What’s the Criteria?: A Critical Thinking Activity for the Language Classroom

Joe Suzuki-Parker, Rissho University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Criteria, critical thinking, reasoning
  • Learner English Level: Intermediate to advanced
  • Learner Maturity: University
  • Preparation/Pre-teach time: 10 minutes
  • Activity time: 20-30 minutes
  • Materials: Worksheet, pencils, whiteboard, markers

A competitive and engaging game, ‘What’s the Criteria?’ is a two-part critical thinking activity I adapted from a university class I took that encourages peer-to-peer discussion through the use of critical thinking skills. The goal of the activity is to determine by what criteria a list of items is organized and to provide the reasoning behind the decision. For my language class I add the element of competitiveness by having separate teams organize a list of the same items by different criteria. They then exchange their lists and determine the criteria by which they were organized. In the second phase of the game, teams announce their decision and provide the reasoning behind their choice. The team with the most correct guesses wins.



Step 1: Print and cut out the criteria cards on the Worksheet (dotted lines).



Step 1: Start by playing one round with your students using the ‘Sample Criteria Card’ to model the activity.

Step 2: Write the items as they appear on the sample card (alphabetical order) on the whiteboard for all to see.

Step 3: Ask the students how the list is organized, providing them with the following structure for answering: ‘I think the list is organized by/according to ________. This is a good time to introduce the term ‘criteria’.

Step 4: Next, ask a student how they decided the criteria, providing them with the structure for the second phase of the game: ‘The list is organized by (criteria) because _____.’ You may want to introduce the term ‘reasoning’ here.

Step 5: Reveal the answer and announce the winners. By now the students should have a good idea of how to play the game. Explain that in the next round students will form teams and play against each other.

Step 6: Depending on students’ levels, you could write down all the possible criteria on the whiteboard.

Step 7: Have students form 2 teams on opposite sides of the classroom. Shuffle and divide all the criteria cards evenly amongst them (4 each). Teams have 10 minutes to organize the items according to the criteria on each card by writing them in the ‘LIST’ column on the card.

Step 8: When time is up, teams fold the cards in half (black solid line) so the opposing team cannot see the criteria, and exchange cards.

Step 9: Teams then have 10 minutes to fill in both the Criteria and Reasoning cells on each card using the prompts provided in the pre-teach section.

Step 10: When time is up, teams take turns reading out the list, the decided criteria and reasoning. After all suggested answers have been given, teams unfold the cards and check the original criteria. The team with the most correct guesses wins.

Step 11: Allow students time to ask any questions and give feedback as necessary.



If time permits, hold a final rebuttal stage where teams can challenge the organization of the lists they guessed incorrectly.



This is a fun game my students always enjoy. Try creating your own lists and criteria according to your students’ levels and needs. With the right list and criteria, they will be motivated to use the target language via discussion and debate, with a few laughs in between.



The appendix is available below: