Introduction to approaches

Starting the course with a brief focus on approaches provides students with a better understanding of what psychology actually is and allows links to be made to the concept of psychology as a science. The approaches will then be revisited later in the course when studying Approaches in Psychology (Paper 2 AS / Paper 2 A-level) and Psychopathology (Paper 2 AS / Paper 1 A-level). As this is merely an introduction to the course, then the four approaches named in the AS specification are the focus of this lesson: behaviourist approach, social learning theory, cognitive approach and biological approach. However, you could modify the activities to include the further two approaches named in the A-level route: psychodynamic and humanistic.

Please note, a version of a lesson **PowerPoint** has been included should you wish to use/edit/amend it.

Starter ideas

If this lesson is delivered near the start of the course students may still be getting to know each other. This continuum activity can be used as an ice breaker to get students talking to each other.

Slide 2 of the **PowerPoint** displays a continuum relating to watching horror films. Depending on the size of your class, students could either line up to form a physical continuum or write their initials along the continuum. Once all students have placed themselves along the line, question students as to their reasons for their location. You could also ask what makes a film scary and make psychological or even sociological links where appropriate. This provides an opportunity for deeper thinking – see where their conversation goes. For example, if students mention fear of the dark links could be made to evolution and our inability to see in the dark, whereas fear of intruders may infer how we feel about our home as a safe haven. Towards the end of the discussion ask students why there are individual differences in our like/dislike of horror films. Record comments on the board that link to any of the four approaches. For example, ‘I saw a really scary film when I was younger and now will not watch one’ (behavioural) ‘I enjoy the feeling of being scared’ (biological).

Main activity ideas

Explaining behaviour (slide 3). Provide students with four scenarios and ask them to discuss in small groups possible explanations for the behaviour seen. You could use real life examples of behaviour that have made their way into the recent news. For example, in the past I have used the case of Amanda Bynes or Lindsay Lohan, both young Hollywood stars who developed substance abuse problems. Without having ever studied psychological approaches students have been able to generate ideas that can be seen to have their roots in a specific approach. A common suggestion is that they see other stars drinking or using drugs (social learning theory) or that they initially enjoy the feeling the substances given them (biological). Using topical stories is a good way of engaging students in this activity. However, if none are currently available, generic scenarios you may wish to use could include:

Sam has a history of gambling behaviour. At sixth form he began playing fruit machines in his local pub and playing the lottery on a weekly basis. He then moved on to betting using an app on his smart phone. As an adult he places at least one bet a day and is constantly checking the odds or various sporting fixtures. Although he has had a few successes, he loses far more money than he wins and is now in serious debt. Despite this he is unable to stop placing bets and playing fruit machines.

Leila has severe phobias of spiders. If she sees one in a room, she will have to leave the room and refuses to return until someone has caught it. Her phobia has a significant effect on her daily life and she has missed out on opportunities such as school camping trips as she is scared spiders will be in the tent. Leila’s mother is also scared of spiders, Leila cannot remember a time when her mother did not have this fear.

Jack, by his own admission, does not cope well with exams. Despite having good attendance and working hard in lessons, he cannot seem to control his nerves on exam day. He reports feeling an increase in his heart rate, sweating and rapid, shallow breathing. When he turns over his exam paper it seems like his mind has gone blank. Jack mentions he has felt like this since sitting his SATS in primary school. He puts pressure on himself to do well and worries he would let his family down if he performed poorly.

Katie’s frequent displays of aggressive behaviour when at day-care are becoming a concern. She will snatch toys from other children if she wants to play with them and have tantrums if she cannot get her own way. She quickly becomes frustrated if she cannot do something and will scream until someone comes to help her.

Once students have shared their ideas for each scenario provide them with the super simple summary handout.**handout** Ask students to compare the ideas they generated to the summaries provided. At this point you may need to move round the class supporting groups with different approaches – I tend to find the cognitive approach causes the most confusion. Students may be able to see how their explanation links to a specific approach or may wish to generate new explanations now they have seen the four approaches. Allow time in the lesson for students to share their revised ideas and ask any questions needed to consolidate their understanding. Students who completed the stretch task shown at the bottom of slide 3 can feedback their ideas at this point.

The handout provides a very brief introduction to the four approaches as the following lesson will involve students adding more depth to their understanding of each approach.

Improve your vocabulary (slide 4). Once students have familiarised themselves with the four approaches they complete the second handout, ‘Super simple summary – key terms’.**handout**.

For each of the key terms, students identify which approach the word belongs to and create their own definition of the key term in the space provided. This is only a simply summary of each approach, therefore, after the second lesson allow time for students to add further key terms to the glossary. Keeping a glossary of key words is an effective way of improving students’ literacy skills when answering exam questions and acts as a helpful revision guide so encourage them to get into the habit of keeping one for each topic in the course.


Pictionary. Using the key words from the ‘Super simple summary – key terms’ handout, challenge students to a game of Pictionary. The class could be organised into teams with each team taking it in turns to guess the word (if the team cannot guess it is offered to the other team) or pit teams against each other with one artist from each team drawing at the same time (the first team to call out the correct word wins). This game offers the chance to check students’ understanding of the key terms and highlight any misconceptions. Certain words are more challenging such as schema and neurotransmitters so these could be assigned to more able students in the group.


2 thoughts on “Introduction to approaches

  1. Martin says:

    I was looking for a new job for what seemed like forever, then I signed up with Psychoneuroxy. The very next week, I got a plethora of jobs to choose from.

  2. Approaches can be varied. One approach is to not form opinions about approaches themselves! There is often a dichotomy between what we view as ourselves and what we view as lying outside ourselves. A modification of the ‘Sedona’ method can offer succour when we doubt our approaches towards growth, wellbeing and acquiring satisfaction. Do read”

Leave a Reply