Using the IB PYP Key Concepts

The concept map, making thinking visible.

What is A Key Concept?

I was asked recent to show a few of our teachers how I incorporate the key concepts into everyday learning. I felt that there may be a few more of you out there who’d also be interested. So, here we go.

The IB PYP now has 7 key concepts that are designed as the lens or  the “big picture”of which we look at our lines of inquiry within each of our six units of inquiry. ( 4 units for EYP)



A concept is a big idea- a principle or conception, that is enduring, the significance of which goes beyond aspects such as subject matter or place in time. “ Wiggins 1998
It is important that we don’t get bogged down with the idea that the key concepts are simply a continuum of questions. When we focus on 2-3 key concepts within each unit, we are able to bring the focus of the children’s thinking to a deeper level rather than shallow and broad. These key concepts can be brought together smoothly within our transdisciplinary teaching, allowing the children to learn authentically and across the disciplines, carrying the big idea into each subject area smoothly and conjoined. The key concepts are constantly visited and revisited as they children’s understanding develops and deepens as they progress through the PYP. 
“Making the PYP Happen”,a guide written by the IBO, is in constant use as I often return to it for reference and reminders. Very dog eared!

Developing Conceptual Thinkers: Begin with the QuestionsTo begin with, an activity that helps the children to think conceptually, brings them to the very basics of the key concepts and to the questions that are connected with each concept. These are commonly found on your classroom posters that are displayed with each PYP classroom. 

By cutting out pictures in magazines, the children are forced to become aware of their thinking as they look closely at those pictures and begin to become aware of their metacognitive thinking that is going on within. In other words, what are they wondering? The pictures that draw their attention are then cut out and glued into notebooks with their question or observation noted, They then have to categorise their thinking under the heading of each key concept. The thinking becomes much deeper than you would ordinarily expect to begin with. It is GREAT to reflect afterwards as the children share their thinking and the process of their thoughts. I like to have the children share under our document camera. It becomes particularly fun when we chat about the different perspectives. Reinforcing a great key concept already! 🙂 

CONCEPT MAPS: Inquiry is a process.

 As the children progress with their inquiry based thinking skills, introduce them to concept maps. These vary in form depending join the level that you re teaching. I have included a picture of my fifth graders using concept maps as a means to focus our thinking toward the key concepts that we would be including in our new unit.


The concept map, making thinking visible.

This was a provocation used to build connection between the big ideas and the new vocabulary.



Example of my math flip flap books, reinforcing the concepts within math,

Extend this with new spelling or vocabulary words. Have the children work in collaborative groups with a selection of 3-4 words.

Then, differentiating the words and the key concepts , let them make their connections between the words and the concpets that you have given them. I use this often at the beginning of our units and as we progress, so that they kids can add to their thinking and SEE how they have grown with their thinking. Often, the children CHANGE their thinking based upon the new knowledge that they have gained. 

Progressing with conceptual based thinking comes as you are constantly using the language across the curriculum. The example show how the key concepts are included within thinking in math and spelling practice. 
You and the children very soon get into the habit of thinking through the lens of the 8 key concepts. Thinking at this deeper level soon becomes second nature.
Please let me know if you have any specific questions that you’d like me to cover in the future.




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