Category Archives: Critical Thinking

The Most Magnificent School Project! Using picture books to promote school-wide critical thinking project.

Sexsmith’s Most Magnificent School Project

If you tell me, I will forget.  If you teach me, I will remember.  If you involve me, I will learn.                                                                                                                                          –  Ben Franklin

As you may be aware, the curriculum in British Columbia has been redesigned to reflect a more inquiry based approach to learning and teachers are beginning to implement many of the new ideas into their units of study.  This year, my school (J. W. Sexsmith in Vancouver) is specifically focusing on one of the three core competencies of the new curriculum – critical thinking.  Critical thinking is an approach to learning that involves analyzing, questioning and developing a plan, idea, product or thought.  Rather than just memorizing new information, we are asking students to think, question and form their own ideas and opinions about what they are learning.

To launch this school-wide focus, we embarked on a school-wide project called Sexsmith’s Most Magnificent Thing.  Students learned about the project at our first school-wide assembly (Monday).  My staff had discussed the importance of developing a common language for critical thinking, so I came up with a visual and key words to use to explain the three phases of critical thinking – ANALYZE-QUESTION-DEVELOP.  I introduced these three words, along with a prompt word for each:  when we analyze – our brain says “Hmmmm“; when we question, our brain says “Huuhhh?“; when we develop, our brain says “Ah-Ha!”  


I then shared the book The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires.  This book has many different themes, including perseverance and ways of dealing with frustration, but it was also a perfect fit for introducing critical thinking.  In the story, the girl does not practice critical thinking skills initially while trying to make her most magnificent thing, which results in a lot of frustration and an eventual melt-down.  It is only at the end of the story, she begins to analyze her attempts and re-designs her plan that the magnificent thing is finally complete.  For the school assembly, I projected the YouTube read aloud. of this book on a large screen.

In thinking about this as a school project, I had nightmares of the entire school bringing in metal pieces, wheels, batteries, and wires, creating electronic chaos like the girl in this book does!   Inspired by the book What To Do With a Box by Jane Yolen, I simplified the project by having students use empty boxes to build their MMTs – Most Magnificent Things.

Students were asked to bring an empty box from home.  It was amazing to see the variety – from gigantic empty refrigerator boxes to tiny match boxes! img_1274


The next day, I met with grade groups to share Jane Yolen’s book and explain the project in more detail.  I reminded the students that this project was an opportunity for them to practice critical thinking and that the product at the end was not as important as the process.  They were also told that their teachers would be supplying the basic supplies of scissors, glue, paint and paper, but that if they needed any other materials that they would need to bring them from home.

Back in their classes, students began the project by analyzing their own empty box – carefully looking at size, shape and special features.

They drew, labelled and colored a careful diagram of their box.

The next day, the students questioned what they were going to make, what materials they might need and what potential problems they may run into. They developed a plan for their project and then they were ready to set to work!


For those who were still trying to decide what to turn their box into, there were more books to read for inspiration:

       Not a Box – Antoinette Portis

                                                                         Box – Min Flyte

The Nowhere Box – Sam Zuppardi

During the week, students spent many hours transforming their box into something magnificent!  They were encouraged to practice their critical thinking skills during the process.  If something wasn’t working they tried to analyze, question and develop a new plan.  The school was buzzing with excitement and thinking!

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During the project, we circulated several other books that teachers could share which focused on characters who demonstrated critical thinking:

Anything is Possible – Giulia Belloni

Learning to Fly – Sebastian Meschenmoser

 Clancy & Millie and the Very Fine House – Libby Gleeson

Spare Dog Parts – Alison Hughes

Stuck – Oliver Jeffers

More-igami – Dori Kleber

After four days of cutting, gluing, painting, bending, folding, attaching, taping, taping and more taping, along with a whole lot of analyzing, questioning and developing new plans – the MMT projects were FINISHED!   The students completed a self-reflection page and did a final drawing of their MMT.  To celebrate this MAGNIFICENT project, we had an afternoon ‘walk about’ where students and teachers were given an opportunity to walk through other classes to view all of the ‘Magnificent Things’!   WOW!  It was incredible to see how many different creations the students came up with – jet packs, miniature rooms, soccer games, castles, maps, musical instruments, telephones, puppet shows, and even a vending machine that actually worked!   And while we all agreed there were some moments in the classrooms when creativity looked like more like chaos and a few teachers experienced most magnificent headaches, the students loved every minute of it and were thoroughly engaged.   Throughout the week, they really demonstrated all the aspects of independent, project-based learning and critical thinking skills, while having a most magnificent time!   Here are just a few examples of the creative ways students turned their boxes into something magnificent!














 It truly was a most magnificent project!  I highly recommend you try it with your class or your school!


Filed under Critical Thinking, The Most Magnificent Thing

Top 10 Tuesday – Top Ten Books to Promote Critical Thinking

top 10

With the re-designed curriculum in B.C., teachers are preparing to launch the school year with a lot to think about.  The best advice I have for wrapping our heads around the big ideas is to ‘start small’ and choose one area for your school to focus on.  At my school, we have decided to focus on critical thinking.  I’ve spent some time this summer thinking about what will be helpful for supporting my students to think critically – and so, of course, I think of picture books that connect to the three phases of critical thinking – Analyze-Question-Develop.

Here are my top 10 books for promoting Critical Thinking!

1. More-Igami – Dori Kleber

Learning something new takes practice and patience.  In this charming story, a boy tries to figure out how an origami crane is made – he analyzes, questions and develops a plan! What a perfect story for introducing critical thinking!

Most Magnificent Thing, The by [Spires, Ashley]

2. The Most Magnificent Thing – Ashley Spires

One of the important stages of critical thinking is to analyze a situation and re-direct your thinking if things are not working.  When the little girl in this book decides to make a ‘most magnificent thing’, it doesn’t exactly go the way she had plans, resulting in a whole lot of frustration- making this a perfect book to begin the conversation about the importance of thinking critically.

3. What To Do With a Box?– Jane Yolen

What can you turn a simple box into?  This simple, charming book by the great Jane Yolen will inspire your students to analyze, question and develop their box into something amazing!

4. What Do You Do With An Idea? – Kobi Yamada

Nurturing ideas and making thinking visible – this story will inspire you to welcome an idea, give it some space to grow, and to see what happens next!

5. Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain – JoAnn Deak

Metacognition is a huge part of being a critical thinker and knowing how your brain works is a great first step in helping making thinking more tangible.  I love how this simple book explains how your brain works and how you can shape it.  I especially like the focus on how making mistakes, practicing, and gaining new knowledge can “stretch” your brain!


5. The Thingamabob – Il Sung Na

When a curious elephant finds a ‘thingamabob’ – he uses critical thinking to figure out exactly what it is!  Simple, playful, delightful!  I love how he asks LOTS of questions during the process!

6. Rosie Revere, Engineer – Andrea Beaty

A young girl with big dreams – this text highlights creativity and perseverance with delightful rhyming verse and whimsical illustrations.


Shh!  We Have A Plan!  – Chris Haughton

Hilarious story of four friends trying to catch a bird.  Their plans turn into a ridiculous, tangled mess until the younger uses some critical thinking skills!  Fun read-aloud and eye-catching illustrations.

7.  Going Places – Peter and Paul Reynolds

This book celebrates the creative spirit and thinking outside the box – both figuratively and literally!

8..  On A Beam of Light – A Story of Albert Einstein – Jennifer Berne

When this picture book biography about the extraordinary life of Albert Einstein was released, I talked about it ALL THE TIME!  Big questions, deep thinking, thoughtful reflection – my favorite topics!  This book will inspire your students to  wonder, think, imagine, and be curious.


9. Learning to Fly – Sebastian Meschenmoser

A simple, charming story about a penguin who believes he can fly and the man who helps him.  They plan, design, analyse, re-design… it’s the perfect combination of critical thinking, determination and friendship  Love the illustrations so much!


1o.  A Home For Bird – Philip C. Stead

While stories about creating something concrete can be used to introduce children to critical thinking, it is important for them to see how critical thinking can be applied to other aspects in our life- including friendship.  A Home for Bird is a sweet, tender story of a shy bird and and his thoughtful friend who is determined to help his quiet companion.  Vernon, the toad, uses critical thinking to figure out just what Bird needs.  Love this book!

                            What books do you like to share that inspire critical thinking?


Filed under Critical Thinking, New Books