Lesson Plan

A way to teach critical thinking in class with a focus on the appeal to authority logical fallacy.

Class-time: 50 minutes

Presentation: (5-10 minutes)

Open the class by asking the students:
  • Have you ever been in an argument?
Tell them there is a wrong way, and a right way to argue.  Arguments are to persuade other to believe.  Some people argue with emotion, while others argue with logic.

  • The Titanic is the best movie ever made.  Don't you agree?
After some disagreement say:
  • But your headmaster says Titanic is the best movie ever made.  Doesn't that make it so?
After more disagreement say:
  • What if Einstein said global climate is getting warmer would you agree?
There will be some thinking at this point.  Elicit from a student why they disagree.  Facilitate your students to reach the conclusion that Einstein is no climatologist and therefore his opinion is irrelevant.  Introduce the "Appeal to authority logical fallacy."  And define it - someone says they are right, because an expert agrees... does not make the person instantly right.

Practice: (15 minutes)

Divide the class into six groups.   Introduce the six standards of acceptance one by one, by writing them on the board.   After each standard give the groups 30 seconds to come up with an example, and then listen to an example or two from the class.  
  1. Has the authority been identified? ex.  My book says that money is more important than love.
  2. Is their area of expertise legitimate? ex.  Mr. Smith is a professional Snoklbockler.
  3. Does the authority have sufficient expertise in the subject at hand?  ex. Bill can fix car engines, but never fixed an airplane engine.
  4. Is the claim made by the authority within their area(s) of expertise?  ex.  Einstein says the climate is getting colder.
  5. Is there sufficient agreement among the other experts in the subject?  ex.  Einstein says so, but all the other physicists disagree.
  6. Is the authority significantly biased?  ex.  North Korea says they are the strongest country.

Use: (25 minutes)

On anonymous slips of paper assign each group one of the six standards, and one of the topics listed below.  Tell them they are a news agency being bribed by a rogue state.  Each group is to make up a false news report utilizing their standard.  Tell them to be creative.
  1. Science
  2. Religion
  3. Entertainment
  4. Politics
  5. Economics
  6. Social Issues
Have each group present their news report to the class.  At the end of each presentation have class-mates call out which standard they had broken, until all groups have gone.  

For homework, tell the students to pay close attention to appeals to authority, and if they hear one, to report it in class the next day for extra credit.