Concept Attainment

What is Concept Attainment?

Concept Attainment is an indirect instructional strategy that uses a structured inquiry process. It is based on the work of Jerome Bruner. In concept attainment, students figure out the attributes of a group or category that has already been formed by the teacher. To do so, students compare and contrast examples that contain the attributes of the concept with examples that do not contain those attributes. They then separate them into two groups. Concept attainment, then, is the search for and identification of attributes that can be used to distinguish examples of a given group or category from non-examples.

What is its purpose?

Concept attainment is designed to clarify ideas and to introduce aspects of content. It engages students into formulating a concept through the use of illustrations, word cards or specimens called examples. Students who catch onto the idea before others are able to resolve the concept and then are invited to suggest their own examples, while other students are still trying to form the concept. For this reason, concept attainment is well suited to classroom use because all thinking abilities can be challenged throughout the activity. With experience, children become skilled at identifying relationships in the word cards or specimens. With carefully chosen examples, it is possible to use concept attainment to teach almost any concept in all subjects.


How do I do it?

Steps of Concept Attainment:

  1. Select and define a concept
  2. Select the attributes
  3. Develop positive and negative examples
  4. Introduce the process to the students
  5. Present the examples and list the attributes
  6. Develop a concept definition
  7. Give additional examples
  8. Discuss the process with the class
  9. Evaluate

A Math example:

How can I adapt it?

This activity can be done on the chalkboard, chart paper or overhead projector to a large or small group. It also works well as one-on-one work. Rather than starting with the teacher's concept, use a student's concept. Concept attainment can be used to introduce or conclude a unit of study.

Variations on the Concept Attainment Model

Assessment and Evaluation Considerations

Have the students: