One of the greatest aspects of teaching students critical thinking skills is that, especially when compared to traditional classroom activities, critical thinking exercises can be a lot of fun. A creative curriculum that integrates critical thinking pushes students to play an active role in their education, and gets them more engaged in their studies.

By designing a set of creative thinking exercises with the goal of making them fun, educators not only improve student outcomes in an objective sense, they do so in a way that most students will find enjoyable and fulfilling. If you’re developing a critical thinking curriculum for your classroom, consider some of these fun activities:

Thought experiments

What better way to fire up a kid’s imagination than having them solve fun hypothetical problems? Consider a wide range of topics that your students might find exciting, and then ask them to imagine scenarios that require problem-solving skills.

For instance, if you are working with an elementary school class, many of your students might be interested in dinosaurs. Create a project in which the students must figure out how to survive if they lived 75 million years ago in the age of these great beasts. Organize them into teams, and then have those groups work together to come up with ideas on how they could build communities amid that harsh environment.

  • Have your students pick out a name for their community. Give them some experience with speech writing and civics by having them “run” for roles like governor, treasury secretary, etc. Every student should have a specific role to fulfill within the community.
  • After students have figured out their community roles, have them create plans for food harvesting and storage, disaster preparation, financial record keeping, and other necessities.
  • Throw a few curve balls their way, and have students devise a plan for coping with each incident. For example, a dangerous dinosaur could invade their camp at night and destroy community buildings. Let the students use their creativity to figure out how they’d react to each situation.
  • As a closing activity, have your student write a collaborative report on the successes and shortcomings of their initial plan.

Time capsule

Putting together a time capsule can serve as both a critical thinking exercise and a practical activity. In order to stock the time capsule properly, students will have to consider the kind of legacy they want to leave. How would they want people in 10, 20, or 50 years to think of them and the time in which they lived?

This activity will lead students to think about a broad spectrum of ideas, including who they are now, who they want to be in the future, how they would like to be remembered, the time they live in now, and what things will be like in the future. It also allows them to incorporate some of their favorite hobbies into a critical thinking lesson.

Jeopardy!

Maybe your students have watched an episode of the popular game show Jeopardy! with their parents, or maybe they learned to like the question-and-answer quiz program on their own. Either way, and even if they’ve never seen it, children will love taking part in the vigorous competition of a trivia game.

Trivia games, particularly in the format of Jeopardy!, aren’t just about rote memorization; they compel people to make connections. Many of the questions used on the show require the use of intuition on the part of contestants by offering them hints and clues, instead of asking them for specific names and dates.

Take the opposite approach

Turn your students into detectives by having them work through a problem backwards. You can start with an important piece of engineering, like the Hoover Dam or the Panama Canal. Have your students develop a list of reasons the dam or the canal might have been built. Ask students which problems they think the example structure was built to solve, and whether it ended up accomplishing its goals.

By doing this, you will be showing your students how to attack problem solving and critical thinking from different angles, as opposed to always taking a straightforward, A to B to C approach.