Critical Thinking for [all] Students: A Lesson Plan

By Roy F. Smith

My students are full of loosely connected brilliant ideas, but they often have trouble expressing those ideas, so I refined this activity (that I lovingly named “Noodle Nudgers”)  from the many ideas I’ve gleaned over the years from my peers and readings. My goal is to help my students find their voices by allowing their ideas to percolate and then sharing their ideas with their peers.  This activity begins with classroom community and ends with sharing individual, voice-filled, critical writing.


Materials needed: 5×8 index cards (one per student) and large poster paper (two sheets per group).

This activity proceeds as follows:

After reading a poem (or prose passage) as a class, have each group develop an essential question (EQ) about a thematic subject they notice.  This activity works best with groups of five or six. I help groups get to the big ideas the poem or passage is exploring and formulate an essential question about a major thematic subject.  The essential question should allow as many approaches as possible so all students can find an entry point. The EQ does not have to be all-encompassing, it simply needs to allow multiple approaches i.e. “What does the poem suggest about love?” or “How does the passage characterize the father’s actions?”

Have groups write their EQ’s on the board. Have all students vote for the essential question students agree offers them the most room for exploration.  I have each student vote by putting a check mark by the winning EQ.

After the groups have completed their initial discussion and selected a wide-ranging EQ, follow the procedure below.

  1.  Write the Winning EQ on the board or project it on a screen.
  2. Have students reread the poem silently to themselves.
  3.  Label one side of the their 5×8 index card Thinking Notes. Encourage students to write down their initial noticings. These noticings are simply words, lines, or images that stand out as perhaps important to answering the essential question.  There are no wrong noticings! Free thinking is the only requirement.
  4.  Have students stand up and in pairs or trios.
  5.  Each student in the pair or trio have 60 seconds to share his or her noticings. Other members stay silent, but they write down ideas that help to expand or challenge their initial noticings on the thinking notes side of their cards.
  6.  Each student gets 60 seconds (or longer depending on the class).
  7.  After this first round of inquiry, bring the original group of five or six back together and debrief the insights each smaller group generated in the silent round.  Write the combined findings on the larger poster paper. These large poster papers can be displayed on a wall in the classroom.
  8.  Have the class do a brief gallery walk to evaluate the findings of all the groups. Students may add to their thinking notes as they walk. The gallery walk is completed in silence.  This silent walk allows all students to quietly think and consider how their ideas and others’ ideas work together or augment their initial ideas.
  9.  Students return to their seats and reread the poem for a 3rd time. On the opposite side of the index card (labeled Thinking Piece), each student writes out his or her unique, thoughtful response to the essential question. Their responses are fresh responses although it will include the thinking generated through the activity.
  10.  Students now return to their original groups and share their final writing/thinking.  Group members listen without comment. After each member has shared his or her thinking piece,  the group has five minutes to discuss each member’s ideas. No judgments – only positive feedback. I am walking and monitoring , but I am not contributing at this point.  If I hear any negative comments, I redirect the conversations.
  11.  After the procedure is complete, students are ready to have a whole class discussion lead by each student’s Thinking Piece. Every student now has something to contribute to the larger class analysis.  I actively enter the conversation at this point and work to extend students’ thinking and writing.


Noodle Nudgers offers every student an opportunity to enter a class conversation about the poem under study (prose pieces work as well). Students have the support of their peers, but students are ultimately responsible for their own thinking and writing.  After completing the process 2-3 times with poems and prose passages, students look forward to the collaboration and ultimately become more comfortable taking risks, and sharing their ideas. All students’ voices and ideas are important and with a little nudge, I believe all students will discover their voices count in a classroom where they belong.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.