Teaching Critical Thinking for ESL Teachers - Appeal to Authority
Jun 3, 2011 English as a Second Language (ESL) 6947 Views
How to teach students to question "Appeals to Authority" in ESL classes.
Teaching critical thinking in the class-room may seem daunting at first, but in essence it is very simple. The purpose is to have students think for themselves, which necessitates question asking. Asking questions is fundamental to learning English, and to critical thinking, so why not tie the two together?
One of the most common logical fallacies that students and teachers alike commit to is the "Appeal to authority" or "argument from authority" fallacy. In this fallacy one uses an expert or authority as a form of evidence to justify their belief.
ex. My dad says he is a bad president, so it must be true.
ex. My friend told me there are aliens, and I believe him.
In the appeal to authority fallacy, one implies that the expert or authority is infallible and exempt from criticism. In the two examples above Dad, and My Friend are the two experts. But the experts are not perfect, and perhaps made mistakes themselves.
This is an important lesson to teach students, that just because someone of authority says something does not make it necessarily true. It is critical to have students ask questions about the authority or expert and to make up their own mind about the subject at hand.
I propose in basic ESL classes to start off by writing 5 question words on the board. Who, What, Where, When, & Why. Begin class with the two examples above, and have your students form questions such as:
"Why did your dad say that?"
"What aliens did your friends see to believe it?"
And continue to facilitate this sort of question asking until the students have had ample time to practice forming question phrases, and also to think critically about the "Appeal to Authority" logical fallacy.
After this it is important to bridge the gap between mere English practice and real-world use. Most common to students are TV Advertisements. Ask students if they know any appeal to authorities used on TV commercials. It would also help to have students role-play their own TV commercial utilizing this fallacy.
Ex. I'm Michael Jordon and I love this dish-soap!
The criterion here is that Michael Jordon is an expert in basketball, and not an expert in dish-soap. He is not speaking from an area of his own expertise and thus is providing weak evidence to viewers, that in fact the dish soap is good. However if he were advertising tennis shoes it would be strong evidence because that is in his field of expertise.
Thanks for reading!