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Building Problem Solving Skills: Critical Thinking Activities

Problem Solving Activities for Students & Teens

Developing the ability to work through problems and leverage critical thinking skills will help your student or teen on the path to a successful future. Activities to improve critical thinking and problem solving can help young adults not only excel in the classroom but in aspects of their personal lives as well. Listed below are free critical thinking and problem solving games that students and teens can take part in as a way to enhance their ability to solve problems in a productive manner.

Each of the problem solving exercises helps teens and kids improve their critical thinking abilities as they learn to work through the obstacles placed in front of them. Our problem solving skills activities are also part of the 52 Leadership Ideas PDF that is available for download below.

Choose a Crisis

Sit down and watch the news on television together, with a notepad in hand. Before the telecast, ask your young person to choose one crisis or problem reported in the news. If you prefer, read through the newspaper together. (There will be several stories in every newspaper or broadcast!) Once they choose the crisis, have them write down all the details you both can remember from the report. Then, pose this question to them: If you were in charge of this problem, what would you do to solve it? Ask them to assume leadership in their imagination, and jot down what steps they would take to remedy the crisis, from start to finish.

Evaluate their steps when they are finished. Did they leave anything out? Is their solution realistic? How expensive would it be? Did they diagnose the problem accurately?Are there any steps your young person could actually take to implement their solution?


Visit an Amusement Park

Visit an amusement park together, with your young person. (It may be difficult to imagine visiting an amusement park without them!) Tell them as you enter the park that your goal is to have fun, but to also learn something. Prepare them to look for ways the amusement park could improve. Ask them to look for problems. Perhaps the customer service could be better. Maybe the lines for the rides require people to wait too long. It could be the restrooms are dirty or too hard to find.

At dinner time, after you’ve had plenty of time to spot problems, discuss them. Where were the places that ought to improve? Then, have your young person suggest ideas on how the park could make them better.

Watch a Movie

Check out the local movie listings to see if there are any movies showing where the plot involves solving a problem. You will notice that often a majority of the plots involve a dilemma that the lead character must resolve. Pick a good one, and go see it with your young person. Prepare them for a discussion afterward, over some dessert.

Discuss the story in detail. What was the problem? Why was it a problem? Who solved it? What did they do? Was it the best solution? Discuss the idea that all real leadership is about solving a problem.

Read All About It

Choose a leadership book that you and your young person can read. Over the next week, select what chapters you each will read, or choose to read the whole book, if possible. Optimally, the leadership book will specifically discuss problem solving. One suggestion might be Habitudes: Images that form Leadership Habits and Attitudes. In these books, you’ll find a chapter on problem solving. When you have read it, discuss your personal application to the principles taught in the book Tim Elmore / Growing Leaders, Inc. / Copyright 2010 / Atlanta, GA / 18 Put action to the instruction. For more ideas on books to read, check out the Growing Leaders website, at:


Act It Out

Sometime when you’re together, come up with a challenge that you and your young person believe is a legitimate problem in your school or community. Talk about it, then discuss possible solutions. Then, narrow it down to one. Finally, choose an evening when both of you act it out together, (the problem and solution) before friends or family members. You might make it like a game of charades, where those watching try to figure out what you are doing, and what problem you are trying to solve.

Learn it. Do it. Pass it on. Talk about how you can pass on problem solving skills to others.