Key Concepts PYP

Paul Main

What are the PYP Key Concepts and how can they be utilised to develop deeper conceptual understanding?

What are the PYP key concepts?

The Primary Years Programme (PYP) is an inquiry-based learning framework that aims to develop the whole child, while identifying the importance of the educational, emotional, social, physical and cultural development of children aged between 3 and 12. The curriculum has greater grade level expectations from students as well as sets high standards. As learning information is a key part of the PYP program, more focus is given to the process of learning and students’ understanding and awareness of ways to learn. As students grow into lifelong learners, they realize that learning is related to finding answers, asking conceptual questions and being curious that results in asking deeper questions.

PYP stands for Primary Years Programme, and it's the core curriculum for students who study IB Diploma (the highest level). The PYP consists of four subjects: Language and Literature, Sciences, Humanities, and Arts. Each subject is divided into three units: General Studies, Key Concepts, and Extended Essay.

Students take the PYP over the course of six years, beginning when they're seven years old. They complete the program in three phases: Pre-IB, IB Diploma, and Post-IB.

General studies cover topics such as history, geography, mathematics, science, social sciences, technology, and world languages. Key concepts include the five knowledge areas: People & Society; Natural Science; Technology & Engineering; Mathematics; and Design & Production. Finally, extended essays require students to apply their knowledge to real-world problems.

What are the essential elements of the PYP framework?

The PYP framework includes 5 essential elements:

These elements are created through 6 themes which are applicable across all of the subjects. The themes include:

  • Who we are;
  • How we express ourselves;
  • Where we are in time and place;
  • How we organize ourselves;
  • How we share the planet and
  • How the world works.

The breadth of knowledge is investigated from global and local perspectives within a unit of inquiry. The IB standards are supported by an effective approach to teaching and follow best practices in education. Experienced educators collaborate while planning units of inquiry both as a whole faculty and as grade teachers belonging to any grade level team.

The IB retains a learner profile of particular skills that schools must build in learners at every grade of IB which has a positive effect on school culture. The IB Learner Profile strives to develop students into reflective individuals, risk-takers, thinkers, inquirers, principled, communicators, knowledgeable, balanced, caring and open-minded. The main objective of all IB programmes and PYP, as mentioned by the International Baccalaureate Organization, is to “develop globally minded persons who, identifying their mutual humanity and shared control of the planet, help to build a more peaceful and better world. Many schools strive to achieve the goal of developing lifelong students who positively contribute to society.

The PYP Key Concepts
The PYP Key Concepts

What are the PYP Key Concepts?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme includes 8 PYP Key Concepts, which students need to apply to their learning to give their inquiries meaning and direction.

The concepts that drive the PYP are abstract, timeless and universal.

  1. Form: The factual knowledge that everything has, form with identifiable features that can be categorized, described, observed, and identified.
  2. Function: The knowledge that everything has a role, a purpose, and a way of behaviour that can be assessed.
  3. Causation: The knowledge that nothing happens without any reason, causal relationships are built at work, and actions have outcomes.
  4. Change: The knowledge that change is a universal and inevitable process of movement from one state to the other state.
  5. Connection: The knowledge that everyone lives in an interacting systems world in which the actions of an individual element affect other elements.
  6. Perspective: The knowledge that learning is moderated by perspectives; various perspectives result in different findings, interpretations and understandings. The perspectives can be cultural, group, individual or disciplinary units.
  7. Responsibility: The awareness that individuals make choices on basis of their actions and understandings, and their actions occur as a result of making a difference.
  8. Reflection: The knowledge that there are numerous ways of knowing and that it is crucial to reflect on our decisions, to consider our procedures of reasoning, and the reliability and the quality of the evidence people have considered.

In every unit of inquiry, these PYP Key Concepts are identified, so students can apply them to various topics. Also, they could use any one of these concepts across different contexts or topics, helping them to make engaging, incisive observations and learn beyond the regular curriculum design. For example, they might be able to make connections between concepts present in both art and mathematics (like patterns).

Develop PYP Key Concepts with Graphic Organisers
Develop PYP Key Concepts with Graphic Organisers

What is the IB Learner Profile?

The IB maintains a learner profile of specific skills that schools must develop in students at every level of IB which has a positive impact on school culture.

  1. Caring: A learner must be helpful to others, thoughtful, empathetic, considerate, and knows how to act as part of a group.
  2. Open-minded: A learner needs to listen to others' innovative ideas and thoughts, and understands that there is more than a single way of doing things.
  3. Balanced: A learner must use his time intelligently, and take part in a range of activities.
  4. Risk-taker: The learner must not be afraid of making mistakes, and needs to be prepared to try new and unfamiliar ways to do things.
  5. Principled: The learner needs to be honest, responsible, make good decisions, and has a sense of justice and fairness.
  6. Inquirer: The learner must not give up easily and ask a lot of useful questions and, does not give up easily.
  7. Thinker: The learner must be able to use his/ her knowledge and can add to his/her own and other persons' ideas.
  8. Knowledgeable: The learner must have the interest to learn more about self, other persons and the world.
  9. Communicator: The learner must express thoughts and feelings about the curriculum framework.
  10. Reflective: The students must think about their learning, actions and a variety of ways to do things.

What is the goal of PYP Key Concepts?

The PYP key concepts have been established to be universal, abstract and timeless. They help students to engage in abstract thinking and conceptual thinking to cope-with tricky ideas.

PYP Key Concepts can help learners to deal with knowledge in transdisciplinary themes, which the IB intends to encourage. This kind of learning is not limited to factual concepts and content, helping students to engage with broader concepts that can motivate inquisitive, creative and critical thinking.

There are eight key concepts identified by the PYP. These concepts are formed to encourage an in-depth understanding of conceptual topics, opposite to a 2-dimensional facts repetition. By promoting deeper levels of engagement with learning, the PYP can assist students to acquire some crucial transferable skills to implement in all their topics and even in their professional life.

Enquiry learning process rooted in concepts can help promote proper meaning and deeper understanding while enabling learners to tackle abstract organizing ideas and topics. Conceptual learning is also crucial for encouraging an interdisciplinary approach, whereby links are made between different subjects and content. This ability to link across topics is vital in further education, as well as beyond school, so it’s an important skill to encourage.

Concepts help to learn community go far beyond the basic facts, leading to a truly in-depth conceptual understanding and inquisitive approach to learning.

Embedding Key Concepts across the Curriculum
Embedding Key Concepts across the Curriculum

What about the PYP approaches to learning?

The Approaches to Learning in PYP include transdisciplinary themes that are important for students learning both inside and outside the classroom. These are the tools that students use across all subject areas to develop into successful students. Students get the opportunity to practice these skills and reflect on how they apply these skills to their everyday learning.


1. Thinking

  1. Acquisition of Knowledge: Gaining specific vocabulary, central idea, and facts; memorizing in a similar format.
  2. Comprehension: Understand meaning from content learned; interpreting and communicating learning outcomes.
  3. Analysis: Taking ideas or knowledge apart; segregating them into parts; detecting relationships; finding distinct characteristics.
  4. Synthesis: Combining components to develop wholes; developing, designing, creating and innovating
  5. Evaluation: Making decisions or judgments on basis of chosen conditions, standards and criteria.
  6. Dialectical Thought: Understanding and thinking about 2 or more different opinions at the same time.
  7. Metacognition: Analyzing an individual's and others’ thinking; thinking about how to think and learn.
PYP Thinking

2. Social

  1. Accepting Responsibility: Accepting and properly completing tasks; being ready to take responsibility.
  2. Respecting Others: Carefully listening to others; taking decisions on basis of equality and fairness; understanding that others' viewpoints, beliefs, ideas and religion can be different and expressing one’s viewpoint without hurting others.
  3. Cooperation: Working in collaboration in a group; showing courtesy to others, taking turns, sharing things.
  4. Resolving Conflict: Carefully listening to others; being fair; compromise.
  5. Group Decision-Making: Discussing ideas; listening to others; working for consensus, asking questions about challenging topics.
  6. Adopting a range of group roles: To understand what behaviour is reasonable in any situation and perform accordingly.

PYP Social
PYP Social

3. Communication

  1. Listening: Listening to others; listening to information; listening to directions.
  2. Speaking: Speaking in a clear voice, expressing ideas logically and clearly.
  3. Reading: Reading a range of sources for pleasure and information, and interpreting what has been read.
  4. Writing: Recording observations and information; keeping a record or journal; writing notes and paraphrasing.
  5. Viewing: Analyzing and interpreting multimedia and visuals; understanding how they express ideas, beliefs and values; making informed decisions about personal viewing experiences.
  6. Presenting: Developing multimedia and classroom posters for different purposes and audiences.
  7. Non-Verbal Communication: To understand the meaning of kinesthetic and visual communication.

PYP Communication
PYP Communication

4. Self-Management

  1. Gross Motor Skills: To develop skills using groups of large muscles.
  2. Fine Motor Skills: To build skills involving precision in small muscle systems.
  3. Spatial Awareness: Showing sensitivity towards the position of objects concerning oneself or each other.
  4. Organization: Effectively planning current events and performing activities.
  5. Time Management: Using time appropriately and effectively.
  6. Safety: Engaging in behaviours that do not place oneself or others at risk.
  7. Healthy Lifestyle: Making informed decisions to accomplish a balance in diet, relaxation, rest, exercise and health.
  8. Codes of Behavior: To know and apply the applicable rules and procedures for groups of persons.
  9. Informed Choices: Selecting the suitable behaviour or course of action on basis of fact or opinion.

5. Research

  1. Formulating Questions: Recognizing what one wants to know and asking relevant and compelling questions.
  2. Observing: Using senses to identify relevant details.
  3. Planning: Constructing a course of action and identifying ways how to gain essential information.
  4. Collecting Data: Collecting information from a range of first or second-hand teaching resources.
  5. Recording Data: Defining and noting information in different ways.
  6. Organizing Data: Sorting and classifying the information and organizing in reasonable formats.
  7. Interpreting Data: Making conclusions from patterns and relationships that arise from data
  8. Presenting Research outcomes: To communicate whatever is learned; selecting appropriate media.

Build the PYP Key Concepts using the Block-Building Method
Build the PYP Key Concepts using the Block-Building Method

Promoting the PYP key concepts in your curriculum

How do we develop the deeper conceptual learning we all strive for? It's not just about letting students run with their own ideas through enquiry-based learning. Meaningful questions, appropriate scaffolding and connection-making activities all play an important part within concept-based teaching. Concept-driven learning requires students to take a satellite view of what they are learning and imagine the sometimes hidden implications. This type of pedagogy requires placing thinking skills higher up the agenda. Whilst remembering facts and figures is important, the emphasis of concept-driven teaching is helping students understand the bigger picture. Whether you are examining concepts of causation or concepts of perspective, students will need to see the deeper links that exist within the content. Some of the ideas that you might like to consider include:

  • Utilising the universal thinking framework for planning for understanding. This took it allows teachers to unpick concepts with ease. The critical thinking skills can be sequenced together to help teachers visualise what progress looks like.
  • Graphic organisers can be incorporated into the learning process to help students visualise the IB PYP key concepts.
  • If you want to take a more creative approach to embed the IB PYP key concepts into your classrooms, you might consider how the block-building methodology promotes connection-making habits of mind.
  • A good key question can really drive curiosity forward. The bank of meaningful questions that accompany the thinking framework allows teachers to generate 'in the moment' deep questions.