FW: On Course Newsletter: Teaching Critical Thinking with Forced Analogies
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Subject: On Course Newsletter: Teaching Critical Thinking with Forced
This email forwarded to all full-time faculty, program managers and
ON COURSE NEWSLETTER
Innovative Learner-Centered Strategies for
Promoting Student Success and Retention Across the Curriculum
1. TIMELESS WISDOM: Critical Thinking
2. FEATURE ARTICLE: Teaching Critical Thinking with Forced Analogies
TODAY'S FEATURE ARTICLE presents a word game that promotes critical
thinking. This game, the author writes, "can be used in any classroom,
in any group of learners, in any situation in which there are five or
more minutes to spare for strengthening students' critical thinking.
Thus, it's great as a class starter, an energizer in the middle of
class, or a class ender." Significantly, the author also found that
this brain-game helped his students improve their math test scores.
* * * * *
1. TIMELESS WISDOM: Critical Thinking
"Critical thinking is not just a matter of applying the rules of logic
(much less scientific method). It is a matter of thinking and feeling
empathetically with others, of engaging one's imagination, of having
access to a wealth of facts about the possible effects of alternative
actions, of discerning patterns of meaning in experience, of looking at
the world from different perspectives." --Warren Nord
"Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively
and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing,
and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by,
observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a
guide to belief and action." --Michael Scriven and Richard Paul
* * * * *
2. FEATURE ARTICLE: Teaching Critical Thinking with Forced Analogies by
Tom Hale Counselor Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College cthale@...
INTRODUCTION: Three years ago, while teaching GED classes to students in
the Welfare-to-Work program, I attended a training led by Pam Blundell,
coordinator of adult education and literacy for the Oklahoma State
Department of Education. She asserted that critical thinking skills
were essential for success on the GED, especially in the math section
where many students struggle.
Few educators would be surprised by the idea that helping students
develop critical thinking skills is vital to their academic success,
whether on the GED or in college. How, though, do you improve these
skills? Terenzini, Springer, Pascarella, and Nora (1995) point out that
"three kinds of instructor-influenced classroom interactions were
consistently and positively related to gains in critical thinking: the
extent to which faculty members encouraged, praised, or used student
ideas; the amount and cognitive level of student participation in class;
and the amount of interaction among the students in a course."
One critical thinking technique presented in the Oklahoma City training
was called the "forced analogy," and it incorporates all three of these
positive influences. Plus, it's fun. That year, I used the game to
help all but one of my students pass the math section of the GED. Now I
use it in my college success class, where it continues to be a hit.
Forced analogies can be used in any classroom, in any group of learners,
in any situation in which there are five or more minutes to spare for
strengthening students' critical thinking. Thus, it's great as a class
starter, an energizer in the middle of class, or a class ender.
*to develop critical and creative thinking skills
*to promote "diving deep" when problem solving
*to increase self-esteem
*to have intellectual fun
*Blackboard and chalk
*Pen and paper for each student
1. Ask a student to name any noun: a person, place, thing, or idea.
Write the word on the board (or have them write it on their paper).
2. Ask a second student to name a second noun, any noun at all. Write
this word beside the first. For example, at the Oklahoma training, the
first two nouns were "marriage" and a "yellow #2 pencil."
3. Ask students to write down everything they can think of that the two
nouns have in common. Encourage them to list at least 12 commonalities.
4. Ask students to share their "forced analogies." A couple of my
favorites at the Oklahoma training were: "Marriage and a yellow #2
pencil both involve a metal band (the one that holds the eraser on and
the one that goes on the fingers)." "Both require the number 2." (You
might want to pause here and see if you can come up with some other
At first, I had my students write their answers on their own paper and
then we'd compare. I noticed, however, that some students would just
ignore my request or only write down answers that someone else
mentioned. It seemed more productive, and more fun, when we all did
them together, out loud, with me writing the responses on the board.
To make the activity more interesting, I asked my students to challenge
the group by coming up with pairs of nouns for which the rest of us
could not find an analogy. Everyone tried. I'd see them waiting,
grinning when I walked in the classroom door; they couldn't wait to
issue a new challenge to the group. We always found more than one
analogy, usually several really good ones. The best part was that they
were thinking about the analogies on their own time. One woman told us,
"I stayed up late coming up with these. I just knew they'd stump
everyone, but it didn't take ya'll ten seconds!" The group could not be
stumped. Is that a great lesson in the value of interdependence, or
One time the two nouns were "bridge" and "squirrel." Invariably,
someone would come up with the easy ones: they both contain the letter
R; both can be found outdoors, etc. I invited them to dive a little
deeper. It got to where, when someone offered a cheap analogy, others
would mime a diving motion, telling them to dive deeper. "Dive deeper"
also became a familiar cry of encouragement while working math problems.
By the way, my favorite analogy for bridge and squirrel was "They can
both get run over."
More often than not, we would end up laughing, learning and having a
great time. My students were thinking and having fun, learning to look
at everything in life from multiple perspectives.
I am always excited to watch my students, especially the
down-in-the-mouth "life's a bitch and then you die" crowd, sit up a
little straighter, feel better about themselves, grow in confidence in
their mental abilities, and have fun.
And as for my GED students: All but one of them passed the math section!
Nice results when you consider that most of them didn't even want to be
Doing the forced analogies, I learned to trust the process and to trust
the students. There is no way to prepare for this game; nobody knows
what the two nouns will be ahead of time. There were times when I could
not think of anything to tie the two nouns together and would almost
start to panic. The students came through every time. I learned not to
rush it; I'd just keep telling them (and myself) not to give up, to keep
diving deeper. It worked every single time. More often than not, they
amazed me. I loved it when they would tell me I needed to dive deeper.
One day the two nouns were Georgia (the state) and liquid paper. I was
drawing a big blank; I actually started to sweat. When we would get
stuck, we would just start naming everything that popped into our heads
about one of the nouns and then try to tie it to the other one. I
noticed that Kim was reading the label on a bottle of liquid paper.
Suddenly she came halfway out of her chair and shouted, "They're both
flammable!" I asked her to elaborate, and she said that she was
thinking about Sherman's march to the sea during the Civil War. Perhaps
it was this intellectual persistence that helped them solve their math
problems on the GED. They just wouldn't quit when the thinking got
Now I am teaching Skills for Success (a class required for all of our
students on academic probation) and a section of College Life & Success,
both with the *On Course* text. I continue to use the forced analogy
game. It's a powerful way to exercise our brains and get everyone
focused on learning. I have never seen it miss. In fact, I challenge
you to come up with two nouns for which we cannot find something in
Doing these creative analogies gave me a new respect and appreciation
for my students. They were not where they were because they were
stupid. They were where they were for any number of reasons, most of
which are related to one or more of the 8 On Course Principles
(Self-Responsibility, Self-Motivation, Self-Management, Interdependence,
Self-Awareness, Lifelong Learning, Emotional Intelligence, Self-Esteem).
It was important for the students to know that. I realized it was also
important for me to know that. I didn't think I was the type to
prejudge anyone, but I was doing just that in some cases. Forced
analogies leveled the playing field and allowed us to relate as peers.
My master's degree didn't help me and their lack of a GED didn't hurt
them when we got together as friends and played a learning game. For
all our differences, we have far more in common than not.
(1) Terenzine, P.T., Springer, L., Pascarella, E.T., & Amaury, N.
(1995). "Influences Affecting the Development of Students' Critical
Thinking Skills." Research in Higher Education 36: 23-39.
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