Critical Thinking Exercise - Abstract Question

"The term `exciting calmness` best describes what period of American history?  Why?"

What is an Abstract Question?

"Abstract Questions" are exercises that require students to answer questions that do not have any definite answers.  It is up to the students to consider the wording of the question and define for themselves what is being asked and how it should be answered.  They must be able to explain and defend their approach and final answer.

While there is no "correct" answer to the question, students must prove they used a logical approach in their response. 

What do "Abstract Question" exercises look like in the classroom?

Of course, there will be very few times when you want your students to answer a typical abstract questions such as, "How is the world getting smaller?"   Instead, you`ll want to cater these problems to the subject matter at hand.  We`ve already written a wide-selection of "Abstract Question" exercises organized by topic, and they`ll be easy to create on your own once you grasp the concept. 

For example, if you are teaching American history, you may ask,  "Which period in American history is best described by the term `exciting calmness`?"

Your students can respond to this abstract question in a number of ways.  There is no correct answer, although you do want to see a logical approach.  For example:

  • The Cold War era can be described as "exciting calmness" because, while the United States and Soviet Union never fought against one another in a violent war, the entire period was very tense and quietly stressful.
  • The Industrial Revolution is a great example of "exciting calmness" because things were changing so quickly that it was an exciting revolution, only without the bloodshed that a revolution often brings.
  • I think that today is a great example of "exciting calmness" because everyone is carrying on with their normal lives as always, yet the world around us is changing so fast and it`s impossible to know what the future holds.

Do "Abstract Question" exercises work for all subject areas and grade levels?

Yes.  Without a doubt... yes!  The "Abstract Question" exercises can not only be used in multiple subject areas, but also for the many topics within a given subject area.  We have already provided a wide range of "Abstract Question" exercises in the core subjects, and these can easily be used as a model for teachers who want to write their own to fit their classroom.

The same flexibility applies to using "Abstract Question" exercises across grade levels.  What is especially interesting in this case is that the same "Abstract Question" exercise could easily be used for a kindergartner or a senior in high school... and each student would benefit greatly from the exercise. 

Let`s use this one for an example:  "What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?"  A teacher might ask this to a group of elementary students simply to help them remember the word "force" and know that it is needed to move objects.  At the other end of the spectrum, a high-school teacher will expect students to demonstrate a full understanding of the physics involved, and recognize the conflict of the situation.  They might even be expected to recall Newton`s Laws as they explain their position on the abstract question.

What`s the one thing to remember about "Abstract Question" exercises?

It`s all about the process.  Students become very good at recalling facts, figures, names, and dates.  When questions don`t have any clear answer, that`s when things get mentally uncomfortable.  "Abstract Question" exercises force students to focus on the approach rather than the end result, because jumping right to the end result without a logical approach is usually a recipe for disaster in real-life problems.