How to Introduce the Crosscutting Concepts

December 7, 2019 No Comments

The Crosscutting Concepts are one of the three dimensions in the Next Generation Science Standards.  They are often the last dimension that teachers try to incorporate into their lesson plans.  Here is a quick overview of the Crosscutting Concepts and some ideas of how to introduce the Crosscutting Concepts into your lesson plans.

What are the Crosscutting Concepts?

The Crosscutting Concepts are concepts that are found across science and engineering disciplines.  They were designed to help students deepen their understanding of the other two dimensions, the Science and Engineering Practices and Disciplinary Core Ideas.  They also help students to build common vocabulary between science and engineering disciplines.

There are seven Crosscutting Concepts.  These concepts are found in each grade-level band (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12).  The Crosscutting Concepts are:

  1. Patterns
  2. Cause and Effect
  3. Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
  4. Systems and System Models
  5. Energy and Matter
  6. Structure and Function
  7. Stability and Change

There are several subcomponents associated with each Crosscutting Concept which get more sophisticated in each grade level band.

When should a new Crosscutting Concept be taught?

Teach the Crosscutting Concepts in context. Teach them right before you ask students to use them in your classroom.  Then, students should apply the concept to a Disciplinary Core Idea or Crosscutting Concept.

Let’s review what a simple lesson sequence might look like. The instructional sequence might start a new phenomenon.  Students would use the Science and Engineering Practices to make sense of the phenomenon.  (For the sake of brevity, I left out additional support strategies that might be used to help students make sense of the phenomenon.)  Students would walk away from this lesson sequence with a better understanding of the disciplinary core idea and/or the crosscutting concept.

Sample Instructional Sequence Simple

I introduce a new Crosscutting Concept after students have investigated the phenomenon using the Science and Engineering Practice.  This is before students are asked to apply the crosscutting concept to this context.

Sample Instructional Sequence New Concept


How do you introduce a new Crosscutting Concept?

I like to start by assessing the student’s prior knowledge.   Students may have some familiarity with concepts like Patterns and Cause and Effect.  However, students will be less familiar with concepts like Systems and System Models or Stability and Change.

I also look at the prior experience that students are likely to have had with the Crosscutting Concept.  For example, when I am working with sixth-grade students, I may start by working with them on the 3rd through the 5th-grade band for a given concept and stay within this grade-level band until most students are showing mastery.

In  8th grade, I assume that students have had some exposure to the Crosscutting Concepts in the 6th-8th-grade band.  Unless I notice a weakness in a given practice, we will only look at the 6th- 8th-grade band.  If needed, I can refer back to the 3rd-5th-grade band as a scaffold for struggling students.

After assessing the students’ prior knowledge, I will use direct instruction to teach students about the concept.  In my own classes, students take notes directly into their interactive notebook, but I have also developed printable notes.

Structure and Function Pic 2.JPG

The first time that students see a Crosscutting Concept, I give students these notes.  Students keep these in their interactive notebook so that they can serve as a reference sheet later in the school year when the concepts come up again.

How can I help students make connections to the Crosscutting Concepts?

My favorite strategy is to use graphic organizers.  Graphic organizers can be used throughout a grade-level band.  Each time that students encounter a Crosscutting Concept, they can use the graphic organizer to make connections to the Disciplinary Core Idea or the Science and Engineering Practice.  Using the same organizer helps students to make connections and recognize patterns within a Crosscutting Concept. (Graphic Organizers and Notes for 3-5 Grade are available here.)

Structure and Function Pic 1

I also like to use exit tickets to help assess and reinforce connections to the Crosscutting Concepts on a much less formal scale.

Finally, devote an area in your classroom to the Crosscutting Concepts.  Refer back to this area each time that you make a connection to the Crosscutting Concepts.



Erin Sadler

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