Weekly Tribes Concept Attainment

In the words of Barrie Bennett and Carol Rolheiser in their book Beyond Monet:  The Artful Science of Instructional Integration, everything one sees, touches, feels, and tastes is a concept.  Concepts are the building blocks for communication…concept attainment is one approach that brings clarity to concepts – and clarity often enriches life.  Concept Attainment is an inductive strategy developed by Jerome Bruner.

I’m going to make this look easy, but I highly recommend you read further.  Beyond Monet is an excellent resource.

Here are the phases, followed by two examples – one for SEL, one for academic content:

1 – provide a focus statement and present the data set

2 – students share their thinking and hypotheses

3 – application and extension of the concept

Example #1 – Words of Appreciation (focus statement)

(data set) YES: thank – helpful – value – like

NO: nasty – stupid – hate – hurt

TESTERS: compliment – don’t – stop – enjoy

(Students share their thinking…and maybe add another word to each column, or write examples for each column [application and extension])

Example #2 – Good sentences for a ‘response to literature’ (This one is about the short story “The Lottery”)

(data set)


  • The reader is given some clues, like the name “Mr. Graves”, that there is something sinister about the lottery.
  • One point the author makes in this story is the danger of peer pressure.
  • I wondered why the author spent so much detail on people picking up rocks for a lottery, because the two don’t seem to go together.
  • I didn’t like the ending because it led me to believe that Tessie was killed, but it was never confirmed.


  • This story makes you sad cause someone dies.
  • If you win, you get killed – that’s messed up.
  • I didn’t like how unfair it was.
  • The point is you don’t want to win the lottery.
  • I like how you don’t know what is going to happen.


  • The ending was stupid.
  • The author makes you feel sad at the end because Tessie is killed for no reason.
  • It was a weird story, because it was so believable, until the end.
  • The author used foreshadowing and symbolism throughout the story.
  • The black box gives you the feeling that something bad is going to happen.
  • I thought the story was confusing.
  • I thought the story was confusing because I had a hard time understanding the way people were talking

(Students share their thinking, and then edit one another’s rough drafts, looking for sentences that need correcting [no ‘you’] or those needing more detail or explanation.)

Bennett and Rolheiser, in their 52-page chapter on Concept Attainment, write:  Remember:  It will likely take 15-20 practices before you and your students own Concept Attainment and it doesn’t own you!

We’d love to hear what you do with this.  Email us at tribes@tribes.com and we’ll post here on teachcommunity.com