Command Words Chaos

Using white plastic cups for critical thinking skills

From the archives (Sept 2013). A colleague at the time had asked me to share this exercise. So I wrote it into a post.

Last week I had my first cohort of students (a programme that starts slightly off sync with the rest of the university) this academic year; and I was wondering how best to introduce the differences in some of the most common action words. A particular stumbling block seems to differentiate between analysis and evaluation. I recently read an interesting article on teaching with objects in museums and thought why not translate this into teaching in Higher Education?*

1st Step: buy and hand out white plastic cups.

Image of white plastic cups

2nd step: Go crazy with the new PowerPoint template.

Action Word Cycle

3rd Step: animate circles to gradually increase the complexity of the action word

I began with asking the students to describe their cups, using Socratic inquiry technique continuing with this technique I went through describe, compare, analyse, evaluate and discuss. Initially the students looked at me with that ‘what the what?’ look but eventually got into the flow of the task. The only explanation they needed was the added dimension for evaluation. Contextualising this task for the students was easy. After initial confusion critical thinking skills emerged naturally with little guidance.

PS: I tried this exercise with lecturers! The students came up with more descriptors and answers for each of the action words.


*This was part of a mini-MOOC I followed recently in silent participation

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