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Critical Thinking

From the classroom of Rachel Schmitt,
Neighborhood House, St. Paul


As adult educators, we need to build the capacity of our learners to differentiate between fact and opinion, recognize bias, and make decisions that are informed by reliable evidence. In other words, we need our adult learners to have strong critical thinking skills. The Tools for Teaching Media Literacy section of the NewseumED website includes activities, lessons, and case studies that explore how the language in news stories influence us and how to know the difference between a story that is worth sharing and one that is, well, junk. The Newseum is an actual museum located in Washington, D.C. that “promotes, explains and defends free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.” As part of their mission, they have developed NewseumED, which is a free online learning platform. The Tools for Teaching Media Literacy comprise just one section of their EDTools collection. The resources are all free, but users are encouraged to create an account in order to access the most content.

Visit Website is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization devoted, in part, to promoting critical thinking. They carry out this mission by providing research on more than 50 controversial issues that help students learn how to question information, evaluate opposing views, and debate important topics. There is no registration or fee required for using the website, and the topics can be viewed by category, such as education, science and technology and health and medicine, or alphabetically by topic. 

The information for most of the controversial topics begins with a general overview that explains the core question; followed by some Did you know? facts about the topic; followed by a list of points divided by pro and con; and ends with a background reading. There is also a video gallery for some of the topics with videos that are labeled pro, con, or “not clearly pro or con.” Perhaps because has a large audience that extends beyond teachers and students, the reading level can be challenging. It is probably most appropriate for High Intermediate and Advanced ELL learners on up.

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Street Law

Street Law is a global, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization devoted to developing classroom and community resources that educate people about law and government. The Street Law Resource Library contains a vast array of teaching activities, lesson plans, case studies, and articles that are organized according to topic, audience, and type. Within the resource library, users can find lesson plans and activity ideas to support the teaching of a wide variety of high interest topics, such as consumer rights, employment rights and workplace discrimination, civil rights, issues related to family law, and tenant rights. Whether or not you think your students are at risk of running afoul of the law, the lessons and activities in the Street Law Resource Library are worth checking out. They provide excellent opportunities to engage in meaningful dialogue and sharpen critical thinking skills, and they will help our learners avoid pitfalls when navigating a wide variety of systems.

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The Learning Network

This online resource was developed by the New York Times to help facilitate both teaching and learning with NYT content. It includes a huge variety of articles with question sets, photos and videos, writing prompts, and fully developed lesson plans with high quality downloadable materials. There are lessons for doing text-to-text comparisons, evaluating sources, and a variety of materials for supporting close reading. This resource is a great way to boost your learner's critical thinking skills while also exposing them to a wealth of academic language and the sort of content-rich informational texts that are required by CCRS.

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