National Conference on Student Writing and Critical Thinking in Agriculture


Teaching Critical Thinking: Skills versus Attitudes

(Including the Virtues of a Reasonable Person in a Critical Thinking Class)


Ed Sherline

Department of Philosophy

University of Wyoming

Laramie, WY  82071-3392



Handout 4: Some tips and activities for promoting open-mindedness and fair-mindedness


Note:  There are certainly many other attitudes that are essential to being a reasonable person, and many of the general strategies apply to them as well. 


Open-mindedness as I define it here is a willingness to reconsider one's opinion in light of further evidence and reasons. 


Fair-mindedness is trying to know one's own predilections and take them into account in evaluations.


General Strategies








Activities that promote open- and fair-mindedness (these come from many different instructors as well as discussion in the session).


Controversial Readings

           Have students read and then discuss controversial texts.


Role playing

Have students role play a perspective on an issue—put themselves in someone else's shoes. Role playing encourages each student to come up with new evidence and reasons that might challenge his/her opinion, and to take this new evidence seriously.


 Persuasion exercises


Discussion toward consensus

Put students in discussion groups composed of students with diverse opinions and ask them to reach consensus on an issue.


Present the Opposition

Have students present a view to the class that they (the presenters) reject.  We have a natural tendency to look sympathetically on what we are presenting/teaching.  It might be helpful for you (the instructor) to role-play this first, taking a view you don't accept.


Mock trial/Disputation 

Have students defend a position that they reject, or prosecute a position that they accept.


Question Authority

Ask the student to identify an authority figure he/she greatly admires.  Then have the student identify a view of this figure that he/she questions or rejects, and have the student give reasons for questioning/rejecting the view.  Or, ask the student to identify an authority figure he/she detests.  Then have the student identify at least one view of this figure that he/she accepts, and have the student give reasons for accepting the view.


Secret Switcheroo

Assign the students a paper in which they take a stand on a controversial issue and provide evidence/arguments for their stand.  As soon as the students hand in the assignment, give them, as a surprise assignment, the task of writing a second paper in which they take the opposing side.