I like to take my introduction to psychology quite slowly. On the very first lesson I get students to think about the definition of psychology and what they actually study by doing the following activity. There is space for students to write notes on this activity in their workbooks.


Step One:

Students begin working with a partner and write as many examples of “behaviours” (i.e. observable actions) and “mental processes” as they can think of. They have two minutes. If they need to re-check what these terms mean, they can refer to the glossary in the workbook or textbook.


Step Two:

After this two minutes, they join another pair and make a group of four and collaborate and add to their lists from what the others have thought of. After some time to collaborate we discuss as a whole class (there is also a list on page 11 for their reference).

Step Three:

Students discuss in their groups of four if there are any that may not fall into a particular category, but might be hard to distinguish between an action or an internal process (e.g. emotion, depression, love, communicating). They can write these in the box provided in the workbook.

The purpose of getting students to think about the grey area is so they can hopefully see from the beginning that it’s difficult to study behaviour without studying internal mental processes. This will hopefully help them answer this lesson’s guiding question (pg. 12)

Step Four:

Students come to the board and write at least one example in each category (behaviour and mental process) and perhaps some that are difficult to distinguish as one or the other.

Step Five:

Students then discuss in a group the guiding question for the lesson: why do psychologists study behaviour and mental processes? And write their answers in the notebook. They can read the lesson in the textbook if they need/want to. Fast finishers can watch this introductory video. (Although, do note that this is more for general interest, as it’s more of a brief history of psychology, rather than an introduction for our purposes).


I also explain during this lesson that the IB’s definition of “behaviour” includes observable actions and mental/cognitive processes.

The “pairs-to-fours” activity paradigm is a useful one for generating ideas from multiple students while still keep high levels of engagement. Once again credit for this goes to Paul Ginnis’s marvellous book.

Pretty basic idea, but it gets students thinking. I also have found that we can’t overlook how abstract a concept “cognition” is for students. To discuss this on day one, I think, gets students thinking about what they’re actually studying in this course.