Character Education Student Engagement Experiences

Critical Thinking - Character education

Academic Domain: Critical Thinking

Students demonstrate increasingly sophisticated analytical and evaluation skills and a disposition toward critical thinking including the ability to:

  • Organize, classify, and categorize information;
  • Identify the organizational structure, component parts and essential elements of written and oral communications and creative works;
  • Identify and take in account factors that might affect the accuracy and validity of their own personal beliefs and conclusions;
  • Challenge, question and test the accuracy and validity of recommendations, claims and assertions by identifying and taking into account: a) internal inconsistencies; b) logical flaws; c) unproven or unstated assumptions; d) the existence of contradictory evidence and opinions; e) the currency and pertinence of data and; f) factors that bear on the objectivity and reliability of the sources of information (e.g., credentials, prejudice, bias, attitudes, motivations, and conflicts of interest);
  • Evaluate the relevance and weight assigned to specific evidence or arguments by: a) distinguishing between facts, opinions, speculations, and feelings and; b) considering the expertise, personal knowledge, character and credibility of the source; and
  • Identify and describe strengths and weaknesses and constructively express informed evaluative judgments (i.e., criticism) concerning the merit of oral communications (e.g., speeches, debates), writings (e.g., news reports, editorials, research studies), performances (e.g., acting, singing) and artistic works (e.g., sculptures, paintings, symphonies).

Key Beliefs:

I will be a better student if I act on the following beliefs:

  • I should consider the source when evaluating information. 
  • My experiences and what I assume can affect how I understand information and see the world. 
  • It is important to be objective when analyzing information. I should consider all available information when making decisions. 


  • Read on a selected topic from different points of view.
  • Compare and contrast items and topics, which allows for you to tell the ways things are similar and different and helps you analyze and categorize information.
  • Comparing and contrasting stories is another way to encourage critical thinking. 
  • Analyze characters, settings, plot and other story elements when you list the way stories are the same and different.
  • Restate, paraphrase, explain, and summarize facts, definitions, methods, rules, theories, and concepts.
  • Illustrate or simplify information with pictures, diagrams, charts, and graphs.
  • Compare various resources on the same topic: online encyclopedia vs. news article vs. blog.
  • Analyze claims in advertisements targeted at your age group and compare with researched information and statistics.
  • Challenge, question, and test the accuracy and validity of recommendations, claims, and assertions by identifying a) internal inconsistencies, b) logical flaws, c) unproven or unstated assumptions, d) the existence of contradictory evidence and opinions, e) factors that bear on the objectivity and reliability of the sources of information (e.g., credentials, prejudice, bias, attitudes, motivations, and conflicts of interest). 
  • Evaluate the relevance and weight assigned to specific evidence or arguments by: a) distinguishing between facts, opinions, speculations, and feelings and b) considering the expertise, personal knowledge, character, and credibility of the source. 
  • Use case studies and projects that require proposing ideas and formulating plans.
  • Explain and illustrate how our beliefs and ideas about things can change as we are exposed to new ideas and experiences, starting with minor things (favorite foods or music) to major things (political values). 


The Marshmallow and Toothpick Tower

Learning Objective: To build a tower using only marshmallows and toothpicks that helps to teach communication and critical thinking skills

Materials: Half a bag of mini marshmallows per group; 25 wooden toothpicks


  • Each team will be given the marshmallows and toothpicks to build the tallest tower.
  • The tower must be able to stand on its own without any helping hands or another object (freestanding). This means no holding the tower or leaning it against another object.
  • Recommended time limit of 10 minutes
  • Here’s a helpful hint. Print out some pictures of famous buildings or towers from around the world to help get students thinking about different structural designs.
  • After the towers are built, measure all the towers to determine the tallest.

Test how much weight the structure can hold by placing a few pennies in a margarine tub lid and setting it on top of the tower. Add pennies one by one and see how many it takes to bust the tower.


  • Draw a 5” x 5” square on a piece of paper and hand out to the students or teams. They should build the tower in this square and the base cannot go outside this square.
  • Students have 10 minutes to construct the tower. When only two minutes are left for construction, have the students use two large marshmallows. They must use them both somewhere in their tower.
  • Assign a dollar value to the toothpicks and marshmallows. Make the activity more like a project with a budget and the students can ‘buy’ more materials if needed, they get an ‘incentive’ (extra money) if they finish ahead of schedule.

Process and Reflection

  • What did your group do before beginning to build the tower?
  • What were some of the ideas your group considered on how to build the tallest tower?
  • How did your group decide what you were going to do?
  • What shapes did your group use that made for a good design for a tower. 
  • How would you compare the use of triangles and squares to see which is the strongest?
  • How did communication play a role in this activity?
  • What do you think this activity had to do with enhancing critical thinking skills?
  • As a student, how do you analyze and evaluate information that is provided, whether that information is through observation, experience or communication?

Quotation Posters:


  1. It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. – Aristotle
  2. An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t. – Anatole France
  3. The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend. – Henri Bergson
  4. The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life. – Plato
  5. Out of the questions of students come most of the creative ideas and discoveries. – Ellen Langer
  6. Invest a few moments in thinking. It will pay good interest. – Author unknown
  7. Knowing a great deal is not the same as being smart; intelligence is not information alone but also judgment, the manner in which information is collected and used. – Carl Sagan
  8. A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices. – William James
  9. Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again? – Winnie the Pooh