The ‘5 Whys’: Teaching critical thinking to the click-bait news generation

When discussing Covid-19 with the Digital Innovators’ students before Boris Johnson’s school closure announcement, there were some wild statements flung around the room: everything from conspiracy theories to the most recent celebrity to contract the virus. In a time when we are increasingly glued to our news feeds while all being drawn to the same news, our use of critical thinking has never been more necessary.

Within the Digital Innovators programme, we use the simple activity of the ‘5 Whys‘ to allow students to think more deeply about a seemingly straightforward issue. We can all imagine that annoying child who, time and time again, hounds his parents with “but why?”. That parent may not have time to discuss the sociocultural reasons that explain why little Timmy can’t stay up past midnight on a school night, however, when investigating practical or intellectual problems, it is a method that can explore the root cause of an issue and unlock a plausible solution. After all, effect follows cause.

When talking with the students a week ago about the individuals that aren’t social distancing correctly, it was a perfect time to initiate this dialogue.

Student’s Statement: “These people going out are just stupid.”


Reason: They’re being selfish and don’t see what harm they could do.


Reason: Because they don’t know the impact they could have.


Reason: They have been told contrasting and changing information.


Reason: Because the government hasn’t provided clear messaging.


Reason: They want to keep a consistent message and not change things too quickly.

Solution: There needs to be a concise and clear message, communicated effectively by the government in order for people to understand the impact they could have.

This need for critical thinking is exponentially growing in the era of click-bait news, in which an individual’s opinion is masqueraded as fact. The use of the 5 Whys method can be an easy way of avoiding getting lost in the detail. Granted, some statements may be a lot more complex. However, the 5 Whys is not fixed at 5; this method can be increased or even reduced until a clear solution is identified.

Next time you read an article in your PJs , discuss the latest headline over Houseparty, or are faced with a problematic statement on Teams, you can start to look for holes within an argument. Through the 5 Whys, we can begin to question who benefits from this statement and why are they encouraging it? Additionally, we can question the source effectively. This may involve tracking down where it originally came from before you form an opinion. Finally, using the 5 Whys, we can begin to identify and separate the truth from subjective or false statements; it is common to formulate an argument based on information when the majority is true. It is easy to miss the non-sequitur because you agree with the majority of the statement, e.g.: “So, I think we can all agree that the grass is green, 1+1=2, ice is cold and that Apple makes the best computers”. Statements and arguments can be misleading; within the business world, it can cost thousands of pounds, within the world at the moment, it can cost lives. It is at this time that we can all benefit from initiating and practising our critical thinking skills in order to benefit ourselves, our families and our society as a whole.

Through use of the 5 Whys, we can really unpick statements and pay attention to the kinds of detail that will sharpen our critical thinking and perceptions of the world around us. At Digital Innovators, we believe this is of the upmost importance in order to unlock the potential of the digital generation.

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