Procedural tasks

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A procedural task is intended by the task's designer to be achievable by applying primarily but not exclusively procedural knowledge. However, most procedural tasks often require some conceptual knowledge. Moreover, students may not achieve a task by applying the knowledge that the task was designed to tap.

Rittle-Johnson & Siegler (1998, pg. 77) distinguish procedural from conceptual knowledge as follows: "We define conceptual knowledge as understanding of the principles that govern the domain and interrelations between pieces of knowledge in the domain (although this knowledge does not need to be explicit). In the literature this type of knowledge is referred to as understanding or principled knowledge. We define procedural as action sequences for solving problems. In the literature this type of knowledge is sometimes referred to as skills, algorithms or strategies."


  • The procedure for long division
  • The steps balancing a chemistry equation
  • Solving an algebraic equation with a single occurrence of the unknown


  • Given a chinese tone and/or character, generate its English translation
  • Given a transformation of an equation, indicate whether the distributive, associative or communtative law justifies the transformation.

Borderline examples:

  • Given 5+3, indicate that the answer is 8. For advanced learners, this is done by retrieving a fact, which is a kind of low level concept. For beginning learners, this is done by a counting strategy, so the task taps procedural knowledge.

Rittle-Johnson, B. & Siegler, R. S. (1998) The relation between conceptual and procedural knowledge in learning mathematics. In C. Donlan (Ed.) The Development of Mathematical Skills. East Sussex, UK: Psychology Press.