The theme of this blog is critical thinking—and the kinds of puzzles that can be constructed around it. This term is used frequently in psychology and education. There are various definitions, but the one that best suits our purpose and which is, in the end, perhaps the best, is the ability to comprehend the logical connections among ideas, words, phrases, and concepts. In the relevant scientific literature, of course, the term is used much more broadly as a framework for understanding human cognition. But in my opinion, the best way to understand things is to construct puzzles to illustrate their basic essence.
Critical thinking involves skill at recognizing a pattern in given information, and especially recognizing how the information is connected to the real world. Here are a couple of very simple examples. First, consider the five words below:
- cruise ship
- walking on foot
- automobile (not a race car)
Now, put them in order from the slowest to the fastest, when they are going at maximum speed. The solution, of course, is: 4-2-5-1-3. As with all such puzzles, there might be slightly different solutions—one could claim that some automobiles go faster than cruise ships. This “indeterminacy” characterizes this kind of thinking. However, some puzzles are straightforward. For instance, what do the following five things have in common?
The answer? These are all words referring to shades of blue.
The seven puzzles below are to the ones above, though hopefully more challenging. Some involve knowledge of facts, but critical thinking is still involved in such cases because the organization of the facts according to some principle is always involved—for example, a puzzle may ask you to put five items in order of their dates of invention.
The following tongue-in-cheek definition of critical thinking by Richard W. Paul, a leading expert on critical thinking theory, says it all: “Critical thinking is thinking about your thinking while you’re thinking in order to make your thinking better.”
I. What do the following 5 things have in common?
- soda pop
- orange juice
II. Put the following buildings or structures in order of height, from the shortest to the tallest.
- typical camping tent
III. What do the following animals have in common?
IV. Put the following inventions in order from earliest to most recent.
V. What feature do the following words have in common?
VI. Put these bodies of water in order in terms of volume, from smallest to largest.
VII. What do the following land masses have in common?
I. They are all drinkable liquids.
III. They all have a tail. They are also all quadrupeds.
IV. To the best of my knowledge: 5-4-3-1-2
V. They start with a vowel: a, e, i, o, u
VII. They are all peninsulas.
Source: Forster Forest/Shutterstock
Games and Description of Free Brain Games:
Sharp Brains: An award winning top 50 collection. This site is more intellectual in nature, it’s better for adult-child discussion or for use with older kids and adults.
Puzzles: They say they are the best resource for puzzling on the internet. Can be played online or downloaded in a paper version. Can choose by difficulty level and type, such as interactive. This is great site brought to you by Think Fun the company who produces the Rush Hour logic game.
Brain Food: Made to be read, lateral thinking puzzles. Choose between “realistic” and “tricky”.
Mensa for Kids: The high IQ society has put together a fun site of puzzles and games designed just for kids.
Creativity Games: With a focus on creative thinking.
Math Playground: Great logic games, word problems, and can generate worksheets
Cool Math:They say they are the world’s most popular educational game site.
Fun Brain:They say they are the internet’s #1 educational site. Offers reading and math games.
NASA Kids Club: Choose skill level. Space and memory games. Good graphics.
PBS Games:By educational topic. Good Graphics.
Cyberchase Games Central: Lots and lots of games. Can be sorted by most popular but not subject.
Online Thinking Games: Brain teasers, puzzles and more. Many choices. However, an ad pops up which says “play” and if you click that before the actual game loads, then you’ll find yourself in the middle of an advertisement.
BrainBashers: Tons of brain games. Many Japanese puzzles too.
Brainteasers and Puzzles: from the United Kingdom.
Grin Riddles: Choose from riddles for kids, hard riddles, funny riddles, and more.
Brain Boosters: We like how these puzzles are categorized by logic, lateral thinking, reasoning, spatial, numbers, etc. These, however, are not games but Q an A puzzles.
*Controlling the sites your kids go to for games is important. Some game sites appear “fun” and “cute” but will actually load malware onto your computer. These free brain games have been kid tested and teacher approved, although we cannot be responsible for external links off these sites.