Critical Thinking and Study Skills
Thinking caps on.
Critical thinking and study skills sounds about exciting as a tub of broccoli. It's good for you, but there's no flash. No razzle-dazzle. No ranch topping.
(Usually, that is.)
But just like broccoli is a key ingredient to life-long health, critical thinking and study skills are the tools you need to succeed in school—and, by extension, life. Once you learn how to memorize information and pass that all-important exam, problem solve like a pro, or learn how to form an argument better than Socrates himself, you'll be on your way to academic and career stardom.
This semester-long course, aligned to Florida standards, is jam-packed with lessons, handouts, and activities that'll help you form all kinds of school superpowers. You'll develop abilities to
- apply various technology/life hacks to stay organized and on task.
- identify and practice test-taking strategies and memory tricks for concept retention.
- effectively identify, read, and annotate difficult texts of all types.
- critique and build your own formal arguments using rhetorical appeals but none of the fallacies.
- understand the purpose of and create the key components of an argumentative essay.
Basically: pass the broccoli. It's time to think critically.
Unit 1. How to be a Student
Today, in Deep Thoughts with Shmoop: School is tough, but you're tougher. In this unit, we're getting primed for a scholastic shock and awe campaign with basic study/life skills like getting organized, whaling on time management, taking notes that are actually useful, slaying distractions, battling stress, and mastering those two magic words to students everywhere: Google and Word.
Unit 2. How to Study
This unit right here is where we're covering test-taking strategies for every kind of test in the teacher's arsenal, as well as memory tricks to dominate every course, every time. Plus, we included a special bonus section on how to not be the only one in the "group project" doing the work and still produce a killer presentation.
Unit 3. How to Read
In this unit, we're diving into the specifics of that most treasured of school pastimes: reading. We've got a heaping helping of text structures with a side of graphic organizers and a dash of online research (there's an essay lurking in unit 5), as well as lessons on how to read trickier stuff like textbooks, primary sources, pictures, and poetry.
Unit 4. How to Think
School contains lots of reading, sure, but the lynchpin is being able to think critically about what we read. In this unit, we're starting it off easy with a good talk on main ideas, summaries, and critiques. Then, we're analyzing formal arguments and rhetoric from top to bottom (and bottom to top). Brush up your Greek, because Logos, Ethos, and Pathos are coming out to play. Oh, and by the end, you'll form your own very special argument from all that research.
Unit 5. How to Write
Those mental analysis powers we've now got are very impressive, but unfortunately, not many teachers or universities will just take our word for it. We'll need to persuade them, and that means writing. In this unit, we're getting all up in that argumentative essay's face and showing it who's boss. We've got all the trade secrets about hammering out introductions, transitions, evidence, citations, conclusions, and even how to avoid jail time from plagiarizing, so get your game face on, boss.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 5: The Problem and Solution Structure
Consider this problem:
Mom is freaking out because we've been letting our dirty laundry fester in a gross little pile in the middle of our bedroom. It's been stinking up that corner for over a week and finally, Mom breaks down and tells us that we can't come out of the bedroom until we do something to take care of it. This is a problem, right?
Likely, we aren't going to have to wrack our brains all day to come up with a way to solve this conundrum. Unfortunately, we have some dirty clothes to take care of before we are able to leave our bedroom. Therein lies the problem, so what's the solution? To eat a pizza? No. Watch another episode of Behind the Music and hope that the smell will go away? Not likely. Those of us who are hoping to breathe in some clean, fresh air sometime in the distant future are probably going to pick up those gross threads and throw them in the wash. Voilà, a solution!
The ability to come up with a solution comes from some well thought out brainpower. And surprise, surprise—there's a text type which channels your brainpower and does that very thing: investigates a problem and proposes a solution. It's called a problem and solution text!
Let's go spend some time with problems and solutions, shall we?
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 3.5: 98 Problems…and Solutions
Have a new Text Structure worksheet, compliments of Shmoop. You'll want to use it right about…
Popular with those trying to persuade us, the problem-solution text is just like it sounds: it defines a problem and then proposes one or more solutions. Greenhouse gases? Yep, those are a problem. Tightening emissions regulations? Sounds like a solution to us.
Problem and Solution texts aren't all that common in, say, literature, unless we're speaking metaphorically. If we were pushed, we could probably make an argument that Les Miserables is a problem and solution text explaining that tyranny is a problem and rebellion is the solution, but that's a stretch.
In informational text, the problem and solution structure is popular with the sciences (both "regular" and political science), but not much with ancient history or math. Much of modern science, after all, is geared toward solving major world crises. In that sense, tons of science-related informational text is problem and solution oriented, like "How to Eradicate Malaria in Developing Countries."
Warning: When a Problem Isn't a Problem
In many cases, it's obvious that something is a problem, like malaria. It's a bad disease that kills people, and we can all agree that it's a problem. With this kind of text, the writer rarely spends more than a line or two explaining how or why malaria is a problem. For example, the text may just cite the number of malaria cases globally.
Sometimes, however, it's not as obvious that the problem is a problem. In these cases, the writer must first prove that the thing in question is actually a problem we should be concerned about.
This is where readers need to be cautious and skeptical. It's pretty common for advertisers to try to sell a product by exaggerating the seriousness of the perceived problem so that their solution seems super necessary.
For example, to our knowledge, it's not that difficult to put socks on. If you ask some sellers of socks with zippers, however, the extreme difficulty of putting on socks is a major problem. Seriously! Watch this video for a product called Ankle Genie, and then come right back.
See? Persuasive texts often exaggerate problems in the same way (we'll never trust again), so it's necessary to assess the problem before deciding to accept the solutions. We can analyze how serious a problem is by looking at its causes and effects, as in "Socks without zippers are a problem because they cause…" If you can't find anything to file under the "because," well, it's probably not a problem.
Just as with other texts, problem and solution structures have their own special signal words:
Example 1: To prevent such a tragedy, we should check the avocados more closely in the future.
Example 2: To remedy the avocado debacle, we propose checking them more closely in the future.
Problem and Solution Text Layout
Structurally, nearly all problem/solution texts are set up the same way, with the problem first and then the solution or solutions. Mostly, that's because it would be weird to yammer for three pages about how everyone should use mosquito nets and then, at the very end, explain that "Also, these prevent malaria, which is a big problem."
Want to see a possible essay? Check this out!
Organizing Problem/Solution Texts
Once again, it's graphic organizers to the rescue. You can set these up in various ways, and there is no special one required, but we particularly like this one that organizes the problem/solution of whether or not to buy a house because it includes a cause/effect area to first prove why the problem is a problem in the first place.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 3.5a: Problem Solvers Wanted
We're turning the tables today, Shmooper, so get ready. We're definitely still focused on reading problem and solution texts, but today, we want you to do the dirty work.
Yep, it's now your job to find us a problem/solution text. We realize that's a wide-open topic, so here are some topics to narrow your search.
- Increase in measles cases
- Climate change
- School bullying
Hint: These are all considered "problems." You'll be on the hunt for a text that you feel, deep in your heart of hearts, should be considered a problem and solution text.
Start your journey by heading off to the interwebs to find one on any of the topics we listed. News agencies like CNN or Huffington Post would be good places to start, but really any reputable text that fits the bill works here, with an emphasis on "reputable."
When you've found your text, give it a good, thorough read, looking specifically for the important parts: (A) problems and (B) solutions.
Now that you're full of brilliant problem and solution wisdom from reading the text you found, how about you throw it down on this graphic organizer? Use the example organizer in the Reading for reference, but we're confident your common sense will guide you on the right path.
You'll start out by identifying the problem in the text you found and write it in the box labeled "Problem." Then look for some background: what's causing it, and why is it a problem? Fill that in, too.
After establishing the background, read for and identify the solution(s) to the problem that the text proposes. Guess what? You should also list that in the appropriately labeled box on the graphic organizer.
When that's done, scour the text to find any indication or prediction of what might happen if the proposed solution is implemented—does the author have any statistical data supporting a prediction? Is it just a wild opinion? It could be that the text doesn't talk about the potential results, and it's okay if it doesn't. If it does, put that information in the coordinating box as well.
Also, don't forget to paste a link to the article you found in the box on the top left, just under your clearly stated problem.
Oh, if you're having trouble finding anything to put in the organizer, like in the parts about the problems and the solutions, or really any of the sections, it could be that your problem/solution text isn't actually a problem/solution text, in which case it's back to the drawing board (Google) with you!
When it's a thing of beauty, upload your organizer here.