Conceptual Teaching in Primary Social Studies: Teaching the Primary Three Reader,“Making the Little Red Dot Blue and Brown” in a Conceptual Way


This paper looks at what conceptual teaching is about, the differences between conceptual and traditional teaching and the advantages of conceptual teaching. Different deductive and inductive approaches for teaching the big ideas of subject matter, that is, the concepts and generalisations, are described. The paper also focuses on the teaching of the primary three social studies reader entitled, “Making the Little Red Dot Blue and Brown” using some of the conceptual teaching approaches mentioned. The paper concludes with the importance of teacher subject matter knowledge in conceptual teaching.  

A Paradigm Shift: Conceptual Teaching for Primary Social Studies

One longstanding issue which primary social studies teachers in Singapore schools face is the challenge of content coverage, especially in the upper primary, within a tight curriculum time. As it is, the time allocation for lower primary social studies teaching is a single period of 30 minutes per week; and for upper primary, it can range from a weekly of two periods of 60 minutes (Primary 4) to three periods of 90 minutes (Primary 5 and 6) per week (CPDD, 2013). Moreover, the upper primary periods are not necessary arranged back to back for uninterrupted teaching and the periods at all levels can be scheduled just after the morning school assembly, recess or physical education or music lessons. When such periods do not end on time, the amount of time for actual social studies teaching can be reduced as time is needed for pupil movement and settling down. Some teachers worry that if they do not teach the social studies textbooks produced by the Ministry of Education (MOE) from cover to cover, they are not doing their job as teachers properly. For these teachers, the “tyranny of content coverage” is a pressing concern.

To overcome the above-mentioned challenge, one needs to rethink the way primary social studies can be taught. The paradigm shift requires one to teach conceptually but what is conceptual teaching? According to Erickson (2002, 2007, 2008), conceptual teaching or concept-based instruction as she called it goes beyond fact acquisition. It is about teaching the big ideas of a subject matter using relevant content, information or facts to support that teaching. Teachers do not have to teach all the factual content in conceptual teaching. Instead they need to select and reorganise only the relevant ones to teach these big ideas. Conceptual teaching is best achieved through inductive teaching as pupils are guided to understand the big ideas rather than through direct instruction of what these ideas are. The insights they gain from such teaching can help them retain and better transfer their learning to other contexts.   


An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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