A Critical Thinking Tug-of-War

Written by Shain Chisholm, Instructional Coach
During a recent Social Studies class, students were discussing current events centered around Syrian, Haitian, Turkish and Nigerian refugees seeking asylum in Canada. In light of the current political debate around the immigration process, the students were invited to think critically at some of the pros and cons of our current immigration system.
To become more informed on the Canadian immigration, the students read articles and watched
videos that dealt with economic, safety, political and health concerns related to immigrants coming to
To help students think critically about immigration, they engaged in an thinking routine called “Tug-of-War”. As they read the articles and watched the videos, they individually recorded on sticky notes whenever they encountered a fact, example or argument they deemed to be either negative (created a pull in the negative direction) or positive (created a pull in the positive direction) according to the pre-established criteria:

  • Strengthen Canada economically
  • Provide refuge for the persecuted
  • Maintain Canadian health and safety
  • Reunite immigrant families

Once they had completed their sticky notes, they met with their group mates to decide where to place their sticky notes. The concept of leverage came into play as the students were asked to place the stronger arguments (having more pull) closer to the ends of the rope and the weaker arguments closer to the middle. (see Tug-of-War posters above) It was interesting to observe the animated discussions as students debated where arguments should be placed along the rope. In debriefing the lesson, the students liked the fact that they were ALL engaged in an important discussion in their groups as opposed to a whole class discussion where not all students get to share their viewpoint. They also shared that simply having more arguments on one side of an issue did not necessarily mean that particular perspective was more viable. It was the weight of arguments that was a more important consideration
Application From a teacher viewpoint, the principles of critical thinking contained in the Tug-of-War routine are easily transferable to other subjects and grades. Even more valuable was the recognition by the students that the kind of critical thinking in Tug-of-War could also be a very helpful tool when faced with important decisions both in school and beyond.

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