concept based learning


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IB is a framework that enables teachers to navigate through  the realm of concepts. It also allows students to imagine , recall , create  meaning and form a solid understanding of the world that they live in. However, concepts are difficult to teach; as teachers, do we always have to explicitly teach concepts? In what ways can we introduce a specific one to them?

I am a PYP teacher. At this time being,  I teach in the Early years. Too often, I can see Early Year teachers’ confuzzled faces about how and when they should introduce and dig deep into concepts.

I stumbled upon children’s books way, way back. As a newbie teacher, I fell in love to the endless possibilities of reading and learning using books not just as jump starters but a medium for me to smoothly walk my way through areas of learning and/or concepts ;such as growth and change, peace, conflict, interdependence, migration, etc. that seem too unreachable for children.

I started out with books that we have at home. I consider them my treasure, and from that small collection, it has grown and is continually growing. I have the new and the old collection. Modern and the not so modern books. But every time I get to read each one of them to children, a new idea pops up, thus, continuous learning not just for the students but for me as a teacher too.

Below is a list of time-tested books that as teachers , I feel and think should be part of our collection.

1.    Butter Battle Book By Dr. Seuss – concepts: conflict and peace

It is an anti-war story; specifically, a parable about arms races in general, mutually assured destruction and nuclear weapons in particular. ( wikipedia)

2.    Love You Forever By Robert Munsch– concepts: growth and change

Love you forever is a canadian picture book written by robert munsch and published in 1986. It tells the story of the evolving relationship between a boy and his mother. (wikipedia)

3.    The Great Kapok Tree By Lynne Cherry – concepts: interdependence, biodiversity, conservation

The great kapok tree is a story about conservation and about interdependence .

4.    A Chair For My Mother -concepts:relationships, interdependence

This is a story about a child, a  mother, and a grandmother who saves every dime to but a comfortable armchair after a fire destroyed everything.

5.    The Lorax By Dr. Seuss– concepts: conservation, environment

This book talks about the environment , the lorax  and how one selfish act made by the once-ler  caused environmental destruction.

6.    From Far Away By Robert Munsch – concepts:migration and conflict

This is a true story about a girl who left war-torn lebanon and migrated to canada. It is a story of a girl’s struggle in a foreign land and how the people around her and an author, helped her go through it.

7.    A Bad Case Of Stripes By David Shannon – concepts: influence, individuality, and understanding

This is a book about a girl’s struggle to be herself. She loves lima beans but her friends don’t so she felt ashamed, different and pretended that she dislikes it too. One day she wakes up to discover thick, solid-colored stripes on her school, the other children tease her and call out colors and patterns which cause the colors on her skin to transform accordingly.

8.    It Takes A Village By Jane Cowen – Fletcher – concepts: culture, relationships

It takes a village is about an older sister asked to take care of her little brother. But while she was busy doing other tasks, the people around the market kept  their watchful eyes on her little brother.

9.    Amazing Grace Series By Mary Hoffman – concepts: relationships, understanding, perspective

A series of books that tell about the life of a girl, grace ,on how she got through the different challenges in her life and how her family helped her along the way.

10. The Sneetches – concept: societies (discrimination)

This book discusses discrimination between races and cultures. It shows  dr. Seuss’s opposition to antisemitism.

The list could go on and on. And to answer the question I posted above, yes, we do have to at one point introduce the vocabulary to children. But we do not have to always do the explaining. If we introduce and embed concepts through stories, inquiries, and well-planned activities, then children will figure it all out  and eventually get the deeper meaning of what we want them to understand.

Hazel Ann Barbasa

Sekolah Bogor Raya




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PYP 2 students  just finished learning about how processes work in creating products, under a unit of HOW WE ORGANIZE OURSELVES.  Students had shown prior knowledge of some concepts, such as function,  change. process and product.  I sent the students a link of a movie that I made at the beginning of the unit. They have to discuss the movie with their parents at home. When they came back to school the next day, they came with some ideas to share, and were ready to classify some products that I brought from home.  I usually call this teaching strategy a Flipped Classroom approach.

Students were learning by  visiting a cow farm to feed the cows and goats, milk cows, and they went to  hydroponic garden to see the  examples of  the cultivation process.  They experienced processing the raw materials such as milk into pudding, or other materials such as paper into a story book or crafts that they made  in the classroom.

Distribution Concept

In the 4th week, students started to learn how products are distributed. It  still needed one more process to reach consumers.  I asked them to have a short chat with their neighbour about any products that they have used.  Then they explored some products made in other countries that my partner and I provided.  The students came up with the ideas of brand, package, location and destination of the products, and also the ideas of export and import.

Students have had enough experience to start to interview their parents and did some research to find more products which were exported or imported.  They watched movie to find out more information about it, too.

Showing a world google map is one of the strategies that  provoked the students to think about how products are distributed around the world. They were challenged to imagine how long  products to arrive in a destination by looking at the map.  They also thought about the transportation needed to distribute large amounts of products.  The students constructed their own conceptual understanding about distribution by finally making a flowchart of how they produced their own product at the end of the unit.



Sekolah Ciputra-Surabaya


English Language Support and the PYP

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The purpose of ELS is to support students to develop the language needed for learning so that they can actively participate in the PYP.

ELS and the Learner Profile

The ELS classrooms are supportive spaces where students work in small groups. Our ELS essential agreement is displayed and gives an example of a learning behaviour which demonstrates an attribute of the learner profile. The ELS teachers model the learner profile attributes in their teaching and learning.  ELS teachers explicitly provide feedback to the students when they display an attribute of the learner profile.  Risk taking is highly valued in the ELS classrooms as students build confidence and skills to ‘have a go’.  Students reflect on their learning at the end of each lesson.  Every fortnight a Primary ELS student is recognised with a PYP certificate for demonstrating the attributes of the learner profile.acg-1

ELS and Key Concepts
ELS learners have the opportunity to construct meaning by exploring English words using some of the key concepts. We use questions to explore the concepts. Here are two examples:


  • Form: What does a contraction look like?
  • Connection: How is the contraction connected to the original two words?
  • Change: How do the two words change?
  • Function: How does the apostrophe work?
  • Reflection: What have you learned today about contractions?
  • Reflection for teachers: What worked well and what would you do differently next time?

Word building: constructing morphemic knowledge

  • Change and function: How does this suffix change the function of the word?
  • Connection: What other words can be built from the base word?
  • Form: What letters do adverbs often have at the end?
  • Causation and function: What prefix causes the word do have an opposite meaning?
  • Reflection: What have you learned today about words?
  • Reflection for teachers: What worked well and what would you do differently next time?

ELS and Units of Inquiry

Classroom and ELS teachers collaboratively plan teaching and learning tasks. Planning is documented and resources shared. This means that ELS teachers support the students to:

  1. understand and use key vocabulary so they can participate in class discussions
  2. use writing frames to support development of writing in a particular genre
  3. read texts, with a lower Lexile, related to the unit

The ELS teachers also:

  1. explicitly teach research skills
  2. source, and where needed, rewrite documents for research that are accessible
  3. develop differentiated assessments, including rubrics and checklists
  4. provide intensive support for ELS students as they develop their Exhibition.

In addition, through our work with the students, we support the development of the PYP transdisciplinary skills, in particularly thinking, communication and research skills.acg-2

Melinda Mawson-Ryan

Senior ELS Teacher

ACG School Jakarta

Making Concepts Visible

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For a long time I thought that concept-based learning was an idea that was too vague to implement, until I participated in an IB “Concept based Learning” in-school workshop back in 2013. The workshop itself didn’t answer all of my questions but it brought me to my own conclusions related to my queries about inquiry based learning. Here is some of what I’ve learned. To make an inquiry model work in your classroom you need to focus on concepts rather than outcomes within teaching and learning and in order to engage students you must make these concepts visible in your classroom.

One strategy that I use is to create a concept chart. On the chart I put the concept of the day (micro concept) and the key question.  This becomes the focus for my lessons rather than a single objective.

“Tune in the learner into a concept, not a topic”. Kath Murdoch

This is one of my favorite quotes which inspires me to ensure that I start every lesson, by introducing the concept and saying, “Today we’re going to learn about this concept…”  I usually show them the concept on the chart and then I continue by stating the key question.  “So by the end of today we’re able to answer this question….”sc 1

By using this routine, students are more focused on the targeted concept to understand and to explore during the lesson. By making it visible, we can always refer to it anytime. Since it’s only one word, it’s easier for everyone to stick to this idea.  Of course, in order for students to do this, they must be familiar with the key concept in relation to this related/micro concept.

A follow-up strategy is to list all the related concepts under the key concepts, again for the purpose of always referring back to it and showing that we’ve learnt about it.

By using this simple strategy to make the concept more explicit and visible in the classroom, I think the teaching learning in my classroom is improving. We’re no longer trapped within routines focused on knowledge and skills. Instead the exploration of concepts becomes wider and students’ understandings are becoming deeper.

I’m currently teaching Visual Arts and this approach is still relevant in my art lessons. I hope it’s useful for you too.

Yan Yulius – PYP Coordinator at Sekolah Ciputra Surabaya.