Making The Abstract Concrete

Meghan PahlkeBlog, Connect Better, Differentiate Better, Engage Better, Lesson Plan Better


  • Students sometimes struggle with abstract concepts and need concrete examples.
  • Write stories to help teach them these concepts.

As educators, we strive to meet the needs of all of our students and build in as much differentiation as possible.  While our students dive deeper into the Depth of Knowledge levels and more secondary curricular content, students may need scaffolds and concrete examples to better understand abstract concepts.  

Stories can make the abstract concrete. Click To Tweet

How can we approach making the abstract more concrete?  Stories!

In my 7th grade co-taught math class, adding and subtracting rational numbers can be challenging.  Many students struggle to apply the fundamental concept that 1 + -1 = 0.  One of my colleagues (Shout out to Andy Baker!) created an awesome Integer Story.  At the beginning of our unit, the story is read aloud to students.  Even middle schoolers love to put their heads down, listen to a good story, and maybe even doodle pictures as the story progresses.

Within this story, students hear all about positive and negative knights fighting for control of the kingdom.  Through battles, students discover adding and subtracting negative rules.  The crux of the story reinforces the concept that 1 + -1 = 0.  After hearing the story aloud, we discuss the story and take notes on the negative rules they discovered.  As students progress through practice opportunities, many of them will reference the concrete example of knights fighting to ensure they’re correctly applying negative rules. 

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This story was a major “aha!” moment for both our students and myself. 

Practical Steps Integer Story Example
Pinpoint the concept you want to reinforce.  The concept 1 + -1 = 0.
Create a fun instructional comparison or simile.  Connect the concept with a common allusion.  Adding and subtracting integers is like positive and negative knights battling.  
Draft basic story elements: characters, conflict, beginning, middle, and end.  The positive knights fought with the negative knights for control of the kingdom. 
Build in “story-fied” practice problems or guiding instructional questions. 7 negative knights battled 4 positive knights and 3 negative knights won the battle.  -7 + 4 = -3
Plan how you will implement the story in your instruction/unit.  -Whole group notes to reinforce concepts

-References to the story throughout the unit

Stories can make the abstract concrete.  Seriously, our colleagues and our professional learning network are our best resources!  Trust me, you do not need to be a children’s book author to make the “story-fied” magic happen in your classroom!

About Meghan Pahlke

Meghan Pahlke is a 7th Grade Resource Special Education Teacher at Plano Middle School. Throughout her career, she has had the honor to work alongside eight phenomenal co-teacher teammates in math and language arts classes. Co-teaching is her passion, and she is dedicated to supporting teams to co-teach with parity. When she’s not teaching or talking co-teaching shop, she enjoys spending time with her husband and Goldendoodle, Murphy.