Teaching Critical Theory

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

Critical theory is a philosophical perspective of cultural liberation that was developed by the Frankfurt School. This lesson plan contains ideas for teaching students about the history behind this theory.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Define critical theory
  • Explain the background of the Frankfurt School
  • Describe the theories of key philosophers at the Frankfurt School
  • Identify criticism of critical theory


This lesson will take 60-120 minutes.


  • audio recorder
  • computer/internet

Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.


Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.


  • Frankfurt School
  • Marxism


To build background knowledge, have students create a 5-minute quick-write in which they explain their knowledge and opinions of capitalism and socialism. Have students turn and talk with a partner about their ideas.

Read the text lesson Frankfurt School: Critical Theory & Philosophy with students. Pause after the 'A Critical Voice in Uncritical Times' section to ask:

  • What is the Frankfurt School?
  • Why did the Frankfurt School relocate to the United States during the 1930s?
  • What issues did the Frankfurt School study?
  • How do you think the background of the philosophers and scholars impacted their theories?

Continue reading the text lesson. Pause after the 'Adorno' section to ask:

  • How is popular culture like religion?
  • How did Theodore W. Adorno view capitalism?
  • Do you agree with Adorno's view of capitalist culture? Explain your answer.

Read the 'Marcuse' section of the lesson with students. Ask:

  • How is Marcuse's philosophy different from Adorno's?
  • How is Marcuse's philosophy applied in modern times?

Read the remainder of the lesson with students. Ask the following questions:

  • How has the public sphere changed since Jurgen Habermas developed his ideas about mass communication?
  • How do you think his views might change in light of modern technology?
  • How would you respond to the criticisms of critical theory?

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