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Above Image: Children exploring the woods together © SolStock,

What is it?

The Key Concept Exploration learning strategy is used to teach and reinforce students’ understanding of key concepts. Students demonstrate their understanding of a concept by using appropriate vocabulary to define and describe a concept, apply the concept and relate the concept to similar concepts.

Why use it?

  • To help students use appropriate vocabulary when discussing and writing about concepts.
  • To provide a structure for students to explain their understanding of a concept using appropriate vocabulary.

How do I use it?

  • Before using this strategy, introduce its purpose to the students and provide a structured example to teach and model expected behaviours.
  • Provide students the blank Key Concept Exploration Template.
  • Discuss the four categories on the chart and what they mean; for example:
    • DEFINE: a definition of the concept (What is it?)
    • DESCRIBE: essential characteristics of the concept (What does it look like? What does it involve?)
    • APPLY: contexts in which the concept occurs (Where can I see it? When does it happen?)
    • RELATE: similar or related concepts (What is it similar to?)
  • Provide the students with a concept (e.g., Rocky planets, space agriculture or germination – see Tools and Templates below) or have the students individually select a concept to use with the Key Concept Exploration Chart.
  • Provide students with information, or have students seek out information in order to fill in the spaces on the chart using appropriate vocabulary.
  • Students can add to and refine their charts as they gather more information from other sources and learn more vocabulary related to the topic.

Tips for Success

  • Give students the opportunity to explain and elaborate on the ideas they have included in their charts.
  • This strategy is best used at the beginning of a unit of study. As the unit progresses, encourage students to refine their charts and reflect upon their learning. They could do this by using different colours of pen or marker, etc.
  • Provide students with a glossary or word wall to use when completing the charts.


  • Students can draw pictures in the chart instead of words.
  • Students could create multimedia versions of their Key Concept Exploration Charts using embedded images and videos to support written ideas.
  • Assign students different, but related, concepts and have them explain the relationships between concepts using their charts.
  • Have students’ understanding of concepts posted in the classroom and continue to add their ideas as they investigate and explore these concepts further and develop a deeper understanding.
  • Instead of using concepts, the chart could be used with objects, places and events.

Tools and Templates

Key Concept Exploration Generic Template pdf doc

Key Concept Exploration - Space Plants pdf doc

Key Concept Exploration - Rocky Planets pdf doc

Seed Investigation Key Concept Exploration - Germination pdf doc