Tag Archives: #keyconcepts

Key concepts – the lens that helps make meaning of the world around us

As a grade 5 form tutor, the PYP exhibition is never far from my mind. Though the exhibition culminates their learning experience, I need to prepare students for a meaningful expression of all aspects of the PYP framework. To that extent, I start reinforcing these elements – transdiciplinary learning, skills and dispositions, learner agency, action (among others) almost from the very start of the academic year.
In this post, I am sharing how I reinforced the understanding of one of the essential elements of the PYP – key concepts

This is how the official site of the IB defines key concepts

Key concepts

The PYP identifies seven key concepts that facilitate planning for a conceptual approach to transdisciplinary and subject-specific learning. Together, these key concepts form the component that drives the teacher- and/or student-constructed inquiries that lie at the heart of the PYP curriculum.


Students keep encountering key concepts – mainly through their units of inquiry – however, these are almost always already decided by the teachers and then shared with students.

In the PYP exhibition, however, groups of students will have to choose the key concepts and then frame the lines of inquiry themselves. This is authentic concept-based inquiry – a powerful vehicle for learning that allows students to choose what they want to inquire in depth – thus promoting deeper understanding and engagement with significant ideas.

‘Students co-construct beliefs and mental models about how the world works based on their experiences and prior learning’

To ensure that students have a crystal clear understanding of the key concepts – they needed to be explicitly taught and then applied in a number of situations by students independently.

How we started

I started with showing a video to students (link below)– it explains the key concepts by connecting them with a popular and well known story ‘The 3 little pigs’

Once they watched this video, they applied their understanding by framing questions based on the key concepts for some common objects that they are familiar with – a water bottle, an apple, and a soft toy.

Sharing some samples below –

How we progressed

This basic understanding was extended when we started with our new unit of inquiry on diverse learning styles. I wanted the students to have some basic understanding of the brain and its functioning before moving on to the different ways in which people learn.

Rather than frontload them with facts about the brain, I asked them – ‘What do you want to know more about the brain’

‘What questions do you have?’

‘Why do you think it is important?’.

The importance of framing meaningful questions cannot be stressed enough for meaningful inquiry. I love the way key concepts allow us to frame questions and look at a concept through different lens. I could already see the evolving understanding reflected in the meaningful questions framed by groups of students (each group was allotted 2 key concepts). What was amazing to see was the questions covered almost any and everything we would have wanted to explore about the human brain.


Made with Padlet

I could witness authentic guided inquiry happening in the class – students discussing and framing questions together.

The next step was answering these questions themselves. This was a guided process – I shared links for research and guided them in breakout rooms which I facilitated.

Through this process of creating a collated presentation – students gained the conceptual understanding and knowledge I intended for them – however, the process was such that they felt they answered their own questions – leading to an enduring understanding. Sharing some samples of the Google slide collated presentation where these questions were answered –

We don’t learn by doing, we learn by reflecting on what we have done

How we culminated

Not only is reflection important for developing metacognition – it is imperative that students identify what skills they developed along with gaining conceptual understanding.

We had a look at the ATL chart and mutually decided that during this activity research skills (gathering & recording and/or synthesizing and interpreting) and social skills (interpersonal) were in focus.

I encouraged students to use the vocabulary from the ATL chart (embedded in the Padlet for reference) and reflect meaningfully on the ATL developed.

Sharing some student reflections

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – Lao Tsu

My students and I have embarked together on this learning journey – sharing our small steps with the learning community ….

I would love to hear about how you are strengthening the essential elements in your classrooms...do share in the comments 🙂


Susan Powers shares 6 powerful tools every PYP teacher must absolutely try

Susan is an avid believer in the inquiry based process of learning, having taught mostly within the International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Programme.  She believes that by teaching children to wonder, and how to find out the answers to their questions, we are creating lifelong learners with a global outlook.

In response to your questions, Susan has shared below some wonderful insights which would help any educator progress in their own learning journey. Happy reading! A link to her blog is shared – some wonderful resources and ideas for questioning strategies, provocation, relfection

1. As a lifelong learner yourself, where do you go to find resources to keep up to date with the latest in education? 

I have my ear to the ground with the continuing updates and changes, strategies and tools for our profession. I largely use social media and also a few blogs, including the IB blog, ” Sharing PYP”, SonyaTerborg, Making Good Humans, IB Matters etc.  Our global community is a fabulous resource for sharing ideas and we are so open to recycling ideas from others, adding to them and sharing the results.  Its wonderful to see it all in practice across the age groups and across the world. 

2. Any tips for IB teachers just beginning in their journey?
  1. Find a mentor; whether this mentor is someone in school or someone within the wider community in our PYP world, its important to be able to have someone who can relate to your journey, guide you and to share ideas with as you learn the ropes. 
  2. Understand the key concepts and how conceptual understanding plays a part in our inquiries.
The seven key concepts

3. Get to know visible thinking routines that will work with the students you are working with and how to use them as part of developing thinkers and inquirers. 

3. Reinforce the effectiveness of a concept based curriculum and its role in inquiry

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 the children’s understanding develops and deepens as they progress through the PYP. We want to make sure that we refer to the concepts across the disciplines and not only within the context of the unit of inquiry. 

I am sharing below some sample questions related to each key concept – this amazing resource was created by Sonya Terborg and has helped me a lot in my planning

Concept-Question Cards.pages (wordpress.com)
4. Please share some practical tips/strategies to enhance learning using the key concepts and related concepts?

I’m going to share this strategy that I use at the beginning of the school year. Its copied from my blog. To 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. These can also be created by the children AS they learn about the key concepts, moving progressively through the POI. 

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 different perspectives. Reinforcing a great key concept already!  You can find more ideas in this article in my blog. 

5. How do I choose the appropriate reflection strategy for different subject areas – language, unit of inquiry, math? 

 I think its important to recognise that reflective thinking is a skill in itself and is included throughout the ATL skills. And so I begin by teaching the children what it means to BE reflective. We spend a lot of time practising and developing this attribute of the Learner Profile and it is applied across our TD inquiries. I have a journal that I use with the children as part of our daily routine. By developing an awareness of who we are as learners and also what it means to be reflective, the children are then able to bring this reflection cycle to all areas of their learning and not just the academic. ( I’ve created one for early years, little kids and big kids too). Specifically, I will involve the children in developing a bank of reflection questions that we can use throughout the year; we create checklists and graphs/charts to monitor and record our progress and we have lots of time for feedback. The real value comes from actually using this feedback (from the charts, graphs, conversation) and involving the children in taking the next steps, co-planning the inquiries and making it all very transparent that their reflections are being used meaningfully within their learning plans. 

 6. I often wonder if social and emotional self-regulation should be added as part of skills taught. How would you advise inculcating this in the next generation? 

With mindfulness having been added to the ATL Skills within Self-Management, I feel that the IB have acknowledged that this is in fact something that needs to be addressed with more consistency. There is a growing awareness of this thing we call ” mindfulness” and I feel confident that it is taking place in our planning far more than it ever has before. As we continue to embed the Learner Profile and recognise the connection between the ATL Skills and the profile attributes, we, as the facilitators, will be better equipped to bring this area of personal, social and emotional learning to the children’s attention in a more active manner that allows the children to make those connections with their immediate world as well as the world around them. As with all of the skills, we need to take time to explicitly teach the skills in order to enable implicit practice. 

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Lao Tzu

As committed educators, we are always on a learning journey, with the only goal being to improve the learning experience for our students. I consider myself fortunate to have equally committed mentors to guide me along this journey.