|Making Informed Decisions
& Critical Thinking
As today's students become ever more involved in using technology as a resource for daily life, it is crucial that we develop students' critical thinking skills to help them decipher the barrage of information available to them and use this information in their opinion-forming and decision-making processes.
1. To focus student attention, write all or some of the following quotes on the board/overhead before class begins so students see them when they arrive in the classroom.
2. Select volunteers to read each of the quotes aloud. After all the quotes have been read, facilitate a class discussion using questions such as:
- “A public opinion poll is no substitute for thought.” Warren Buffet
- “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” John. F. Kennedy
- “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan
- “The majority have no other reason for their opinions other than that they are in fashion.” Samuel Johnson
- “Opinion is the exercise of the human will which helps us to make a decision without information.” John Erskine
- “It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a 'dismal science.' But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinions on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.” Murray Rothbard
3. Explain to students that the ability to form and articulate opinions is extremely important in all facets of life. As citizens, people need to form opinions about political issues and leaders in order to vote responsibly. We must form opinions about social issues, and we form opinions about the people we work and interact with on a daily basis. However, simply having an opinion about a given topic is not enough. In this age of information, if we want to effectively share our opinions with others, we must be educated about the topics we are discussing. Whether writing a letter to the editor about a local issue or trying to convince your boss that you’ve developed a great business strategy or convincing your parents that you should have a specific privilege, presenting an informed, educated opinion is much more effective than sharing one based on emotion or personal experience alone.
- What is the general theme or message of all of these quotes?
- What is the difference between an informed and uniformed opinion?
- How can you tell when an opinion is based on facts? On emotions? On personal experience?
- Which type of opinion is easier to argue against, an informed or uniformed opinion? Why?
- Are opinions ever “disguised” as facts? How? Explain.
- What role does the media play in the formation of opinions? Explain.
- Has someone ever successfully changed your opinion about a subject or vice versa? If so, how was this accomplished?
4. On the board or overhead, briefly outline these simple steps students can use to help them develop informed opinions on a pre-selected topic.
- Select a topic that is of interest to you. The topic should inspire at least two points of view.
- Learn as much as you can about your topic through research. (Distribute the Research Guide: Assessing Sources handout and review the information, discussing the best ways to determine the credibility and validity of a source.)
- Utilize a wide variety of resources and make sure that you read information that expresses a number of different points of view related to your topic.
- Ask pertinent questions as you learn about the topic and look for the answers in your research
- Assess the content: Are statements and arguments supported with facts, specific examples and clearly defined reasons?
- Form your opinion based on the facts you have learned. Combine those facts with your own emotions and personal experiences. Be able to utilize these facts as your key arguments when you try to convince others to see your point of view.
- Think about the strongest arguments that people with differing points of view will have. Be sure you can answer those arguments so that your opinion can hold up to scrutiny.
1. Explain to students that they will have an opportunity to practice forming fact-based opinions using the process outlined in step 4 above. Encourage students to utilize what they have learned from the Research Guide: Assessing Sources handout as they gather information about their topic. As a class, brainstorm a list of topics that could be of interest to students. Remind students that these should be topics that stir up differing points of view between people. Some ideas include:political candidates, gun control, immigration, death penalty, health care, free speech, school policy, environmental awareness, etc.
2. Distribute the Gathering Facts to Develop an Informed Opinion activity and review the steps for completion.
NOTE: Depending on your students’ research skills, you may want to demonstrate how to complete Step 2 on the activity sheet to ensure that source information is noted correctly.
- Direct students to the NOW website at http://www.pbs.org/now and have them type in the topic of their choice in the Search Box that appears near the top left quadrant on the page. They can also browse by subject matter by clicking Topic Search. From there, have students access NOW content as well as other reliable internet sources to learn facts about their topic and help them form opinions as they complete the activity.
4. When students have finished the activity steps 1-5, introduce the Take Action Project. For this project, students will draw attention to the topic they researched and illustrate their personal opinions about the topic. Students will use the content from steps 1-5 as the basis for their projects.
5. Once students have completed the Take Action Project, provide class time for them to share their work with classmates. Encourage students to provide one another with feedback about the effectiveness of their projects by having students complete a Peer Evaluation Sheet as they hear each presentation. These evaluation forms should be presented to each student as a form of feedback about their project.
6. Facilitate a short closing discussion and/or written response about the use of facts to form opinions using questions such as:
- When you first selected your topic for the project, did you have a pre-conceived opinion about the subject? If so, how was your opinion altered by completing research and looking for facts about the subject?
- Do you believe your opinion would have been different if it had not been based on facts? If so, why and how?
- Based on your experience with researching, do you think most people base their opinions about important issues on facts, or do they use emotions, personal experience, and media to shape their ideas?
- Look back over the quotes used to start this lesson. Which do you most agree with or think is most important for people to consider? Why?
- In the future, do you think you will be more inclined to support your opinions with facts? Why?
- In future conversations with people of differing opinions, do you think you will press them to support their opinions with facts as a means of convincing you to change your thoughts? Why?
- Outside of school, what situations can you identify where having an informed opinion and/or the ability to use fact-based research to form an opinion will be highly important?