Oftentimes when students prepare for the SAT or the TOEFL, they attempt to master the test rather than the skills necessary to master the test. These skills enable students to gain valuable tools they can use in everyday life.
I found that teaching critical thinking skills and other targeted skills "outside the box" has proved invaluable to students in their everyday life as well as in the academic studies. I learned the value of teaching these skills quite by accident.
I was working as a private tutor with high school students who are dyslexic. Often they had attention deficit issues as well. In order to keep their attention, I really tried to make my lessons hands on and fun. While searching for materials to use in preparing these students for the SAT, I found some interesting articles on unique ways to teach students how to think differently so they could approach test taking (although I found there were many more applications). The premise is that by learning how to think, to really think in a broader way, students could approach various critical reading tests from multiple angles.
I began each lesson with a quick set of activities focused on using the brain in different ways. For instance, students would have to tell me what direction they would need to follow in order to get to a certain place. Or, they would quickly have to give me synonyms for a list of words. Or, they might have to guess what word in a set of three did not fit. They might also have to give me three adjectives or adverbs, etc., to modify another word. Once they completed this warm-up, we would continue with longer segments aimed at particular skill sets.
There are several online games and activites I use. One has to do with using the right and left side of the brain at the same time. Students watch a quick animated video. After it is completed, students are asked to describe the character in the video. Using the left brain and the right brain, students do their best to recreate the character. Another game focuses on developing short term memory. Students are flashed a string of letters or numbers, than asked to repeat them quickly. The drill continues, each time adding another letter or digit. The scores are charted each time, and students can quickly see their improvement.
There are many more ways to teach critical thinking skills. They can be fun, show growth, and make a student who may have struggled academically to see their abilities. I love this method of teaching, and it is a lot of fun for me as well!