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Critical Thinking in Discussions

Submitted by Jessica Friedrichs

We often associate the practice of critical thinking with reading and examining text. How do we practice critical thinking in real time while actively engaging in dialogue with others? This activity is an adaptation of the CLUE approach and designed to encourage critical dialogue.

average rating is 5 out of 5, based on 2 votes, rating(s)
Bench with words take a little time to think

Learning Goals

  • Develop strategies to critically reflect while in discussion with others.

  • Critically analyze contributions while participating in discussion with others.


Set Up: Prepare for the Activity

Select a relevant topic for discussion. It is best if all participants review a shared learning resource before the discussion. This might be an article, video, photograph, blog, or even a meme related to a contemporary topic.

Share the CLUE Worksheet with participants.

Organize participants into small groups (4-6 ppl).

Begin by introducing the learning goals of this activity.

Step One: Discuss the Topic and Resource in Small Groups (10 min)

In small groups, engage in normal discussion of the topic. Participants share their initial reactions, reflections, or opinions about the topic and the shared resource.

Small group prompts:

  • What is your position on this topic? How does the shared resource support or challenge your position?

Step Two: Introduce the CLUE Worksheet and Consider the Source (10 min)

After the initial round of discussion, invite participants to consider the source of the statements being offered. Each participant should take a moment to review the following prompts:

  • How are people contributing to the discussion? Are they citing sources (external evidence)? Are they referring to personal experiences (anecdotal evidence)? Or, are they making general statements without much evidence or support?

  • How are people presenting their ideas? With authority? With caution or caveats? Which approach is most convincing as you hear their comments?

  • What authority does the person speaking have on this topic? Are they a reliable source of information?

  • Do the people speaking have some sort of political leaning or agenda in this discussion?

Reconvene the discussion, while encouraging participants to take notes under the “C” section of the worksheet.

Step Three: Lay Out the Arguments (10 min)

Pause the discussion and invite participants to review the next section of the worksheet focused on laying out the argument, values, and assumptions within the discussion. As the conversation continues, ask participants to jot down notes in response to the prompts:

  • What is the point other participants are trying to convey? What position are they taking?

  • Do you agree with their argument or position? Why or why not?

  • What assumptions about the world does the discussant make?

  • What is one value you think another discussant holds? Provide evidence for this, perhaps use a quote from the discussion.

Reconvene the discussion, while encouraging participants to take notes under the “L” section of the worksheet.

Step Four: Uncover the Evidence in the Discussion (10 min)

Pause the discussion to review the next set of prompts in the worksheet:

  • Which discussant is most convincing?

  • Does this person present evidence to back up their claims? Do they offer clear arguments?

  • What about their contributions seem convincing? Why are you persuaded by their contributions?

Reconvene the discussion, while encouraging participants to reflect on the prompts and take notes under the “U” section of the worksheet.

Step Five: Evaluate the Conclusion (10 min)

Ask participants to wrap up their discussions. Invite all participants to share a concluding thought or remark. Ask participants to reflect on the last section of the worksheet and jot down their ideas:

  • Has the group reached consensus? If not, how has the discussion group been divided? On what grounds? What drives the division?

  • Is one side more convincing than the other? What do you base this on?

  • Have you rethought any of your beliefs as a result of this discussion? What convinced or challenged you?

Step Six: Debrief as a Full Group (10 min)

  • Which section of this worksheet was easiest to complete during the discussion? Which section was hardest to complete in real time?

  • How might you use clarifying questions to insert constructive but critical questioning within a discussion?





Critical Collaboration

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average rating is 4 out of 5

Sovi Herring

May 30, 2024 at 6:42:10 PM

This activity is great when a group is comfortable sharing thoughts--but it is modified to be more introspective at first. There are two versions of this, one to recognize "normalized" feelings, the other is labeled "extreme" as the group was practicing navigating high emotion. This first one covers parents, cats, dogs: This one is to recognize more difficult to talk about feelings of fear, disgust, etc.:

average rating is 5 out of 5

Sovi Herring

May 30, 2024 at 6:28:11 PM

This activity was modified for a Business & Professional Communication class. It is best when the groups have gone through the guidelines activity to help facilitate how to communicate and even the 3.4 ambiguity. This is a difficult activity if the class is uncomfortable speaking (and in my case they were very adverse to discussing these in any group). Here is how I set it up (along with a print out of the words). It is modified to fit the business world, but worked well as a concept.

average rating is 5 out of 5

May 28, 2024 at 1:33:05 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

May 28, 2024 at 1:31:01 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:03:34 AM

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February 14, 2024 at 1:02:20 AM

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February 11, 2024 at 3:55:15 AM

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January 4, 2024 at 7:22:22 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

December 12, 2023 at 11:56:40 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

Lori Britt

October 3, 2023 at 5:00:05 PM

Have done this in the past, but today a group really blew me away. I did this as a Fishbowl with 7 students taking roles. Prior to the converstaion they could seek input from a few other students about what which decision they think the person in their role would support and why. I also asked them to come up with some things that were concerns for them. This 10 minute of prep time helped my role play participants really embody and feel confident in their roles. Great discussion about what deliberation looks like in practice and about how power can impact conversations and how a facilitator can try and minimize these power imbalances. I used the scenario above and assigned these roles (I was not sure my students woul be able to consider roles that would offer different perspectives): • Facilitator (non-voting) • Mayor • High school teacher • 17-year-old high school student • Transportation planner for the region • Local business owner • Economic development office for the region (your community and the surrounding communities served by the train) • 50-year-old who lost his job last year and who has been on unemployment

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