Thinking Skills and RE

In the first of a series of three articles, Margaret Cooling introduces us to using thinking skills in RE. Margaret is well known for her expertise in RE and as a writer, speaker and trainer.

The very phrase 'Thinking Skills' makes some teachers nervous. It comes attached to words such as 'philosophy' and most of us weren't trained to teach philosophy. Thinking skills, however, incorporate many of the good practices that already happen in RE. Many teachers do it instinctively. You will find skills for thinking listed in the National Curriculum (England) and all of them can be used in RE.

1. Information processing skills: locating and using relevant information using skills of analysis and interpretation.
Example: Finding out information about how faith affects a person's behaviour, analysing the influences on the person; interpreting a parable.

2. Reasoning skills: giving reasons for responses, making deductions and judgements.
Example: responding to religious stories and giving reasons for those responses; deducing how someone would react to a situation given his or her beliefs; judging what is the best course of action; expressing judgements concerning the behaviour of characters in religious stories and supplying evidence.

3. Enquiry skills: asking relevant questions, testing conclusions, etc.
Example: writing questions for an interview; forming questions for a discussion.

4. Creative thinking skills: generating ideas, looking for alternatives and using imagination when thinking.
Example: writing alternative conclusions to religious stories if different decisions had been made; deducing what might have happened in different circumstances.

5. Evaluation skills: developing criteria for judging and evaluating information.
Example: working out criteria for judging what is 'fair' or 'just' in a situation.


Where RE and thinking skills meet

Robert Fisher outlines several areas where religion provides fruitful opportunities for thinking.

  • Thinking about mystery and transcendence
    This includes awe and wonder in response to nature and human achievement. Transcendence can include the sense of a divine being. It is also about teaching pupils to find the puzzling and to look for unanswered questions in life.
  • Learning to discuss beliefs
    Discussion can make people aware of their beliefs and enable them to reflect on them and their importance. Beliefs also contribute towards a person's identity.
  • Searching for meaning and purpose in life; asking the big questions
    This is about asking the big questions such as: What is the purpose of life? Was the world created or did it just 'happen'?
  • Relationships and values
    Believers draw the values that guide their behaviour from their beliefs. Pupils can explore the relationship between beliefs and actions.
  • Creativity
    Creative thinking and using the imagination to express thoughts, beliefs and feelings are all a part of thinking skills. Encourage pupils to ask lots of 'What if . . .' or 'Suppose . . .' questions.

Have fun thinking

Activities for thinking skills can be fun. They do not have to be frightening! The following card games use some of the skills listed above. These games can be played using sets of cards with religious pictures or words. (Gordon Raggett's Christmas Activity Pack is ideal for this - available from The Stapleford Centre; click here and select the reviewed books category to order.)

  1. Place a number of cards face down on the table. In turn, pupils turn over two cards each and say what links them. They place their cards face down again. Mix the cards up and repeat.
  2. Give pupils just two or three cards and ask them to find a theme that links them, giving a reason for their answer.
  3. Ask pupils to find two cards that they think are opposites and ask them to justify their answer.
  4. Using three cards ask pupils to designate one as 'odd one out' and ask them to justify their answer.
  5. Create persuasive argument for removing/adding one card.
  6. Put three cards in a line and leave a space. Ask pupils to create/describe the missing card and give a reason for their answer.
  7. Sequence the cards in order to make sense of the people's feelings and the events.
  8. Put the cards into sets and justify the categories. How many different sets could be made?

If this article has whetted your appetite to discover more about using thinking skills in RE, check out the new service for RE teachers, the REthinking Network. Click here for more details. There is also a list of useful websites available by clicking here.