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English Detective #105 Critical Thinking Skills to Navigate the News
May 08, 2018

With half-truths and accusations of ‘fake news’ increasing, students and voters need critical thinking skills more than ever to make informed choices.

If you’re studying English, it’s also important to understand the vocabulary that describes thought and persuasion, propaganda and outright lies. The articles below will talk about all of these. Then you can practice them with a crossword puzzle and a vocabulary page on EnglishHints.

I found several thought-provoking articles on critical thinking, propaganda, and recognizing logical fallacies.

The first is a fairly short article for students on using critical thinking in daily life. It’s a good introduction to the subject if you just have time to read one article.

Newsela has an excellent explanation of propaganda and especially how it was used in the First and Second World Wars. The illustrations help make the author’s points clear and hard to forget. Like all Newsela articles, you can choose an easier (or harder) reading level if you want. There’s a quiz and writing exercise available as well.

Note: By 2020 it seems this article is no longer available to general readers. (Newsela still has free news articles, but some of its content is now only available on paid plans.) I'm leaving my description of the article here because it gives useful information on some propaganda techniques.)

The propaganda techniques it discusses include the ‘bandwagon technique’ (since people want to be on the winning side), ‘glittering generalities’ (using terms everyone believes in: who isn’t in favor of freedom?, etc.), ‘plain folks’ (rich or elite politicians trying to seem like the people they are appealing to) and fear tactics.

Propagandists use these to influence people’s thinking and to persuade them to take an action they might otherwise hesitate to take (like enlisting in the army when their country is at war, or to change their beliefs or habits.) One example given in the article is a World War II American poster encouraging ride-sharing to reduce gasoline use. It showed a picture of a businessman driving with a ghostly Hitler outline in the passenger seat, and warned, “When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler!”

I also wanted to mention an article on strategies for teaching critical thinking skills, and a lengthy but fascinating account of different logical fallacies. Logical fallacies are weak arguments that cannot justify the conclusions they are supposed to support. The article explains common types and how to avoid them in your own writing and recognize them in the arguments of others.

Critical Thinking Vocabulary Practice

Try a Critical Thinking Crossword. (Its answers are here.)

For related vocabulary practice, see “Words for Truth, Falsehood, and Error” on EnglishHints.

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