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Conceptual Flow and How People Learn

Developed by the K–12 Alliance/WestEd in 1989, a conceptual flow is both a process and a product. As a product, conceptual flow helps teachers array the big ideas that are important for students to know, the standards they are responsible for teaching, and the content presented in the instructional materials into one comprehensive, sequential chart. The conceptual flow differs from a concept map in that it addresses concepts in a unit of instruction and has both a hierarchy of ideas (indicating the relationships between and among the ideas) and a direction (i.e., the sequence for instruction of the unit). As a process, constructing the conceptual flow is a springboard for teachers’ conversations about teaching and learning. Although a conceptual flow can be developed by an individual teacher, it is best done as a collaborative process through conversation with colleagues.

There are five steps involved in developing a conceptual flow and you are encouraged to complete all five steps, but for the planning purposes of this unit, you may choose to follow steps one, two, and five to create a preliminary conceptual flow.

  1. Conduct an individual pre-think of the important concepts students should understand about a big idea in a discipline.
  2. Create a collaborative pre-think from the individual pre-thinks with the team.
  3. Match the collaborative pre-think to the concepts in the instructional materials.
  4. Align concepts from the collaborative pre-think and instructional materials to content standards.
  5. Review the progression of concepts and place them in an instructional sequence that provides strong links for student understanding.