Why Thematic Teaching Just Makes Sense

Thematic teaching deepens understanding, increases interest, and improves retention of content. Check out this post for more information

No matter what stage you are in your teaching life, you probably would agree that making connections across your learning improves retention of content. Children, especially struggling students, need extra exposure to the challenging content presented in science and social studies, and when students are reading about, writing about, working with, and creating about the content topics, most keep the information long term. 

Last year, I was given the flexibility to select the materials I used with my students, and I decided that I'd focus on the content areas as I planned my lessons (like the old days). The difference between the "old days" and the present though was in how I worked with the content. I used a variety of materials including informational articles, reader's theater, picture books, chapter books, and poetry...all on the similar topics to build a theme, and with all of these, we used interactive notebooks, close reading, anchor charts, written responses, and graphic organizers. Teaching students to think deeply is the core to each and every part of the ELA block, and since I taught just the ELA block, it was really important to know the standards taught during the remainder of the day in order to keep with the theme.

So...what are the advantages?

I did a little digging, and after reading a few articles, this is a cumulative list from the reading. 

With thematic teaching we get these positive results...

  • Connected learning...It helps students understand connections and how to connect
  • Focuses the class on a deeper understanding of the content.
  • Extends topics beyond surface learning.
  • Allows more variety with teaching methods
  • Helps students experience many different ways of learning.
  • Keeps students engaged through making learning activities fun/variety
  • Teacher is able to be creative, authentic, and original (as well as the students)
  • Allows the teacher multiple ways to assess learning
  • Teachers can integrate all subjects and use literacy within those subjects which increases the amount of reading students complete.
  • Utilizes collaborative and cooperative learning and works well with Project Based Learning and Genius Hour
  • Students share the same learning goals and all are given the feeling of importance.
  • Creates a community of learners
  • Technology in the classroom is very important to dig deeply into the theme.
  • Compacts the curriculum
  • Time savers- teaching multiple subjects at one time
  • Students apply their learning in real world experiences.

With that long list, are there disadvantages?

Although the list of advantages is long, there are a few disadvantages to consider. After all, we must look at the needs of each and every child in our classroom and recognize that not everyone learns exactly the same way. Differentiating our teaching is required within the thematic framework if it isn't working for some of your students.
For some, interest in the topic may not be a match, and when it's not a match, motivation will dwindle.
  • Students could become bored with one theme
  • Students might show low motivation or a lack of interest interest
With the curriculum, one of the most important reasons to teach thematically is for students to make connections across the curriculum, but if they are absent, they might struggle with making those connections. Other curriculum issues includes...
  • Finding appropriate resources and enough resources to prepare students appropriately can be an issue, especially if other teachers are teaching the same content.
  • Also, some standards may not work into the themes chosen causing missed content.
  • Teacher planning and prep time may be increased due to gathering materials and creating materials to fill curriculum gaps.

Interested in trying a theme?

Each week on my blog, Comprehension Connection, I host a link up called Thematic Thursday where I pull together resources on a specific topic. Some may work well for your standards and some may not, but even if you do not teach with a full theme across all subjects, you might enjoy using a collection of themed resources to accompany your school's curriculum, a basal story, or just to increase motivation with a topic your students love. This week, the theme is...Wild West. I hope you'll stop by, check out the resources I've pulled together, and maybe link up some of your favorites (free only please) or even websites you've enjoyed.

Thematic teaching deepens understanding, increases interest, and improves retention of content. Check out this post for more information

Thanks so much for dropping in today. If you have suggestions for themes I should add to the schedule, by all means, let me know in the comments, and until next month...happy reading!

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