…is a pattern recognition system that helps learners construct concepts and acquire academic or technical language in social, collaborative ways

This patented system is designed to coordinate across disciplines, using similar shapes and colors, as seen below. The hands-on version of the system is depicted in our Video Series and is a wonderful tool for increasing active engagement, academic discourse, and conceptual understanding. The digital version helps learners personalize their in-class experience, and has different instructional purposes as explained here.

View a screencast of Concept Construxions Digital

Concept Cards

Concept Cards are the hands-on and on-screen manipulatives of the system. Subject sets of 225 cards and Accessory packs of 75 cards represent a multi-grade collection of words, symbols, abbreviations, values and formulas used in a disciplinary context. Algebraic Concepts and Literature Concepts, for example, are Subject Sets useful in multiple secondary and post- secondary grade levels.


The same shape system cross-cuts all disciplines, thereby offering an infrastructure for academic language learning. Students move from class to class or setting to setting, and the system provides an anchor as they build understanding.

Click here to learn more about the shape system.


Color maintains consistency from year to year, supporting long-term vertical growth in major subject areas. For example, Concept Cards such as “equation” and “expression” remain the same from middle through high school, however the breadth and depth of each increases greatly as the math becomes more challenging. Students learn to negotiate meaning over time, and to use the domain-specific vocabulary with ease.

Click here to learn more about the color system.

Classroom Contexts™

Contexts On the back of each Concept Card is a space to note the context in which the class used a given term or phrase. These notes can be archived right on the card and kept for future reference. Click here to learn more.


One of the hallmarks of the Concept Construxions system is its focus on concepts. Thus, both single and multi-word phrases may be contained on a single card. This supports background knowledge-building in the content areas.



Values, time intervals, phase numbers, etc. – it is important that we call out which concepts relate to numeric and quantitative concepts.



When students advance in their studies, symbology becomes increasingly important to academic language acquisition. Variables, chemical formulas, operations, operations, weather map symbols, unit abbreviations, and punctuation marks can stymie even the most advanced thinkers

How is an English language learner supposed to know that CO2 is not a word? The triangle shape cues students to this symbology

It is important to be true to an academic discipline by honouring the conceptual categories that drive its discourse. However, when we step back and think about how those facile with terminology converse, we see that there is indeed a general superstructure that all disciplines seem to follow.

If you look closely at our colour categories, you will notice that the colours are loosely correlated across disciplines. That is, Blue always represents the rules and conventions of the discipline, while Brown denotes descriptors.

These colours are entry points for students; along with the shapes, they invite students to join conversations within the discipline. Never before have educators systematically endeavoured to offer a superstructure of academic language whose sole purpose is to offer access, to welcome future experts and generally informed citizens. As students move beyond these entry points, they will notice that some concepts work well in more than one category. This is an exciting learning moment! Take a marker of that second colour and have the student draw an additional border – or make a completely new card with a blank.

“Instruction that focuses on the multiple dimensions of a word will provide students with more secure knowledge than will instructional approaches that focus on only one of the word’s dimensions.”

Juel, C., & R. (2004). Making Words Stick. Educational Leadership, 61(6), 30-34.

Other Tips

The dry-erasable Concept Cards allow for translations, simple drawings, multiple forms of a word, and other annotations. The front and back of the card may be used as needed.

Lose a card? Take a permanent marker in the appropriate colour, pull a blank card from your set and make a new one!