As a rookie gifted ed teacher, I learned Hilda Taba’s “Concept Formation” model and it blew my mind. This model can be a bit intimidating at first. You’re going to give your students a lot more control than you may be comfortable with. But you can do things with this model that are simply impossible with direct instruction or other more traditional types of lessons.
Your class is going to moving from specific examples to categories to a big idea. If you use depth and complexity, we’re going from 🌻 Details to 🌀 Patterns to 🏛️ Big Ideas.
- Brainstorm Examples As a whole group, your students generate a giant brainstorm of examples of your topic. Aim for fifty or more details or examples.
- Categorize Examples Students put the examples into 3 to 5 larger categories of their choosing. Part-way through this step, I move students from whole group to small groups.
- Label Categories Once the 3-5 categories are filled, students generate 1-2 word labels for each category.
- Generalization Finally, each group will write a big idea statement using the labels.
Notice that students move along the spectrum of abstraction. They turn specific details into abstract categories and then into an even more abstract generalization. This experience generates divergent thinking since students will arrive at very different (but still correct) big ideas in the end.
Example: An Inductive Lesson About The Nile River
We begin this inductive lesson by brainstorming all the details we know about The Nile. Students have to be armed with facts before they can build big ideas. I ran this lesson at the end of a unit, so my kids already knew a lot of details. You could also have them read their textbook, watch videos, and read articles in order to gather facts.
We collect all of their facts about the Nile onto a big group graphic organizer. Kids would shout them out and I’d frantically type them in.
A possible, way too small, brainstorm:
|The Nile River|
|Provided freshwater||Source of papyrus||Flooded every year|
|Floods wiped out settlements||Flood plains were rich with soil||Egyptians could travel quickly on boats|
|The Nile was a major trade route||Enabled Egyptians to reach the Mediterranean Sea||Provided food through fishing|
You want lots of details for students to manipulate. Dozens of facts. Fifty or so.
Now, students (in small groups or individually) begin finding groups of details that share some common element. Start with pairs, and then grow them into larger groups. Students get to have some freedom here in deciding how things are related. We’re moving to “Analyze” on Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Once the details are all categorized, then students label their groups. We do this at the end so that the groups can remain fluid. Kids might change the why of the group as they’re thinking so we don’t make the groups’ names official until now. We’re also moving up another level of abstraction as kids squeeze all of the meaning in their group down to one or two words.
I might, for example, group my Nile River details into three groups labeled: travel, food, and danger.
Then, using those group names, students develop a generalization encompassing their understanding of the Nile.
The benefits of travel and food outweighed The Nile’s many dangers.
Warning Kids will want to just list the categories: “The Nile was useful for travel and food, but also had danger.” Challenge them to move beyond this, offering some judgment or analysis in their statement. This will be the most challenging part of the lesson for them.
Of course, Student Group A will end up with a different statement than Student Group B, C, and D. This provides a fantastic opportunity for students to think about all of the different big ideas.
We could even extend this lesson by now introducing more facts about the Nile to test students’ generalizations. Does the big idea truly hold up?
So we saw an example using the Nile River, but here are some other ways I used inductive thinking:
- I did this after we read a story. We’d gather all the details about a character and then create a big idea statement about them.
- Put a bunch of math problems (or heck, even just a bunch of numbers) out as your “details” and ask students to group them however they’d like. I might ask them to avoid the most obvious groupings. What statement can we create?
- Throw a whole bunch of plural words on the board and then make groups (here’s a writeup for this one).
- Look at a dozen characters, form groups, and then construct a statement about them. I used this in my character archetypes lesson.
- Instead of class rules, get more abstract and form a class motto using inductive thinking.
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