Learning with Concepts is a methodology that involves exploring universal ideas such as change and community. It can be applied across different disciplines and provides opportunities for learners to engage with the curriculum in an active, personalized, and memorable way. It also fosters creativity and critical thinking skills and helps learners to become more independent. Beyond this, by linking concepts to the world outside the classroom, we can provide opportunities for learners to see the positive effects their actions can have.
If you’re looking to integrate Learning with Concepts into your English language classroom, here are some ideas to get started.
1. Choose concepts that are relevant to your learners
Use your learners’ needs and interests as a starting point. Many concepts, such as identity and creativity, can be explored and revisited at different stages in a meaningful way. A concept like freedom might work very well with older teenagers but be more difficult to tackle meaningfully in the pre-primary classroom. If you have a particular topic or language area to teach, consider what concepts it links to. For example, if you need to cover jobs vocabulary, it could be an opportunity to explore the concept of community or cooperation.
2. Start at the end
Think about what understanding of the concept you want learners to work towards. For example, if you’re exploring the concept of communication with very young learners, you might want them to reach the understanding that we can communicate in lots of different ways. From here, think about the ideas that underpin that understanding: who we communicate with; what language(s) we use; how we use our voices, faces, and body language; how we use writing, pictures, and technology.
3. Match up the concept and the language
From these ideas, you can start to pin down the language that learners will need to build the concept. For example, if learners are going to explore how people communicate with facial expressions, they will need to be able to talk about feelings and parts of the face. Identify the new language learners will need, but also look for opportunities to review known language.
4. Find out what your students already know
This is a very important stage in using concepts effectively. Even the youngest learners come to the classroom with different experiences, knowledge, and understanding, and this profoundly affects how they learn new concepts and language. Introducing the concept in an exploratory way allows you to assess the concepts and language that your students already have. For example, you could use visuals to stimulate discussion or do a hands-on activity such as sorting or modelling. This enables you to identify gaps but also interests. If a student already knows a lot about something, could they share their knowledge with others? If a group of students is interested in the same thing, could this form the basis of a project?
5. Aim for a variety of activities
By approaching a concept in different ways, you enable your learners to deepen their understanding while also accommodating their different needs and preferences. With young learners, stories can be a great way to explore concepts from different viewpoints. Photos and videos can help to anchor concepts in real-world contexts, both familiar and unfamiliar. Games and role-play provide opportunities for learners to play with language and concepts. Finally, hands-on activities and projects (e.g. science experiments or creative crafts) can create memorable learning experiences, particularly when they are linked to the world beyond the classroom walls.
6. Be flexible
One of the most exciting aspects of teaching with concepts can be its unpredictability! While preparation and resources remain important, students’ interests and ideas may mean that some activities take more time than planned or may lead you in directions you hadn’t anticipated. By allowing space for this in your planning, you can make the most of the opportunities that arise and ensure that your classroom is a motivating and inspiring space for your learners.
Concepts and language are closely connected, so integrating concepts into your planning and making them a focus of your language lessons can be both rewarding and illuminating. If you are interested in finding out more about Learning with Concepts, download a free guide here. And if you are already using this methodology, please share your experiences and insights in the comments section.
Margaret Whitfield is a freelance writer and editor specializing in ELT materials for young learners. She is co-author of the Show and Tell kindergarten series and has contributed to many primary courses as well as the Reading Stars series of graded readers.