Think for Yourself: The Ultimate Guide to Critical Thinking in an Age of Information Overload

Think for Yourself: The Ultimate Guide to Critical Thinking in an Age of Information Overload


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Middle school is a time of change, when things begin to look different and assumptions start to be questioned, and today more than ever it’s tough to know what to believe.

This unique and timely book won’t tell you what to think—that’s up to you!—but it will show you how to think more deeply about your own life and current events. Covering a wide range of subjects affecting the world today, including human and animal rights, social media, cyber bullying, the refugee crisis, and more, THINK FOR YOURSELF will help you to learn how to ask questions, analyze evidence, and use logic to draw conclusions, so you can solve problems and make smart decisions.

Each chapter of the book covers one key step in the critical thinking process, and includes a real-world example to help convey the importance and relevance of every step:

Ask Questions: If you want to be a critical thinker, it helps to be curious. It’s normal to wonder about the world around us. Some questions are big, and some are small. Sometimes questions can spark debate and argument. All critical thinking starts with at least one question. 
Gather Evidence: First, find information—from making observations to interviewing experts to researching a topic online or in books. Then make connections and draw conclusions.
Evaluating Evidence: Smart thinkers evaluate the importance, accuracy and relevancy of the information they gather.
Getting Curious: Consider other points of view, examine your own point of view, understand the power of emotion, and practice empathy.
Draw Conclusions: The final step in the critical thinking process, this is based on reason and evidence. Revisit your original question, review the evidence and what you’ve learned, and consider your values. And remember: critical thinking doesn’t stop when you’ve reached a decision. Learn how to discuss and debate other points of view. Then keep growing. Sometimes you might change your mind—that’s OK, too!

Featuring profiles of real-life inspiring young critical thinkers from around the world, checklists, quizzes, and activities, THINK FOR YOURSELF is a clever and fun illustrated guide that teaches middle schoolers that even young people can make a difference in the world just by thinking smart and understanding. 


  • Your Turn: activities to help connect ideas to readers’ lives
  • Quizzes
  • Profiles of inspiring young critical thinkers
  • A Reading List for Young Thinkers
  • Teacher's guides
  • Plus a table of contents, index, and glossary for easy searching

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781950500048
Publisher: duopress
Publication date: 04/07/2020
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 467,536
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 11 - 14 Years

About the Author

Andrea Debbink is an award-winning writer and editor who's been writing for children for the past decade. As a former editor at American Girl, she specialized in creating content that helped young readers explore their creative potential including crafts, recipes, and biographies. Andrea lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. For more information on her work visit

Aaron Meshon illustrates and designs for magazines, advertisements, children's products, murals, food trucks, and books that can be found all over the world. Aaron's first children's book, Take Me out to the Yakyu, was an Ezra Jack Keats Book Honor Winner. When not making books or drawing, Aaron teaches illustration at The School of Visual Arts. Someday Aaron would like to sell his products from a small sweet potato truck in rural Japan. Currently Aaron lives with his wife, son, and their French Bulldog, Chubu, in Brooklyn, New York.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
What is Critical Thinking?

This book isn’t about what to think. (That’s up to you!) It’s about how to think.

The Big Idea

Critical thinking is the process of carefully evaluating ideas and facts to make decisions about what to believe and do.

Critical thinking is a skill—like learning to skateboard or do algebra. The more we practice it, the better we get.

“Wait. I thought being “critical” is a bad thing.”

Not always. The word critical has a few different definitions. In this case, critical means to use careful evaluation or judgment. And in The Information Age, thinking critically is more important than ever.

Time to Think

Some adults can live their whole lives without ever learning this important skill. The good news? It’s never too late to think critically. And you get a gold star for starting now!

Critical Thinking in Action

It’s easier to understand the process with an example. In 1973, the United States government passed a law called the Endangered Species Act. Since then, more than 1,600 animal species have been protected by the law, including bald eagles, grizzly bears, humpback whales, and many plants and insects.

Deciding which animals should be added to or removed from the list is rarely easy. Often people disagree about the issue. Ultimately, Congress makes the decision after getting input from experts. Recently, Congress studied whether gray wolves should be on the endangered list.

One hundred years ago, gray wolves were hunted so intensely that there were hardly any left in the United States. After the Endangered Species Act was passed, gray wolves were added to the list of protected animals. (This meant it became illegal to hunt wolves, because there were so few left.) Since that time, wolf populations have recovered, and there are now more than 6,000 wolves in the lower 48 states.

Now that the wolf population has grown, some people would like to remove the wolf from the endangered species list. Others think wolves should stay on the list. Imagine you are a member of Congress and must decide how to vote. Start by going through the critical thinking process:

★ Ask questions.

  • ○  Who wants to remove the wolves from the Endangered Species

    list? Who wants to keep them on the list?

  • ○  How many wolves live in the United States? Is this a big or

    small number?

  • ○  What happens when an animal species is removed from the

    endangered species list? ★ Gather evidence.

  • ○  Interview people who live near wolves, including farmers, ranchers, and forest rangers.

  • ○  Interview people who study wolves.

  • ○  Research the topic using the library, books, or the internet. ★ Evaluate evidence.

  • ○  Check the facts.

  • ○  Analyze the data.

  • ○  Look out for logical fallacies.

    ★ Test assumptions and be open minded.

  • ○  Are wolves always dangerous?

  • ○  How often do wolves kill livestock?

  • ○  Will removing the wolves from the list really be bad for wolf

    populations? ★ Reach a conclusion.

○ Decide whether wolves should stay on the list or be removed. ★ Discuss and debate other points of view.

Chances are, you’re not a member of Congress (yet!), and you probably don’t have to make a decision like this anytime soon. But, whether you realize it or not, you still use critical thinking every day.

Thinking critically isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s easier to take shortcuts instead of going through the whole process.

Let’s say you walk into your classroom one day and discover you have a substitute teacher. Like many people, you might take one of these unfortunate shortcuts in your mind.

Unfortunate Shortcut #1: Stereotypes

“Uh oh. Ms. Sharpe looks pretty old. I bet she’s mean.”

A stereotype is a mistaken belief about a whole group of people that’s based on how they look or on your limited experience with them. The belief that older people are mean or grumpy is a stereotype.

Unfortunate Shortcut #2: Fear

“Oh no! Our last sub embarrassed me in front of the whole class!”

Sometimes our fear is based on past experiences. But whether our fears are based on real dangers or not, fear can get in the way of clear thinking.

Unfortunate Shortcut #3: Blind Faith

“My sister told me all about Ms. Sharpe. She doesn’t care if you leave class without asking.”
Someone acting on blind faith assumes he knows all the facts or has all the information he needs. He doesn’t take time to think about the possibilities or what the consequences of his beliefs might be.

Unfortunate Shortcut #4: Ignorance

“If she’s a sub, she can’t know anything about math.”

Ignorance, or a lack of knowledge or information, makes it difficult to make good decisions or come to thoughtful conclusions.

Unfortunate Shortcut #5: Jumping to Conclusions

“A sub? Mr. Chang must be in the hospital!”

Drawing a conclusion without all the facts can lead to wrong conclusions or poor decisions.

Critical thinking is a process that can be used in ordinary, everyday situations in our own lives and bigger, more complicated issues that affect a lot of people. It isn’t always a fast process. Sometimes it can take years to reach a conclusion about a certain belief or action. And even then, with new information or experiences, those beliefs can change. Check out some of the beliefs from the past that required critical thinking and changed over time.

Magic Mud

Hundreds of years ago, people believed frogs were magically formed out of mud! They called it “spontaneous generation.” People believed this because every spring frogs would seem to suddenly appear in ponds and puddles. (You might say they were jumping to a conclusion.) But when people started to study frogs more closely, they realized that frogs actually came from eggs that turned into tadpoles, and then adult frogs. No magic there.

Miracle Water

Today we think of sparkling water as a refreshing drink, but at the turn of the 20th century, people thought it was medicine! Back then, doctors didn’t know very much about what caused or cured illnesses. Some people noticed that when they drank water that came from a spring (and sometimes that water was naturally bubbly), they seemed to feel better. Some people took advantage of this and started selling the water as a miracle cure. We know now that there was nothing miraculous about the water. At the time, many people didn’t have reliable indoor plumbing or safe water, so when they drank some of this “miracle” water, not surprisingly, they felt a lot better!

DIY Gold

Wouldn’t it be great if you could take something ordinary and turn it into gold? That’s what alchemists thought too. Beginning in ancient times, alchemists thought it was possible turn a common metal, such as iron, tin, or copper, into a precious metal, such as gold or silver. It took hundreds of years—and a lot of chemistry—to discover that sadly it wasn’t actually possible.

Clever Chimps

For many years people believed humans were the only animals who used tools. For some people, this was important, because they believed it proved humans were better than animals. But in the 1960s, a young researcher named Dr. Jane Goodall studied chimpanzees in the wild. She was the first person to observe that chimps use tools too! Many people were not happy with Dr. Goodall’s discovery. But since then, scientists have learned that other animals use tools too, including birds and even fish! (Find out more about Dr. Jane Goodall on page 50.)

Quiz: What Kind of Thinker Are You?
You already use critical thinking skills every day. Take this quiz to learn more about your thinking style.
1. Good news! Your parents just agreed your family can adopt a pet, but they don’t know which animal to get. The first thing you do is:
a. Ask your friends for their opinions.
b. Do an internet search for all the adoptable pets in your town.
c. Let your sister pick. She has good ideas.
2. You’re working on a group project for school. Two of your group mates get into a disagreement about how to present the project. You:
a. Ask your teacher for her opinion.
b. Remember that one of your group mates did an awesome
presentation last semester and decide it’d be best to go with her idea.
c. Listen to both classmates before giving your opinion.
3. You see a news clip of a march happening in Washington, D.C. Your first thought is:
a. “Why is this on the news?”
b. “I heard my parents talking about this.”
c. “I wonder why these people are marching?”
4. A classmate invites you to his birthday party next weekend, but you’re not sure if you should bring a gift.
a. Ask him.
b. Talk to other people who are going to the party to see if they’re bringing gifts.
c. Decide to bring a gift anyway. You might be the only one but your classmate will like it no matter what.
5. Your favorite T-shirt is missing. Your younger sister has always liked it, but you don’t remember her asking to borrow it. You head straight to:
a. Your desk chair. Maybe you can sit and think about the last place you saw it.
b. The laundry room. Maybe it’s being washed.
c. Your sister’s room. Maybe she borrowed it or knows where it is. Or
6. Your friends have a great idea for a Halloween group costume! The thing is,
you think it might offend some people. You decide to:
a. Talk to people you think it might offend.
b. Find examples of people wearing this costume in the past and read what was said about it.
c. Decide it’s not worth the risk and choose a new costume.
7. On the first day of class, your teacher makes a rule that seems pretty unfair.
a. Raise your hand and ask why he made the rule.
b. Ask friends with different teachers if they have the same rule.
c. Decide he must have a good reason for the rule.
8. A good friend is in a bad mood one day, and it seems like you can’t do anything right. You:
a. Ask him if he’s ok.
b. Think about what’s been happening in your friend’s life that might
make him feel frustrated.
c. Assume he’s just having an off day and will be better tomorrow.
10. You’ve been practicing hard all season, but at Saturday’s soccer game, your coach barely lets you play. As you sit on the bench, you:
a. Wonder what you can do to get better.
b. Realize you’re not the only one who isn’t playing much today.
c. Remember that your coach tries to be fair.
Mostly As: You’re a Questioner!
When faced with a tricky decision or situation, your first step is to ask questions. This is such an important skill! But remember not to stop there. Make sure you take the time to find the answers to your questions and explore other viewpoints too.
Mostly Bs: You’re an Investigator!
When it comes to critical thinking, you dive right into research mode. Part of being a critical thinker is knowing how to find the information you need. But before you dive too deep, take time to make sure you’re investigating the right questions. And no matter what evidence you find, keep an open mind!
Mostly Cs: You’re a Philosopher!
Your first instinct is to consult other people’s point of view and be open-minded. (You’re probably a fantastic listener too!) But remember to take the other steps in the critical thinking process, especially asking good questions and evaluating evidence.
The Big Idea
None of these types of thinking are better than the others. The important takeaway is that a critical thinker knows how to do all three!
“I love technology, using my hands and being practical. It’s what I love doing and it keeps me going.” —Richard Turere
Richard Turere
Richard Turere grew up in a Maasai community in Kenya near a national park full of wildlife. Like many of their neighbors, Richard’s family depended on livestock to earn their living. But nearly every night, lions prowled the community, killing the cows and bulls. The lions were simply hunting for food, but for Richard’s family and their neighbors, losing livestock meant losing money. Some people in the community thought the only solution was to hunt the lions and kill them. When he was 11 years old, Richard hated lions, but he wanted to find a way to protect his family’s livestock without harming these predators. One night, Richard realized that when he carried a flashlight near the livestock pens, the lions would stay away.
Richard already knew about electronics. (He even took apart his mom’s new radio so he could figure out how it worked!) Richard used his knowledge to come up with an invention he called Lion Lights. Richard installed the flashing solar-powered lights near the livestock pen. And there were no more lion attacks at his family’s home! Soon, Richard’s neighbors wanted Lion Lights too, and he went to work installing them all around his community. Ten years later, Richard’s invention is being used at more than 700 homesteads in Kenya, protecting people, cattle, and lions. And what does Richard think about lions today? “I love lions. I don’t see why I shouldn’t love lions.”
Change Your Mind
As you read earlier this chapter, ideas, opinions, and beliefs can change over time. Sometimes the ideas or beliefs that change are big and effect a lot of people. Sometimes the changing ideas or beliefs are small—so small they might effect only one person. Maybe you’ve seen this happen in your own life. Have you changed your mind in any of these ways?
“Focus more on learning than on succeeding. Instead of pretending that you understand something when you don’t, just raise your hand and ask a question.” — Michelle Obama

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: What Is Critical Thinking?
Chapter 2: Asking Questions
Chapter 3: Gathering Evidence
Chapter 4: Evaluating Evidence
Chapter 5: Getting Curious
Chapter 6: Drawing Conclusions
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