Cultivating Judgment

Key Information

Cultivating Judgment: A Sourcebook for Teaching Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum, By John Nelson

2005 [ISBN: 1-58107-112-4; 288 pages; 5 ½ x 8 ½ inch; soft cover] $24.95


CJBcoverThis fine sourcebook provides college and university teachers, across the curriculum, with specific classroom-tested activities and assignments to stimulate and develop student critical thinking. The book consists of fifty modules, each containing:

  • A description of a critical thinking assignment,
  • An explanation of the assignment’s purposes and benefits,
  • A discussion of ways to use or modify the assignment in the classroom, and
  • Suggested related activities, including relevant bibliographical sources.

Most modules were developed by the author; in other cases, the author shaped, refined, and expanded on material that has been developed and used by colleagues. Some modules are discipline-specific, some are suitable for a number of disciplines; and many can easily be modified for use in a wide variety of fields. The assignments vary in scope, difficulty and complexity. Some are deigned for introductory freshman courses, while others have been used in graduate courses but could be adapted for lower level courses.

Each module stands alone, but the modules are loosely grouped into five sections:

  1. Problems and Puzzles
  2. Analyses and Critiques
  3. Opinions, Decisions, Values
  4. Projects, Experiments, Adventures
  5. Student as Teacher, Teacher as Student.

The sourcebook also includes an introductory chapter on the nature and importance of critical thinking, a cross-referencing of all activities by discipline, and a wide-ranging bibliography. Cultivating Judgment has been extensively tested in college classrooms, then revised, expanded and significantly improved. The author has conducted extensive research on the teaching of thinking skills, and discovered that discovered that no existing source filled the need for a book that spells out and demonstrates how to teach critical thinking in virtually any discipline, from liberal arts to more specialized career programs.

You will find Cultivating Judgment to be an engaging book, and one that combines intellectual rigor with a playful, creative spirit – and, one that can be used as a textbook in a general course on critical thinking, or as a resource for teachers across the curriculum!

The Contents

  • INTRODUCTION: Thinking About Critical Thinking
  • SECTION ONE: Problems and Puzzles
    • Activity 1: Thinking on Another Planet (Testing Critical Thinking)
    • Activity 2: Who Killed Harry Skank? (Solving Problems and Puzzles)
    • Activity 2: Handout: Murder Mystery
    • Activity 3: Do Bees Build It Best? (Solving Mathematical Problems)
  • SECTION TWO: Analyses and Critiques
    • Activity 4: Is the Earth Hollow? (Distinguishing Fact from Opinion)
    • Activity 4: Handout: Fact vs. Opinion
    • Activity 5: From the Known to the Unknown (Making Inferences)
    • Activity 6: I’m Taking Medication—You’re on Drugs (Detecting Slanting)
    • Activity 6: Handout on Evaluating Internet Sources
    • Activity 7: For the Semantically Challenged (Deciphering Euphemisms)
    • Activity 8: Weighing the Evidence (Evaluating Evidence and Statistics)
    • Activity 8: Handout: Evaluating Evidence
    • Activity 9: Eyewitness (Observing, Remembering, Describing)
    • Activity 10: Asking the Right Questions (Asking Questions, Getting Information)
    • Activity 11: The Guiding Light (Using Study Guides Collaboratively)
    • Activity 11: Handout: Study Guide to When She Was Bad
    • Activity 11: Handout: Study Guide to “Ode to a Nightingale”
    • Activity 12: What Do Men Want? (Comparing Student Opinions)
    • Activity 13: At First Blush (Analyzing Behavior)
    • Activity 14: The State vs. Rumpelstiltskin (Using Evidence, Applying Principles)
    • Activity 15: It’s a Bird, It’s a Bootie Bird (Defining Terms, Applying Definitions)
    • Activity 16: The Pecking Order (Applying Concepts, Using Examples)
    • Activity 17: Incident Report (Reporting Events, Making Decisions)
    • Activity 18: Who Fired the First Shot? (Analyzing Historical Accounts)
    • Activity 19: You Write Like a Girl (Analyzing Literature, Detecting Stereotypes)
    • Activity 20: Can Shakespeare Be Trusted? (Writing Critically about Literature)
    • Activity 21: The Prisoner’s Dilemma (Using Cost-Benefit Analysis)
    • Activity 22: Just Because (Using Causal Analysis)
    • Activity 23: Dissecting Words Instead of Frogs (Analyzing Scientific Articles)
    • Activity 24: What Did That Prove? (Analyzing Experiments)
  • SECTION THREE: Opinions, Decisions, Values
    • Activity 25: Coping 101 (Using Critical Thinking in Self-examination)
    • Activity 26: Tracing the Family Tree (Examining Family and Cultural Heritage)
    • Activity 27: A Personal Declaration of Independence (Making Decisions)
    • Activity 28: Dealing with the Devil (Examining Personal Values)
    • Activity 29: Defending the Indefensible (Examining the Vocabulary of Motive)
    • Activity 30: Crimes and Punishments (Making Judgments, Defining Consequences)
    • Activity 31: Who’s the Worst Offender? (Making Ethical Judgments)
    • Activity 32: How Will We Be Judged? (Making Historical Judgments)
    • Activity 33: In This Writer’s Opinion (Presenting Opinions Persuasively)
    • Activity 34: The Devil’s Advocate (Analyzing Arguments, Responding to Criticisms)
    • Activity 34 Handout: Paraphrasing Exercise
    • Activity 35: It’s Debatable (Debating Issues, Refuting Arguments)
    • Activity 36: What Are the Alternatives? (Solving Problems, Comparing Solutions)
  • SECTION FOUR: Projects, Experiments, Adventures
    • Activity 37: Does a Dog Know Its Name? (Testing Hypotheses)
    • Activity 38: Anthropology Comes Home (Interpreting Cultural Rituals)
    • Activity 39: If I Had My Way (Creating Models)
    • Activity 40: Making the Case (Students as Consultants: The Case Method)
    • Activity 41: Trying Jekyll for the Crimes of Hyde (Conducting Mock Trials)
    • Activity 42: Suddenly You’re Old (Students as Actors: Playing Roles)
    • Activity 43: Playing with Literature (Students as Collaborators: Playing with Texts)
    • Activity 44: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (Students as Artists)
    • Activity 45: Thinking Online and Off (Using Technology to teach Critical Thinking)
    • Activity 46: My Aquatic Uncle (Bringing the Disciplines Together)
  • SECTION FIVE: Student as Teacher, Teacher as Student
    • Activity 47: Seminaring (Students as Collaborative Teachers)
    • Activity 48: Back to the Classroom (Teachers as Students)
    • Activity 49: Time to Take Inventory (Student Self-Inventory)
    • Activity 50: What’s Missing from this Course? (Student Evaluations)
    • Activity 50 Handout: Student Feedback Survey
  • APPENDIX / Selected Critical Thinking Websites


Cultivating Judgment is a strikingly original and effective approach to the difficult problem of how to develop critical thought. The methods and exercises the book offers reflect many years of experience and insight and are at once ingenious and sensible, entertaining and productive. This is an outstanding pedagogy across the curriculum; indeed, there is no curriculum it would not improve.
Geoffrey Harpham, President and Director, National Humanities Center.

The Author

John Nelson’s education background includes a B.A. with honors from Harvard University, graduate work at Oxford University, and an M.A. in English from the University of Illinois. He has taught speech, basic communications, composition, literature, creative writing, and English in higher education for over 30 years. He received the National Institute for Staff & Organizational Development Teaching Excellence Award in 1999, and Commonwealth of Massachusetts Outstanding Service Awards in 1985 and 1995, among others. Throughout his career at North Shore Community College, he was deeply involved in curriculum development, including two decades of leadership on the college curriculum committee. As curriculum coordinator for a TRIO program serving 400 students, he teamed with colleagues to develop and implement an integrated curriculum centered on critical thinking. He has conducted seminars on how to teach critical thinking, and has received numerous grants and published articles on curricular innovations.


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