Identifying What to Teach: Using Concepts, Generalizations and Driving Questions, pp. 5 of 9

Strategies for Teaching Concepts

The first step in developing a strategy for teaching a concept is to determine the critical attributes of the concept.  These, of course,  would  be  age-appropriate; that  is,

what are the critical attributes of a concept which both help to define the concept and that the learners will understand.   For example, the concept of justice can be very complex.  But by helping young learners to think about fairness, how we recognize when something is fair, you are helping to lay the foundation for more sophisticated thinking about social justice when they are older.

In thinking about strategies for teaching concepts, it is useful to think of expository or deductive approaches and discovery or inductive approaches.[ii]  Using an expository approach, the teacher provides the age-appropriate definition directly, being careful to emphasize the critical attributes that are determined to be important.  However, it is important not to simply give a definition, ask the children to remember it, and then move on.  Rather, give the children experiences that will help them to more fully understand the concept.  This might be done by using examples and non-examples to draw the students’ attention to the critical attributes (or lack of critical attributes in the non-examples).  When they seem to have understood the concept, ask the students to explain it in their own terms and then to connect the concept with their prior knowledge.  Where does this idea fit in with what has already been learned?  You can assess their understanding of the concept by giving new examples and non-examples and seeing if they can discriminate between them.  A more advanced understanding of the concept might involve applying the idea to a new situation. An example of how the deductive approach is used in social studies teaching is shown in Strategy Example 1.

A discovery or inductive approach enables learners to construct their own definitions and understandings based on information and examples.  Using this approach, the teacher may provide, or elicit from the children, information about an important idea and have the children examine that information to determine what common characteristics they can see.  Children are comparing and contrasting    facts    and    information and determining for themselves what critical attributes tie these facts together.  The children can then be asked to supply a label which would be appropriate to group together like information; or the teacher can supply the label.  This can be reinforced with the use of more examples and non-examples. An example of how the inductive approach is used in social studies teaching is shown in Strategy Example 2.

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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