Concept Based Learning & Making Thinking Visible

Concept Based Learning

I am a huge fan of inquiry based teaching and learning. After all, I am a die-hard IB PYP teacher. Anything that promotes thinking in an engaged manner and reinforces understanding excites me! Concept based learning looks at a given subject through the lens of concepts or “big ideas” and encourages the children to think about those big ideas rather than having a subject stuffed into a small box. It enables more connections to be made and, in my opinion, creates a more authentic learning experience where all subjects and skills can be utilised. Lets begin with The Concept Map!

The Concept Map-The idea of using background knowledge with inquiry and directing thinking strategies to create understanding in science.

                                        The concept map, making thinking visible.

Rather than “giving” students the answers, this form of making thinking visible develops the habit of inquiring in order to find the answers, using thinking strategies such as inferring, questioning, background knowledge and collaborative thinking, when they have to find the answers to their questions. Not to mention, making their learning rigorous and authentic. It is a good idea to model these maps prior. I have used a stand up game called ” Associations” to practise the skill.

Association- an Interactive Game

This involves about 5 or 6 children standing in front of the classroom. One child from the audience has to give the group a starting word such as ” Fish”. The first person standing up in the line will say aloud, ” Fish”. The next person in the line has to immediately think of a word that they associate with fish and say it aloud. And so on along the line. For example: Fish, ocean, shark, danger, drowning, safety, swimming etc. The group continues as far as they can. If one person pauses too long then they are eliminated and must sit down. I usually leave it til there are 2 children left standing. Those 2 remain standing and another 3 or 4 kids are selected to participate. It can also be timed, with a time limit set.

An Example: The Pre-Knowledge Activity

Our key concept was CONNECTION.


I gave the children six commonly known words related to the circulatory system and asked them to work together to show how the words connect. Each line connecting two words had to have a written association or connection. This was done in small groups, which for this vocabulary activity was arranged in ability groups. You can of course implement this with mixed ability groups too. For example: the word CIRCULATION and HEART was connected with a line and 2 words were written on the line showing how the children connected the two words. One group wrote, ” blood” and ” moving in a circle”along their line linking the words. As I chatted with them, they explained to me their thinking.  

You can see how they children used their knowledge of the heart having something to do with blood and their decomposition of the word circulation. They saw that part of the word looked like CIRCLE and thus they inferred that the word must mean moving in a circle and “perhaps it meant that the blood was moving around the body in a circle”!! Not to far from the facts, right? 🙂

The Post-  Knowledge Reflection: Showing How Their Thinking Has Evolved.

After several lessons and experiment activities around the circulatory system, the children had to add six additional, more complex words to their original concept maps. These had to be shown in a different coloured marker so that the ” before” and ” after” knowledge could be seen clearly. As they reflected on their prior knowledge, there were several corrections made, facts added and giggles stifled, as the kids noticed how much their knowledge of the subject had increased. Effective learning that can be used with any concept!
Many more ideas where the children can show their thinking tangibly can be found in the marvellous book, ” Making Thinking Visible” by Ron Ritchart. You can clink this link and find it on Amazon. Hope you can find some use with concept maps. Feel free to let me know how it goes.


~ Susan


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