Cognitive Development: Applications*

Citation: Huitt, W. (1997). Cognitive development: Applications. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date], from


Teaching the Preoperational Child
(Toddler and Early Childhood)
Use concrete props and visual aids to illustrate lessons and help children understand what is being presented.
  • Use physical illustrations.
  • Use drawings and illustrations.
Make instructions relatively short, using actions as well as words, to lessen likelihood that the students will get confused.
  • After giving instructions, ask a student to demonstrate them as a model for the rest of the class.
  • Explain a game by acting out the part of a participant.
Do not expect the students to find it easy to see the world from someone else's perspective since they are likely to be very egocentric at this point.
  • Avoid lessons about worlds too far removed from the child's experience.
  • Discuss sharing from the child's own experience.
Give children a great deal of physical practice with the facts and skills that will serve as building blocks for later development.
  • Use cut-out letters to build words.
  • Avoid overuse of workbooks and other paper-and-pencil tasks.
Encourage the manipulation of physical objects that can change in shape while retaining a constant mass, giving the students a chance to move toward the understanding of conservation and two-way logic needed in the next stage.
  • Provide opportunities to play with clay, water, or sand.
  • Engage students in conversations about the changes the students are experiencing when manipulating objects.
Provide many opportunities to experience the world in order to build a foundation for concept learning and language.
  • Take field trips.
  • Use and teach words to describe what they are seeing, doing, touching, tasting, etc.
  • Discuss what they are seeing on TV.


Teaching the Concrete Operational Child
(Middle Childhood)
Continue to use concrete props and visual aids, especially when dealing with sophisticated material.
  • Provide time-lines for history lessons.
  • Provide three-dimensional models in science.

Continue to give students a chance to manipulate objects and test out their ideas.

  • Demonstrate simple scientific experiments in which the students can participate.
  • Show craftwork to illustrate daily occupations of people of an earlier period.
Make sure that lectures and readings are brief and well organized.
  • Use materials that present a progression of ideas from step to step.
  • Have students read short stories or books with short, logical chapters, moving to longer reading assignments only when the students are ready.
Ask students to deal with no more than three or four variables at a time.
  • Require readings with a limited number of characters.
  • Demonstrate experiments with a limited number of steps.
Use familiar examples to help explain more complex ideas so students will have a beginning point for assimilating new information.
  • Compare students' own lives with those of the characters in a story.
  • Use story problems in mathematics.
Give opportunities to classify and group objects and ideas on increasingly complex levels.
  • Give students separate sentences on slips of paper to be grouped into paragraphs.
  • Use outlines, hierarchies, and analogies to show the relationship of unknown new material to already acquired knowledge.
Present problems which require logical, analytical thinking to solve.
  • Provide materials such as Mind Twisters, Brain Teasers, and riddles.
  • Focus discussions on open-ended questions which stimulate thinking (e.g., are the mind and the brain the same thing?)


Teaching Students Beginning to Use Formal Operations
Continue to use many of the teaching strategies and materials appropriate for students at the concrete operational stage.
  • Use visual aids such as charts and illustrations, as well a simple but somewhat more sophisticated graphs and diagrams.
  • Use well-organized materials that offer step by step explanations.

Give students an opportunity to explore many hypothetical questions.

  • Provide students opportunities to discuss social issues.
  • Provide consideration of hypothetical "other worlds."
Encourage students to explain how they solve problems.
  • Ask students to work in pairs with one student acting as the problem solver, thinking aloud while tackling a problem, with the other student acting as the listener, checking to see that all steps are mentioned and that everything seems logical.
  • Make sure that at least some of the tests you give ask for more than rote memory or one final answer; essay questions, for example, might ask students to justify two different positions on an issue.
Whenever possible, teach broad concepts, not just facts, using materials and ideas relevant to the students.
  • While discussing a topic such as the Civil War, consider what other issues have divided the country since then.
  • Use lyrics from popular music to teach poetic devices, to reflect on social problems, and so on.

Materials have been adapted from: Woolfolk & McCune-Nicolich. (1984). Educational psychology for teachers. (2nd Ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

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