Understanding Verbal Concepts: Impact of Language and Sequential Ordering

Verbal concepts are those that are readily explained, interpreted, and elaborated with language. As a student develops conceptual understanding, he/she is aided by the ability to talk about features of the concept, describe a concept in his/her own words, provide an explanation for the concept, etc.

In addition, many verbal concepts are organized sequentially, thus depend not only on language functions but on sequential ordering functions as well. For example, relationships of cause and effect, concepts that involve processes or procedures, and steps involved in much problem solving may depend upon both language and sequential abilities.

Here are some strategies to help students enhance their ability to understand verbal concepts.

Helpful Hints

  • Review frequently to double check for holes or gaps in students' knowledge of concepts.  
  • Use advance verbal warnings, for example tell students that today is a day in which five ideas are going to be presented; be as specific as possible and review and summarize frequently throughout the lesson. Cue students when important information is coming.  
  • Use summary charts and tables to reinforce students' understanding of complex concepts, ideas, and activities.  
  • Provide students with a preview of decontextualized words and phrases (language outside of their everyday experience) that will be a part of the lesson or reading. For example, preview technical vocabulary, outdated terms in literature, etc. Help students link decontextualized vocabulary words with more familiar, contextual terms to enhance their comprehension and consolidation of the terms into memory.  
  • Use alternative texts when appropriate: lower reading difficulty, simplified vocabulary, shorter sentences, highly illustrated, and reduced density of information.  
  • Guide students in developing their metalinguistic awareness (their ability to comprehend how language works and to reflect upon their own degree of understanding). For example,
    • Give students questions and sample tests through which they can assess their own progress.
    • Teach students how to apply the metacognitive KWL-Plus strategy to reading, listening, and studying: What I know, What I want to learn, What I have learned, What I need to review, What more I need to learn.  
  • Help students create visual images, pictures in their minds, to represent and remember concepts. For example, picturing a pizza with slices being taken away as a representation of ratio or proportion.  
  • Help students keep concepts organized by giving them charts, tables, concept maps, etc. as part of your instruction. Organizers can be in completed form, partially complete, or blank templates for students to fill in. For example, provide a template of a concept map for students to use during notetaking and studying.  
  • Encourage students to use computer applications with templates for organizing concepts, in which the student can move from outline form to concept map and vice versa.