What Is The Concept?

Patricia Seybert
1991 Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute

Definition: A concept is an idea generalized from particular examples.


The goal of the lesson is for students to systemically determine the concept that the waste items placed in a "yes" category are biodegradable and those in the "no" category are not. This activity is a motivating way to introduce a unit on wastes by having students use inductive reasoning to identify and describe the attributes of the concept and eventually derive the concept itself.

Teaching Strategy: Concept Attainment Method


This method uses inductive reasoning to develop a concept. There are variations to presenting a concept attainment lesson , but generally it has the following components:

  1. Describing the purpose of the lesson. (teacher)
  2. Stating the rules of student interaction. ( teacher).
  3. Providing a focus statement to help students concentrate on a specific area. (teacher)
  4. Presenting the examples in the form of onjects, pictures, words, equations, or symbols. (teacher)
  5. Defining the attributes of the examples. (students)
  6. Testing the understanding of the concept. (teacher and students)
  7. Labeling the concept. (students)
  8. Debriefing or unpacking thoughts. (students)


  1. The teacher presents different kinds of waste items, one at a time, to the students by holding the objects up in front of the class or walking around the room. Students may touch the objects.

  2. The teacher then places each item, as it is shown, on a table next to signs marked "yes" or "no". Items which are biodegradable are placed in the "yes" category and those that are not are placed in the "no" category. Alternate the placement of yes and no items and begin with only 3 or 4.

  3. Students record the items in the appropriate column on the data sheet and try to determine the concept.

  4. Initially, students should work independently (about 5 minutes). Students who know the concept should remain silent and write the answer on the data sheet and add their own examples to the "yes" category (Most students will not be sure or will be incorrect).

  5. The teacher adds a few more (2 -3) examples to the tables.

  6. Students then work with a partner to list and discuss the common attributes of the "yes" items. They combine their efforts to determine the concept.

  7. The attributes of the "yes" items are discussed with the entire class and contrasted with the "no" items.

  8. The teams then place the remaining items in the appropriate category and suggest additional items that could be placed on the "yes" table.

  9. Following the analysis and testing for understanding of the attributes, a team states the concept.

  10. Students describe their thought processes as they were solving the problem.

Examples of items which could be placed in each category:

Yes No
paperaluminum foil
leather itemsplastic pen and pencil cases
waxed paperglass items
cardboard boxesaliminum, tin, and bimetal cans
natural fiber fabricsvinyl items
wooden itemsplastic milk and soda bottles
cotton string and ropestyrofoam items
natural bristle brush with wooden handlemetal or plastic coat hangers
food itemsplastic combs and brushes

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