Let’s make a D.E.A.L – evaluating theories in three simple steps

Travis DixonRevision and Exam Preparation, Studies and Theories, Teaching Ideas

The use of specific theories to explain behaviour will always have pros and cons.

I teach my students to look for three things when evaluating theories:

  1. Evidence

  2. Applications

  3. Limitations

Let’s make a D.E.A.L

Most students are capable of independently explaining these three things. When teaching essay writing on theories I teach students to use my own “Let’s make a D.E.A.L” strategy and not TEACUP.


  1. Describe the theory
  2. Explain the Evidence
  3. Applications of the theory
  4. Limitations 

If you throw in a quick introduction and conclusion, you’ve got yourself an awesome essay.

Example “Let’s Make a D.E.A.L” Essay Plan

Evaluate social identity theory. 

  • Introduction
  • Description of SIT, including things like social comparison, the self-esteem hypothesis, etc
  • Explain evidence #1: Minimal group study
  • Explain evidence #2: Cohen’s college sports teams
  • Application: Can explain prejudice and discrimination between groups
  • Limitations: It overlooks cultural and biological factors
  • Conclusion

You can see that this structure of essay slightly adjusts my -argument – evidence – counter-argument structure, but all the elements are still there. This essay is something that most IB students have the potential to be able to achieve. 

We’re not just learning how to evaluate research in psychology, we’re learning how to evaluate arguments.

Why only three?

We don’t need any more and the other recommended frameworks encourage memorization of evaluation, rather than students independently devising their own critical reflections. These three are also important because:

  • We need evidence because the ability to support an explanation with evidence is a transferable skill and one that will prepare students for life.
  • We need applications because if students can’t use what we teach them in school then why the *%$ are we teaching it?
  • We need limitations because we want our students to learn how to self-reflect on their own understanding of things and to find the holes in their own arguments, as opposed to blindly touting beliefs.

As with anything I do in my teaching, I’m about doing less and doing it better. This is just one more way I try to achieve this goal.

Thoughts welcomed….