Logic is important, and can be hard to teach. I spend a lot of time with my writing students trying to get across to them the importance of logical reasoning, support for one’s claims, and providing evidence for things we say, but for many of them, it’s a new idea. They often believe that feeling something strongly constitutes evidence. In fact, there is evidence that teenage brains rely much more heavily on emotion than on reasoning.
From my own experience, I firmly believe that logic can be taught in a creative, right brain way that will appeal to students who have trouble with mathematical approaches, and that students who love the mathematical approach can be inspired by the beauty of logic to enjoy things like writing. I also think that it’s worth the effort to teach logic to all our students, simply because it’s necessary for responsible citizenship and good decision making in later life.
Crimes Against Logic is a snarky book about the problems that arise when we don’t grasp logic. I wouldn’t use it in the classroom, and it might be offensive to some readers, but I like to read it before I start discussing logic with my students. It makes a good pep talk for me.
Here are my standard go-to lesson plans for logic:
- Help students distinguish between believing a claim and supporting it. Start with a claim that most of your students won’t accept. I like to use, “Students shouldn’t be allowed to own cars.” I acknowledge that we all disagree with the statement, and then I offer some supporting statements:
- “Students have more accidents than older drivers.” I ask a few students to search for evidence of this claim on the classroom computers or their smartphones.
- “The costs of owning a car make students work more, giving them less time to study.” Again, we search for facts and figures to back this up.
- “Not having cars encourages students to spend more time on campus or with other students, increasing their involvement with and commitment to school life.” For this one, we try polling class members, and discuss when we can rely on our own experience or that of people we know, and when we need a larger sample size.
- Have students choose (or choose for the class) current events topics. Give time to research the issues, and ask students to list all the different points of view they find for the topic in the course of their research, and list the arguments given in support of those points of view. I use this as a preliminary for exercises on response to a text, so we work on presenting the arguments fairly, regardless of our opinions of them, and on critical analysis of the points made.
- Hold a simple debate. Choose a topic that is familiar enough to students that they’ll be able to understand it easily and think of arguments on both sides of it, but which won’t be so emotional that students will get distracted. A local controversy, vampires vs. werewolves, should human cloning be allowed… You know your population best, so you can choose. Divide the class randomly into two groups and assign each one side of the argument. Allow the teams time to prepare their support for the side they’ve been assigned. Let the teams take turns presenting their support for ten minutes. After ten minutes, the two teams should switch sides. The team that presents the largest number of valid arguments wins.
- Conditional Statements is our collection of ideas and resources for if-then statements.
- Math and Creativity is our collection of resources for handling data.
- Venn Diagrams and Logic has a collection of reproducibles on the subject from NCTM. I’m a fan of Venn diagrams myself; you can find more resources for this type of graphic organizer at our post on Using Graphic Organizers in the Classroom.
- Honeycomb Hotel is a collection of logic puzzles using symbols rather than words. This can be good for ESL students or those who have trouble following more complex arguments.
- The Declaration of Independence follows a formal logical pattern. A lesson plan examining it in this light can help students understand logic and history.
- Monty Python and the Quest for a Perfect Fallacy is a fun and serious lesson plan.
- “Love is a Fallacy” by Max Shulman is a classic. You can assign it as reading homework, but I like to use it for dramatic readings in class.
- “How to Argue Effectively” by Dave Barry is another fun reading to focus class discussion on the subject of logical argumentation.
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