Beyond the Research Paper – OHIO University Libraries

10 Tips for Critical Thinking Assignments

  1. Know what your learning objectives are.
  2. Pick one little piece of the puzzle for today. Someone has to stop and show them how. Today, it is you.
  3. Your students will ask you first, so know how.
  4. Don’t assume your TAs can do this.
  5. Collaborate with your librarian.
  6. Tell your librarian that your students are coming
  7. Update your handouts!
  8. Make an iron-clad rubric and require self-checking
  9. Model info skills despite information overload.
  10. Try something fun.


Sample Assignments that are not “Just Term Papers”

  1. Challenge Article
  • In response to a challenging reading — the more outlandish the better — examine each assumption, proving its truth or falsehood with outside sources.
  • Harder: Investigate the writer and his or her bias.
  • Advanced: Rewrite the article in light of your version of the truth.
  1. Literature Comparison
  • Compare the literature on a topic from different eras. How has the terminology of this topic changed over time?
  • Harder: What questions are still unanswered?
  • Advanced: Write an imaginary citation list on this topic from ten years in the future.
  1. Pathfinder
  • Create a “Pathfinder” to a very narrow topic: Outline the topic and annotate a list of the best reference books, databases, web sites, and journals.
  • Harder: Add a short list of seminal works and thinkers on this topic, and explain their importance.
  • Advanced: Explain the most efficient way to track this topic if I want to follow developments in the future.
  1. Family History
  • Interview a family member and write down one good story.
  • Harder: find other similar published stories, fiction and nonfiction, and compare those experiences.
  • Hard: Annotate the original story with historical footnotes, referring to outside sources for documentation which proves or disproves claims made. 
  1. Alternative Viewpoints
  • Read a magazine article, a scholarly journal, and a blog post on a topic. Which persons, viewpoints, or groups are not included in the assumptions or world view of the authors?
  • Harder: Locate a few of these voices, and evaluate their arguments.
  • Advanced: Investigate why the magazines missed these voices.
  1. Teaching Newbies
  • Teach a topic to a group of people unassociated with the field, such as children, professors from another college, or senior citizens. Create easy-to-use handouts.
  • Harder: Write a “Best 5” bibliography for your audience.
  • Advanced: Write about the experience. What did you learn about the topic? About teaching?
  1. Review Update
  • Given a review article at least three years old, update the bibliography.
  • Harder: How has knowledge of the topic changed?
  • Advanced: What was the purpose of the review article? Is the review article as unbiased as it first appeared?
  1. History Source Criticism
  • Given a well-known primary historical source, follow its use forward in history in other works. Who used it and why?
  • Harder: Who actually wrote it and why?
  • Advanced: How and why has it been compromised or reevaluated over time?
  1. History of Literary Criticism
  • Begin with a famous novel at least fifty years old. Identify what critics were saying about that work 10, 20, 30, 40, 50…. years ago.
  • Harder: How and why did ideas about the novel change?
  • Advanced: Investigate one or two of those years for social issues which may have had an impact on the critics’ ideas.
  1. Term Bank
  • Create a list of possible search terms for a broad topic.
  • Harder: Track the results of those search terms in web search engines, reference books, databases, and other sources. Discuss which terms are best, and why.
  • Advanced: Create a hierarchical thesaurus of terms for this topic.