as many essays as they will actually be required to write, and thus helps to ensure a more thorough independent digestion of the course than it is practical to actually evaluate through a graded assignment.  The final examination contains a comprehensive question pertaining to one of the themes that run through the entire course. 

     The bulk of every grade is earned (or not) by critical thinking (or not).  By “bulk” I mean at least 75%.  In history it is not possible to completely separate the retention of fact from the process of critical thinking, so that’s where it gets fuzzy.  Some of the grade has to do with proper English composition and proper formatting according to a specific formatting style, so that can be excepted easily.  (from Phillip Reid, history instructor)