Concept Attainment

Concept Attainment is an instructional strategy in which verbal or graphical examples are presented and students figure out the common attributes between, say, linear and non-linear functions or a villanelle and a sonnet. . This process enables to students to develop a set of attributes to clarify a concept.


  1. Use pictures, words, and/or actual objects to present both examples and non- examples of the concept.
  2. Present the examples in two columns . Always start with a “yes” example.
  3. Follow with a “no” example. The additional examples should be given in random order. Avoid giving too many “no” examples at one time. They are given to help clarify what the “yes” examples have in common.
  4. During the strategy, ask students for “yes” examples to verify that they are getting the concept.
  5. Once most students seem to have the concept, ask for attributes that describe it.
  6. Come up with a rule or a name for the concept.
  7. Have students discuss their thinking processes throughout the strategy.

As noted on Linda S. Neff’s Learning Theories Website, Concept Attainment focuses on the decision-making and categorization processes leading up to the creation and understanding of a concept. The pattern of decisions leading to concept attainment involve the following five general factors:

1) the definition of a task
2) the nature of the examples encountered
3) the nature of validation procedures
4) the consequences of specific categorizations
5) the nature of imposed restrictions.

Further Reading

How To Teach With The Concept Attainment Model

How to Use the Concept Attainment Strategy

Bruner, J.S., Goodnow, J.J. & Austin, G.A. (1956) A Study of Thinking. Chapman & Hall, Limited. London.

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