The Frayer Model was developed by Dorothy Frayer, Wayne Fredrick, and Herbert Klausmeier back in 1969. I believe I first heard of this model through my pal David Chung. Here’s how The Frayer Model works.
First, the Frayer Model is for teaching a concept. A theme I’ve noticed in the work of education researchers in the 1960s was moving students toward thinking about concepts, not just facts. I find it amazing that, in the 21st century, we’re still struggling to move away from isolated facts and towards bigger, abstract thinking – despite all of the work done 50-60+ years ago. I think, as a rookie teacher, I would have struggled to even explain the difference between a “concept” and a “fact.”
Facts are isolated details. They’re easy to test on a multiple-choice exam!
- Earth is the 3rd planet from the sun.
- A triangle has three sides.
- Noble Gasses have a full outer shell of valence electrons.
Concepts are more abstract. They will contain facts and examples. Because they’re abstract, they’re difficult to define. You can’t directly draw a concept, but you could create a symbol.
- Noble Gasses
(Update: Ok, I’ve had emails. Yes, you can draw a specific planet, but then you’re not drawing the concept of “planet.” You’re drawing the concrete idea of Jupiter. You can draw Asia, but you can’t draw “continent.”)
Here’s how The Frayer Model helps to fully explain a concept to students – and helps me, as the teacher, better understand a concept!
There are four pieces to the Frayer Model. When we introduce a concept to students, we will include:
- Definition – This is (hopefully) self-explanatory, but it’s worth noting that a mere definition is just the starting point. On its own, a definition is insufficient. That’s why we have three more pieces. If you use Depth and Complexity, this might be the concept’s 🏠 Big Idea.
- Essential Characteristics – What are some specific 🌻 Details that will refine the possibly vague definition?
- Examples. Give a few specific examples of this concept. I’ve seen folks use the ⏸️ Parallels content imperative as a symbol here.
- Non-Examples are things that this term or concept do not apply to. I love non-examples and they’re such an underutilized way to clear up a definition! You could use the ↔️ Paradox content imperative for this section.
It works for any concept, no matter the sophistication or content area. Here are three samples: “hero,” “lake,” and “prime number.” But you could use the Frayer Model to deeply understand concepts as wide-ranging as “quadratic equation” and “Shakespearean sonnet.”
Example for “Hero”
- Definition: the chief character in a story who typically possesses courage and other noble qualities, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize.
- Essential Characteristics
- Begins the story in a humble state
- Often encounters a problem too big for them
- Learns and grows during the journey to solve the problem
- Meets a mentor along their journey
- Finds friends to support them
- Successfully solves the problem
- Returns home as a new person
- Dorothy Gale (Wizard of Oz)
- Harry Potter (um, Harry Potter)
- Frodo Baggins (Lord of the Rings)
- Rey (Star Wars)
- Marlin (Finding Nemo)
- The Tin Man (Wizard of Oz)
- Dobby the House Elf (Harry Potter)
- Gandalf (Lord of the Rings)
- BB-8 (Star Wars)
- Crush the Turtle (Finding Nemo)
Example for “Lake”
- Definition: a large body of water surrounded by land
- Essential Characteristics
- Not part of an ocean
- Not flowing
- Deeper than a pond
- Can be natural or man-made
- Lake Tahoe
- Lake Michigan
- Great Salt Lake
- the Dead Sea
- the Pacific Ocean
- Amazon River
- Hampstead Ponds
- Nantucket Sound
Example for “Prime Number”
- Definition: a natural number greater than 1 that cannot be formed by multiplying two smaller natural numbers1
- Essential Characteristics
- Only factors are itself and one
- Must be whole
- Must be positive
- Always odd, other than 2
Now, the examples above were all typical school subjects, but you could use the Frayer Model to explain meta-topics. Create a Frayer Model for each of the prompts of Depth and Complexity.
Depth and Complexity tool of 🚦 Rules
- Definition: the laws, expectations, or hierarchies in a topic that need to be obeyed.
- Characteristics: if broken, there will be consequences; not always written down; can be changed; often created by people in charge;
- Examples: “No running on the blacktop,” “triangles must have three sides,” “(unwritten) no climbing Mr. Byrd’s bookshelf and jumping onto his desk”
- Non-Examples: “Bring in a tissue box if you have extras,” “some rectangles have congruent sides and some don’t,” “I weigh 155lbs”
Are you using a Universal Theme? The Frayer Model would be great for introducing Power, for example:
Universal Theme of 🏠 Power
- Definition: the capacity to influence other people or things (this is so tricky to create!)
- Characteristics: may be physical, emotional, or intellectual; can be natural or learned;
- Examples: tsunami, money, a queen, language, electricity, etc.
- Non-Examples: a speck of dust, a baby, a broken windmill (yes, you could argue against all of these! 😆)
When I first learned of the Frayer Model, I saw David Chung use it to define disciplines in the “Think Like A…” framework. You can see his work here under the Historian, Linguist, etc. links. Summarizing one of his examples:
Think Like a 👓 Linguist
- Definition: Linguists study sounds, words, and phrases as well as the history and culture of languages.
- Characteristics: Consider the cause and effect of history, culture, and etymology on a language.
- Example Task: Consider the way modern languages change and are influenced by cultural trends (David lists more example tasks).
- Non-Example Statements: (David doesn’t have this category, so I made this up) “Old words are not worth using”; “Big words are too hard”; “I’m more of a math person”;
You could create a Frayer Model to explain class expectations (“courtesy,” “service,” or “conscientiousness” might be great concepts to define) or to define what, exactly, a “teacher” is – and what’s a “student”?
Compare a complete Frayer Model to a mere definition and I’m sure you’ll see how powerful it is to offer essential characteristics, examples, and non-examples. Sometimes it even pushes me as the teacher to clarify what the concept really means!
Oh, and here’s a commonly used graphic organizer to represent the Frayer Model (PDF).
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