Facts, Concepts, and Generalizations -

Explanations, examples, and instructional ideas



    • The American flag is red, white, and blue.
    • My birthday is in January.



Flowering plants have flowers that develop into fruits, roots, stems, and leaves.

The following are also concepts: flowers, light, magnifying glass, animals, rock, soil, erosion, magnet, force, energy,

Concepts summarize and categorize objects. The difficulty of learning a concept depends on the number of characteristics, the abstractness or concreteness, and the reasoning that connects the characteristics.

The abstractness of a concept is related to how the concept can be experienced.

  • Sensor - often physical observation and manipulation of the actual object(s): playing with a puppy, bacon sizzling, burnt toast, solids, liquids…
  • Concrete visual representation with models or diagrams or mental images: solar system, cell, heart, mixture, solution, temperature...
  • Abstraction where physical observation and manipulation are not possible. Examples: atom, star, fission, fusion.

Concepts are best introduced through physical observation and manipulation (hands on exploration) followed by a grand conversation; that provides a concept name, other examples, and non examples. Some concepts can be experienced at all three levels: temperature hot - cold to touch, concrete as read on a thermometer, and the abstractness of average kinetic molecular energy.

Concepts can be made more concrete by defining them operationally (see science).



  • Magnets attraction is stronger the closer they are to each other.
  • Solids dissolve faster if they are smaller and the solution is warmer.
  • Cold water will freeze faster than hot.
  • Hot water will freeze faster than cold.

Generalizations are summary statements of relationships between concepts, summary statements of cause and effect, or summary statements of predictions of future relationships.

Generalizations are powerful as they provide a way to consolidate information to make it more usable and easier to remember. Laws, principals, and theories are all kinds of generalizations. These generalizations require the connection of concepts by a relationship. Relationships can only be built with direct observational evidence and reasoning. Good teaching practices will mediate both.


  • Evaporation will increase as the surface area, air movement, and temperature of the liquid increases.
  • Plants grow from seeds. Generalization because it has three concepts plants, growth, and seeds. It can also predict future occurrences of the relationship - plants growing from seeds... It is also a summary statement not a one time occurrence.
  • An implication for teaching is that in order for students to generalize, they must have multiple examples from which to construct a generalization.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©