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Critical Thinking

mosaic of man reading

mosaic of man reading


Critical thinking is fundamental to success at university. It is a way of interpreting, questioning, analysing, evaluating, inferring, explaining and exploring. Critical thinking shapes the way in which you see information, the way in which you interact with and respond to information, and also the way in which you report information. Critical thinking is essential to your reading, your writing and the discussions you have in classes and seminars. Finally, critical thinking helps you to self-regulate and monitor your own ability to recognise and understand.



In this learning activity you will explore how to think critically. You will also discover the value of thinking critically and the impact this style of thinking and reading can have on your studies.





Activity 1: An introduction to critical thinking

It has been said that three of the world's greatest thinkers, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein were clever men. However, it has also been claimed that they were not intellectual geniuses. Yet, whilst they may not have been intellectual geniuses they all had questioning minds and a strong desire to answer questions. Through natural curiosity and a fundamentally inquisitve nature, they reshaped the way in which we view and understand today's world. As a result, they were some of the best critical thinkers the world has ever seen.

Whilst students are not expected to rethink the laws of physics or reshape the way in which people think about the world, like Darwin, Newton and Einstein, you are expected to have a questioning mind and the ability to think deeply and skillfully about what you read and write. In short, you are expected to think 'critically'.


Read the cartoon and identify 2 problem areas the student encountered.

Activity 2: Fact or fiction?

An important area of critical thinking is being able to distinguish between fact and opinion. Opinons are often presented as facts, therefore being able to differentiate between fact and opinion is fundamental to successful reading and writing at university, especially when it comes to researching an essay or dissertation.


Read through the following fact or opinion.pdf to learn more about how to identify facts and opinion.

Open the quiz and answer the questions. Use the information in the fact or fiction.pdf to help you determine what is fact and what is opinion.

Open the the Timeline about Plato and try to identify which pieces of information are fact and which are opinion. You will need to use the internet to verify whether the information is fact or opinion. You do not need to write anything in this activity, but you will need to check your answers with the feedback on this page.

Activity 3: Beginning to think critically

In the following activity you will begin to think critically.


Look at the names of the following 10 famous people. If you do not know who they are, use a Google search to find out.

(Barak Obama
Michael Jackson
Orlando Bloom
JK Rowling
Usain Bolt
Nelson Mandela
Albert Einstein
Kate Hudson
Aung San Suu Kyi

Try to think of 10 ways by which the 10 people can be categorised. For example, men (Barak Obama, Michael Jackson, Orlando Blum, Usain Bolt, Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein) and women (BoA, JK Rowling, Kate Hudson, Aung San Suu Kyi). Write your 10 ideas in the text entry box.

How did you choose your categories?

Activity 4: Preparing to read critically

Click on this link for a visual overview of critical thinking.

As you can see from the diagram, it is necessary to think in a critical way before, during and after you read. This involves asking many questions. Questioning in such a manner requires using many different cognitive processes, some of which are of low complexity, for example asking 'what is this text about?, others high, e.g. evaluating proposed solutions.

Before you begin reading, it is advisable to assess the text itself and ask questions such as 'who is this text intended for?'. This is often thought of as as the 'questioning' stage. Following on from this, is the 'analysis' stage which takes place whilst reading. This involves asking questions such as 'what is the writer suggesting?' and 'Is all of the information correct/reliable?'. Finally, the 'evaluation' stage usually occurs after you have finished reading. It involves asking questions such as 'and, so what?' or 'what next?'.


Read the following questions and decide which process they belong to. Choose the correct answer by putting in one of radio buttons. You can check with the feedback box to see if you were correct.

Q1. What is this text about?

Q2. How do all the parts of this text/theory/study/research fit together?

Q3. Why is this information significant? Why is the writer telling me this?

Q4. Why has the writer chosen this theory or solution?

Q5. Who has written this text?

Q6. What are the implications?

Q7. What can be learnt from this?

Q8. Is all of the information correct?

Q9. When was this text written?

Q10. What next?

For more detailed information about critical thinking and questioning, read the Critical Thinking.pdf

Activity 5: Questioning the text

In a moment you will read a text about the Lost City of Atlantis, titled 'Lost city of Atlantis discovered? Grainy images show city-like formations at the bottom of the Caribbean'. This text has been taken from a newspaper and has been used to illustrate key points and issues associated with critical reading and thinking. Whilst a newspaper article (especially one from the newspaper in question) is useful for the purposes of introducing concepts such as critical thinking and reading, the language and learning unit do not recommended you use newspapers as the basis of any piece of academic writing you may do as part of your degree and postgraduate degree courses.


Before you begin reading, think of several questions you could ask about the text, for example, when was this article written? or, who wrote it?

Write your questions in the text entry box before checking with the feedback.

Open and read the article. Answer your questions. Write your answers in the text box provided. Check your answers with the feedback.

Activity 6: Analysing the text

In this activity you will begin to focus on analysing a text, a critical part of the critical thinking and reading process.


Now that you have 'questioned' the text, it is time to analyse it.

Using the interactive overview as a guide, think of a set of questions which are useful to ask when analysing a text. Try to make your questions relevant to the text you are reading. Write your questions in the text entry box.

Read through the article again, but this time try to answer the questions you have just asked.

Activity 7: Evaluating the text

Evaluating a text can be the most difficult stage of critical thinking and reading. It can often involve complicated cognitive processes. It is during this stage that you are expected to tie all your thoughts together and to look beyond the text to see its value to your own writing and research.


Re-read the article on the Lost City of Atlantis from the Daily Mail, and evaluate it, using the question 'and, so what?'. Try to think about the following areas:

what does all this actually mean?
what impact does this have on my line of reasoning?
what effect does this have on future research?
does this evidence negate other evidence?
why should I believe what I have just read?
how does this influence the conclusions I draw?
what should I do with this information?
what relevance does this have on the wider research community?

For more information on critical thinking and analysis, click here and see a short, interactive example of a critically analysed text.

Activity 8: Thinking critically

In this activity you will begin to think critically about a couple of newspaper articles. You will need to use the information and skills you have learnt in the first 7 questions of this Learning Object.


Read the newspaper headlines beneath. One has been taken from the Telegraph, a reputable broadsheet. The other from the Sun, a popular tabloid newspaper.

Lost city of Atlantis 'could be buried in southern Spain'

'Atlantis' spotted on ocean floor off Africa

Q1. Which newspaper does the headline 'Lost city of Atlantis 'could be buried in southern Spain' come from?

Q2. Which newspaper does the headline 'Atlantis' spotted on ocean floor off Africa' come from?

Both of the headlines mention alternative locations for the lost city of Atlantis. This calls into question the information you read in the Daily Mail article.

At university it is not uncommon to read two contradictory articles. Quite often, a researcher will try to, and often succeeds in, disproving an established theory, or at least, proposing an equally plausible one. It is through critical thinking that we are able to judge which of the theories is the most reliable and which we believe to be more accurate

Q3. How could you verify which story is true/which story is more plausible?

Read the articles by The Telegraph and The Sun and answer the questions beneath.

Q4. Which of the 2 articles do you find to be more plausible/convincing? Why do you think this? Write your answer in the text box beneath before checking with the feedback.

Q5. In which way does the article by the Telegraph differ from the article written by the Daily Mail? Which do you think contains more bias? How did you arrive at this conclusion?

Activity 9: Reading between the lines

When reading the news, it is good to remember that no news is reported without bias. In fact, this can be said about most types of writing, even academic writing. This observation is best reflected by the following quotation

'The great blockbusteer myth of modern journalism is objectivity, the idea that a good newspaper or broadcaster simply collects and reproduces the objective truth. It is a classic Flat Earth tale, widely believed and devoid of reality. It has never happened and never will happen because it cannot happen. Reality exists objectively, but any attempt to record the truth about it always and everywhere necessarily involves selection' (Davies, N., 2005 cited in Edwards, D & D. Cromwell, 2009 p 3).

As Edwards and Cromwell point out, '[Facts] are gathered by human beings guided by mundane, earthy, often compromised beliefs and motives. To choose 'this' fact over 'that' fact is already to express an opinion. To highlilght 'this' fact over 'that' fact is to comment (Edwards, D & D. Cromwell., 2009).


Read the following extract from the Sun newspaper.

Migrant rush hits services hard.

ROCKETING immigration has left schools, hospitals, police and housing at full stretch, watchdogs warned yesterday. Towns have been hit by racial tension, street crime and binge drinking as foreign arrivals flood in. And roads are more dangerous than ever because of poor driving by some newcomers. The knock-on effects of mass immigration since Labour relaxed our border controls are laid bare in a report by the Audit Commission. It says many councils are struggling to cope with the flood of workers from Eastern Europe. A staggering 662,000 arrived last year. But many organisations were unprepared for them. The impact on housing has been greatest with an alarming rise in overcrowded properties. Ministers are urged to give immigrants crash courses in English to ease pressure on councils. This would help them to integrate properly with communities, learn about their entitlements and avoid exploitation. Shadow Home Secretary David Davis, said: “The consequences of uncontrolled immigration are hitting local authorities up and down the country.”

Accessed online at on [4/5/10] [Subscription Only]

Q1. Is this article in favour of immigration by East European migrants?

Q2. Which words/phrases in the text lead you to this conclusion? Write your answers in the text box beneath.

Q3. Do you think that the text has given a fair and balanced account?

Parts of the text raise questions as it seems that the journalist is only reporting the alarming sides of the problem. For example, the part in which they report that 'Towns have been hit by racial tension, street crime and binge drinking as foreign arrivals flood in'. This would lead an uninformed reader to believe that these were new problems, caused as a direct consequence of migration to the UK by East European migrants. However, problems of racial tension, street crime and binge drinking are not new to the UK. They have existed in UK towns for a long time, and although may be exacerbated (this would need to be verified by a second source) by migration, are certainly not caused by it.

Q4. Which other parts of the text raise questions? Write your answer in the text box beneath before checking your answers with the feedback secction.

Activity 10: What is critical thinking?

Now that you have completed a series of exercises designed to help you learn and reflect on the nature and necessity of critical thinking and reading, it is time that you tested your knowledge.


Read the following statements and decide if they are true or false. Tick the appropriate check box.

tick icon cross icon
1. You should always believe what you read without questioning the information.
2. Critical thinking requires engagement with the text and is therefore an active activity.
3. Critical thinking and reading involves making reasoned judgements.
4. The language a writer uses does not affect the message s/he is portraying.
5. It is easy to identify when a writer is using persuasive and biased language.
6. Critical thinking involves trying to find weaknesses and flaws in arguments.
7. Critical thinking involves logical thinking based on facts and evidence.
8. Understanding the key points in a text is not essential, just getting the basic gist of the text is fine.
9. Evaluating evidence is time consuming and can be skipped over.
10. Information in facts can always be questioned.

Would you like to review the main points?


Brickhouse, T & N.D. Smith (2009) Plato. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosopy. A peer reviewed academic resource [online]. Available at [Accessed on 8/6/10]

Critical Thinking Community. (n.d.) Available at [Accessed online on 4/6/10].

Govan, F. (2010). Lost city of Atlantis 'could be buried in southern Spain' . [Online]. Available at [Accessed on 7/6/10]

Jowett, B. (2009). The Republic. [Online]. Available at [Accessed on 9/6/10]

Kemerling, G. (2006). Plato [Online]. Available at [Accessed on 8/6/10]

Mail Foreign Service. (2009) Lost city of Atlantis discovered? Grainy images show city-like formations at the bottom of the Caribbean [online]. Available at [Accessed on 7/6/10]

Markova, E & Black, R. (2007) East European immigration and community cohesion [online]. Available at [Accessed on 10/6/10].

Doe, J. (2002) Studies of learning objects. Southampton: Soton univ. press.

Davies, N (2005) Flat Earth News p. 350 cited in Edwards, D & D. Cromwell. (2009). Newspeak in the 21st Century. pp 3

© Jessica Cooper / Queen Mary University of London /Photograph used courtesy of takomabibelot under flickr creative commons attribution license / Comic produced courtesy of / Images on pdf used courtesy of googleimages