Steping First into the Concrete

How do SDAIE strategies illustrate the need to teach from the concrete to the abstract?

When language is an issue, working in the concrete is essential.  Whether this means using pictures or student-centered demonstrations to instruct, anything that lets ELL’s demonstrate their capacity independent of language is helpful.  Success is the best scaffolding and beginning in the concrete is the best way to scaffold success for ELL’s. 

Díaz-Rico (2008) expresses it this way, “The challenge is to use concrete means to introduce abstract ideas (teaching with hands-on materials, visuals, and demonstrations to lead into those ideas that are difficult to demonstrate or that require more oral or written skills)” (p. 240).  As she says, once the foundation of the abstract concept is laid with these concrete means, it becomes easier to move towards the abstraction of higher understanding.  The challenge is to avoid the trap of talking more into the silence.  SDAIE includes many strategies for concrete, student-centered teaching.  The trick is to use them.

Expressing the same idea, Rothenberg & Fisher (2007) says, “science lends itself handily to concrete, hands-on experiences that build background knowledge, providing a foundation for abstract thinking and for reading and writing about academic topics” (p. 209).  Once again, we see that ideas tend to be best learned from concrete to abstract.  This is particularly true for learning with language challenges.  Fortunately, art, science, and math all lend themselves to working in the concrete.  The various aspects of ELA are more challenging, but pair, triad, and group-work add scaffolding and support to the process.  Techniques like storyboarding can be very helpful in any of the linguistic domains.  Regardless of subject, every effort must be made to begin in the concrete and use that foundation to move towards abstraction.

The idea that learning moves most easily from concrete to abstract is an old one.  Echevarria, Vogt, & Short (2008) remind us that Bloom’s Taxonomy “was formulated on the principle that learning proceeds from concrete knowledge to abstract values” (p. 102).  Using concrete learning strategies for ELL’s and non-ELL’s is just good teaching.


Díaz-Rico, L. T. (2008). A course for teaching English learners. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Echevarria, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2008). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP Model (3rd ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Rothenberg, C., & Fisher, D. (2007). Teaching English language learners: A differentiated approach. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Merrill Prentice Hall.

One comment on “Steping First into the Concrete

  1. Pingback: helping math make sense

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