Concept Development for Students with Visual Impairments

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Concept development is one of the most important ways students with visual impairments can learn about the world around them. This lesson discusses what concept development is and how it works in students with visual impairments.

Understanding Concept Development

Will has been teaching students with visual impairments, or disabilities that affect their sight and capacity to process visual information, for five years.

This year, he has decided to focus on learning about concept development. Will knows that in the context of teaching students with visual impairments, concept development is a way of teaching about objects and their relationships with other objects that does not rely on sight.

Will is very interested in helping his students have meaningful interactions with the world around them. He knows that this will aid them cognitively and will also move them toward a capacity to function independently in life.

Will starts learning more about some of the strategies involved in concept development.

Teaching About Shape, Size, and Texture

First, Will is interested in using concept development to teach his students about the different objects they interact with on a daily basis. He knows that for a student who cannot see, or who has impaired vision, some of the aspects of an object must be understood conceptually, rather than concretely.

For instance, if a student cannot see an orange to know that it is a sphere, they will have to learn about the concept of a sphere and then find other ways to fit the orange into this schema.

In other words, Will wants to use concept development to teach students about shape, size, and texture.

Will knows that to teach about these characteristics, he will need to provide his students with as many concrete experiences as possible. He cannot simply talk to them about shapes and sizes; he needs to give students opportunities to touch objects, explore them with their other four senses, and use language to describe these objects on their own terms.

Teaching About Spatial Relationships

Concept development can also be used to teach about spatial relationships, or the distance between things and the way objects are oriented in space. Will knows that spatial relationship understanding can be crucial to keeping students with visual impairments safe. After all, if they cannot maneuver across a room or figure out how far it is to the edge of a swimming pool, they require a lot more guidance to remain safe.

Teaching spatial relationships can also help students with visual impairments function socially since many peers will respond to the way their interlocutors leave space between themselves and another person or interact with objects in their surroundings.

Activities for Concept Development

Now that Will understands some of the purposes of concept development, he is ready to think about classroom activities he can use to help his students.


The following activities can be helpful for teaching students with visual impairments about shape:

  • Have students touch different shaped three-dimensional objects and name the shapes they are touching.
  • Have students use their fingers to trace the outline of different shapes while providing language for describing these shapes.
  • Encourage students to use their tactile capacities to complete puzzles.


Here are some activities Will uses to help students understand the sizes of objects:

  • Use language to discuss the different sizes of objects students are already familiar with.
  • Have students use the sense of touch to put a set of objects in order from biggest to smallest.
  • Ask students to tell stories about objects that are thick and thin, short and tall, big and small, and so on.

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