‘I know it is correct but I don’t know why’: what is the difference between knowledge, skills and understanding?


I overheard a secondary school student say that recently – it concerned me.


Mr Gove wants GCSEs back like they used to be with students sitting, and hopefully passing, a single exam. So is the ‘regurgitation of facts’ to be given even more emphasis in schools, as teachers come under pressure to teach ‘the facts’ necessary to pass.



A little girl I know visits her uncle regularly. He is always looking to catch her out and teases her relentlessly sometimes. When she visits, he smiles and offers her the choice of two 50p coins from his left hand or a £2 coin from his right. She always takes the two 50p coins and the uncle chuckles again and again at her apparent stupidity. Her friend asked her ‘Why don’t you take the £2 coin when you know it is more?’ She simply replies, ‘because then he would stop the game altogether.’

She knows that the £2 coin has a greater monetary value than the two 50p coins but understands the real value of choosing them.



What do we want for our children and young people? And what are the differences between knowledge, skills and understanding? Here are some suggestions:


Knowledge: the absorption of data

Skills: application of knowledge

Understanding: the ability to take knowledge and skills and make real meaning from them. It is also the ability to transfer that understanding to other situations, still able to make meaning and sense of a situation, even if the facts have changed.






I know all 44 phonemes and the 26 letters of the alphabet I can blend and segment those letters and phonemes to read and write a lot of words I understand that phonics is but one strategy for reading and writing – not sufficient on its own
I know which foods are healthy and which are not I can design a balanced menu I understand that what I eat has a consequence for my health and life style – even my mortality.
I know all the dates of the most significant events of the First World War I can sift and sort information from a variety of accounts from the time. I understand that history can be biased and there is a link between so called ‘facts’ and the accounts I choose to read and use.


To get to different levels of understanding can take time and often requires a range of thinking skills: evaluating, logical thinking, generalising, prioritising, making associations, formulating questions, predicting etc.  That’s why it is important we give children and young people regular practice at thinking.


Those thinking skills, and more, are what underpin all the ideas and activities in ‘Let’s Think Homework’.


Giving regular practice at thinking can aid children’s knowledge, skills and understanding. Knowledge on its own is just not enough.

Why not visit the website to learn more about it and purchase a copy to get your children thinking.


Lets Think Homework

One Response to “‘I know it is correct but I don’t know why’: what is the difference between knowledge, skills and understanding?”

  1. Priyanka says:

    The example of the girl child is interesting and helpful in understanding – knowledge, skills and understanding, thanks for making it simple.