Examples of Critical Thinking in Everyday Life
When students learn critical thinking skills in school, they can put those skills to use in aspects of everyday life.
Here’s some good news:
Americans now spend eleven hours every day with our closest friends.
The friends I’m referring to are our digital devices.
A 2018 post by Nielsen explains that 87% of American households currently own at least one smartphone, and those users spend an average of almost half a day with those devices.
So much exposure to information comes with both gifts and curses. Of course, we can connect with people from around the world, learn languages, skills, and fun facts, and have conversations with our own robotic personal assistants (my two-year-old son says, “Alexa, play Bruno Mars”).
But the downside is that the once-mundane decisions now require sifting through loads of information to ensure we’re making the best decisions, or coming to the right conclusions.
The only way to successfully navigate this flood of information is with a sharp set of critical thinking skills. This term, once regulated to the classroom, is now part of conversations in media, politics, and consumer culture, and for good reason. Here are some examples where the ability to decipher information, gather perspectives, and make an informed decision – in other words, to think critically – find us in everyday life.
Evaluating Online Information
Fake news, Twitter bots, altered images – how can we filter the noise and find truth? With increased access to information comes an increased need for critical thinking skills. As citizens, consumers, and workers, students need to answer questions like:
- Who published this?
- Why did they make it?
- What are their sources?
- What are their intentions?
- Are they representing themselves or another interest?
Even when we do find sources that we consider credible and reliable, the increasing popularity of “native advertising” or “sponsored content” can leave trusting readers tricked into reading a brand’s pitch as objective editorial content. (ThinkCERCA offers a useful checklist for distinguishing real news from sponsored articles.)
Making Purchase Decisions
Fifteen years ago, buying boots was easy. I went to the mall, looked at the mannequins, found a pair I liked, tried them on, and made the purchase. The boots lasted for a few years.
Last year, it was a bit different. I saw a Facebook post from a friend wearing nice boots, and messaged him to ask for the brand. Then, I searched Google for reviews, searched Amazon for more reviews, and decided to buy. These boots are made so well, they may last me for life.
This scenario captures the critical thinking now required for savvy consumers. Built into each purchase are questions like:
- Which review sites, forums, and blogs offer insight into the brands that provide the best value?
- Is it worth buying expensive products that are made of better material? How about budgeting money to justify a hefty purchase?
- And with all those reviews available, how do we sift through the positives and negatives to come to the best decision?
With so much information available online, it takes critical thinking to sort through it all.
Caring for Your Health
Have you ever searched for "Is ______ healthy?" The many available studies, often contradictory, are baffling. Online reading can leave us less certain about what to do than before we tried to inform ourselves.
As adults, every year it seems like a different diet becomes popular. Whether it's Whole 30, Keto, Gluten Free, or something else, choosing the diet that's best for your lifestyle requires critical thinking: weighing the benefits, cost, convenience, and drawbacks.
And exercise is certainly not easier. To begin, we need to ask ourselves about our goals. Which routine will help us achieve our goals? And then, after trying a system for few weeks, what are the results? We combine the information we knew going into the program with our current progress to make a decision about if and how to move forward with the plan. This looks a lot like critical thinking to me.
Choosing a Career Path
College or no college? Online courses from home? Part-time work? Startup, non-profit, or corporation? There are benefits and drawbacks to each of these options.
Choosing a career takes time. In a way, we must formulate an argument for each potential option. We must consider the context of financial, social, and professional life. We must ask ourselves: Why is this the right option for me?
After settling on a choice, we must project the impact of that decision one, five, and ten years into the future. And that's before we inevitably encounter a point where we may decide to adjust career paths. It all takes some critical thinking to make the right career choice.
When it comes to critical thinking, the applications of the skill extend far beyond use in the classroom. If we can help our students hone their critical thinking skills in school, we can empower them to make qualified decisions in the years to come.
Continue your learning with the webinar, "Deconstructing Critical Thinking," a panel discussion with the experts:
Gerard Dawson is a full-time high school English and Journalism teacher. He is the author of Hacking Literacy and publishes articles on literacy, technology, and life as an educator at his site www.GerardDawson.org. Gerard lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons.