Practical ways to make your lessons more concept-based

Concepts are like containers for knowledge and understanding. They are like puzzle pieces which together provide a big picture overview. Concepts help students develop a deeper, transferable and cross-disciplinary understanding of overarching ideas. As the students move through PYP, MYP and possibly DP, they encounter these concepts in different areas and in different ways. For example, please see the Venn diagram of some of the key and related concepts in MYP Science, Individuals and Societies and the Arts. As you can see, there is quite some overlap between their subject-specific concepts.

Here is a checklist and a reminder for teaching ‘concept-based’:

  1. Do your students know what the key and related concepts in your unit are?
  2. Do you students understand what the concepts mean?
  3. Have your students had an opportunity to think about and engage with the concepts?
  4. Do you regularly refer to the inquiry questions in your unit?

Below are some practical ways to make your lessons more concept-based.  These are easy activities which you can use in your next lesson:

  • Concept mind maps: Create one with pen and paper or try out the program called MindJet MindManager. Examples of MindJet MindManager below:

  • Venn Diagrams: Note that the traditional two circle Venn diagram can be tricky to create if students are using a computer. In that case, I’d like to introduce you to the Squenn Diagram, it’s just a 3-column table:

  • Thinking Routine: CSI: Colour Symbol ImageStudents identify and distil the essence of ideas and concepts from their reading/viewing/listening and represent it in a way that doesn’t rely as heavily on the use of written or oral language.
  • SEE I presentation: State Elaborate Example Illustrate
    This works best with a complex and multifaceted definition/fact/idea/concept. Students can work in teams or a small group. You can also set it as homework.
    The aim is that students explain complex subject matter to each other using the following protocol:

    • State the idea clearly
    • Elaborate on the Idea: In other words, so this means that….
    • Exemplify: An example would be….
    • Illustrate with a metaphor or image: It’s like ….
      Source, Adapted from Paul & Elder (2013).

Example of SEE-I:

What is grammar?

State it: Grammar is a set of agreed upon rules for language and punctuation with the goal of clear communication.

Elaborate: In other words, grammar is a way of using words and punctuation so that as many readers as possible can agree upon the meaning.

Example: For example, we use grammar not just in English papers but in all oral and written communication. When that grammar is correct, we have a better chance of accurate communication.

Illustration: Grammar is like the rules of the road. When we all use the same rules, we have fewer accidents (breakdowns in communication) and we all get where we’re going safely (clear communication). b

A useful homework activity could be to divide key concepts/ideas/facts/events of your course among your students and get them to create a SEE-I for each of these.

  • Frayer model (See below) This is a graphic organiser for building vocabulary and understanding of concepts/ideas. Students generate examples and non-examples, giving characteristics, and/or drawing a picture to illustrate the meaning of the word/concept/idea/fact/event.

How to fold an A4 sheet for a Frayer diagram:  Fold the sheet in four. Take the closed corner and fold a small corner back on itself. Open up the sheet. You now have four squares and a diamond in the middle.

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