Friday, June 1, 2012

Thematic Teaching

I have seen a couple really good posts on teaching thematically lately.  I think this seems like such a fun and interactive way to learn.  I wish I had done more of this when I was teaching.  I know thematic teaching is very common with PreK, Kinder, and 1st Grade.  I have also seen on TpT some teachers have made some really cute thematic center activities on the ocean, Kentucky Derby, farms, camping, etc.  The natural way to select themes is often based on seasons or holidays.

For older grades, thematic teaching often focuses on a concept related to History or Science.  I really want to develop some thematic teaching units and activities geared at grades 3-6.  Thematic teaching seems like a great method to give students opportunities for project based learning and applications for subjects they have learned.  I have been trying to brainstorm some ideas for themes that would be interesting for older elementary students. 
Starting with other ideas everyone could possibly relate to:

v  Shopping or the grocery store
v  Neighborhoods or communities (which is usually a focus in 3rd grade anyway)
v  Nutrition and food
v  Forms of technology like computers, TV, or video games
v  Amusement parks or roller coasters
v  Planning a vacation
v  Moving, going to a new school, or starting a new grade
v  Everyday heroes
v  Superheroes
v  Sports
v  Toys
v  Shopping for a gift
v  Making friends
v  The playground or a park
v  Outdoor activities like swimming, biking, or going on a picnic (Cold weather activities will be less applicable to everyone, but could always look at cold weather activities).
v  Board games like Monopoly and Life

If you do Science related themes, you could always do things like weather, water cycle, plants, animals, rocks, etc.  The theme would be based on the content of the Science curriculum.  You also could study the different biomes and then look at the ecosystems, weather, and features of each biome (I actually think this would be a great set of themes to cover).

For History/Social Studies themes, I have a few ideas on how you could structure themes:
v  You could organize themes geographically.  Students could study particular regions of a state or the US, countries, or continents.  For each region, you could look at landforms, climate, animals, culture, history, etc.
v  You could obviously just study particular periods of History and tie in other subjects to each period studied.
v  Instead of just looking at all aspects of a historical period, you could study different aspects of history in isolation.  (For example: Study how transportation changed throughout history, forms of communication, fashion and ways clothes are made, methods of printing, ways children play and spend their time, agriculture and food production, Sports, and the list goes on by industry or types of inventions.)  You could study each of these aspects of society one at a time and see how they have evolved. 
v  You could just focus on studying inventors or famous people.
v  You could use Historical Fiction as a unifying theme. 
v  You could use Current Event related themes like the Elections or the Summer Olympics.
v  Different types of military and what they do

An obvious set of themes that actually even tie into the Common Core Standards would be to look at fables, fairytales, folktales, and culture myths.   Along this same line, you could look at how societies are structured, how they record their history and stories, their guiding principles, and even discuss utopian societies.

You could always do an author study for Reading, but then find curriculum connections based on the content of the author’s books. 

Anyway, I want to develop some thematic units for my TpT store and would love some feedback on what teachers might be interested in as thematic units for grades 3-6.
My initial thoughts for each unit would be to include:

v  Vocabulary and related activities

v  Word wall words for the vocabulary

v  Suggested picture books that tie in to the theme with graphic organizers or activities

v  Suggested nonfiction texts

v  Printables to explain various aspects of the theme

v  Writing prompts

v  Task cards or tic-tac-toe menus with research ideas or writing or critical thinking questions

v  Suggestions of possible chapter books that might tie in

v  Grammar activities

v  I definitely want to tie in Science and Math, but how would depend on the theme

v  Each theme would probably include some sort of list of project ideas to allow students to do some cooperative learning and inquiry/research

Do you use thematic learning in your classroom?  How do you choose themes?  In the past, I focused more on a literature unit as my theme or a period in history. I absolutely love Historical Fiction, so this is one of my favorite ways to learn history.

Also, I found a really neat website when doing some research called eThemes.  It is a few years old, but it looks like it would have some great online resources for thematic teaching.


  1. I have gotten back into thematic teaching a lot lately. I feel like my students really get into it and learn the concepts quicker.

    Learning Is Something to Treasure

    1. I feel like even for older students it would make learning more authentic


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