Language Activities on Qualitative Concepts

Teaching qualitative concepts may be more challenging than teaching quantitative ones.
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In education, quantitative concepts are numeric or mathematical in nature, while qualitative concepts are more closely related to words and descriptions, and thus less definable. Teaching these qualitative concepts may be more challenging because math often has a defined set of formulas and answers, while language is less standardized. For instance, 2 + 2 almost always equals 4, while language includes more description and nuance -- is the water blue or green?

1 Qualitative vs. Quantitative

The most fundamental activity in teaching qualitative language is helping students to define it. For instance, have students study a series of observations to determine if each one is qualitative or quantitative. For instance, the language concept of size, "big/bigger/biggest," would be considered quantitative, as it measures comparatively and could involve numbers, as in the area of a room. The language concept of description, such as the color of a piece of carpet, would be considered qualitative, as it is language-based and would be answered with words. In a more advanced environment, other concepts could be directly tied into such a set of observations, including the spatial, temporal or socio-emotional.

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2 The Meaning of Words

Focus language activities on the meanings of words and how they can vary according to the reader or listener. This turns the subjective nature of qualitative concepts into a teaching tool. For instance, ask students whether they would raise the "estate tax" or support a "death tax." Explain the fundamental nature of taxation, and involve students in a discussion on why certain politicians use certain words to influence voters.

3 Descriptive Words

Have students focus on descriptive language through activities that enable them to put it to use. For instance, show them a picture of the Empire State Building and ask them to describe it in a word. A student might say "tall," for instance, and then you could ask the student why he chose that particular word. Then ask another student to choose a different word and explain her reasoning. Through such activities, students can learn how and why people use language to explain the world around them.

4 Considerations

One issue when dealing with qualitative concepts is the notion that students are forced to think at a higher level because there aren't sharply defined answers so often found in quantitative concepts and there's not a strict formula for reaching such an answer. As the teacher, you must be careful to build students' conceptual thinking skills step-by-step to provide them with the best educational experience.

Eric Strauss spent 12 years as a newspaper copy editor, eventually serving as a deputy business editor at "The Star-Ledger" in New Jersey before transitioning into academic communications. His byline has appeared in several newspapers and websites. Strauss holds a B.A. in creative writing/professional writing and recently earned an M.A. in English literature.