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What Upper Elementary Teachers Need to Know About Thematic Teaching

Here’s what upper elementary teachers need to know about thematic teaching, an integrated, cross-curricular unit teaching approach.

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Are you constantly feeling stressed during lesson planning? Are you rushing through content in order to get everything in? Unfortunately, both of these aspects lead to teachers feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and burnt out. Trust me, I’ve been there before. But there is an answer: thematic teaching.

Teaching is such an important, rewarding career and with some changes to planning, such as utilizing the thematic teaching approach, you’ll see huge improvements in the amount of content you’re able to cover each year, the engagement of your students, and more.

Not sure if thematic teaching is right for you?

Here’s what every upper elementary teacher needs to know about thematic teaching.

What is Thematic Teaching?

Thematic teaching is an integrated, cross-curricular unit that is based on one underlying theme.

By utilizing thematic teaching, a range of skills are covered since there is an ongoing exploration of the topic. As a result, students are learning the content much deeper than before!

Instead of rushing to move to the next subject, multiple subject areas are now integrated together. Therefore, more time can be spent digging deeper into the content. Now, students are able to build and develop meaningful connections across subjects. Students see how content is embedded into multiple areas of life versus a single lesson or class. 

What are the Key Components of Thematic Teaching?

In order for the thematic teaching approach to work successfully, there are a few key components.

  • First, there needs to be a theme or topic to center all of the activities around. For example, climate change or The Oregon Trail.
  • Second, there will be multiple standards that connect to the theme or topic. There will be standards for many different content areas in addition to 21st Century skills. One thematic lesson unit may include language arts, science, math, and technology standards.
  • Third, there will be a focus on student interest. Units can be centered around culturally relevant topics or topics generated by students.
  • Fourth, there is a time commitment. Since there is so much integrated into one theme, it will take a few weeks or months to accomplish everything.
  • Fifth, it is vital to plan out differentiated activities. Since you’re spending so much time studying one theme, there will need to be activities to fit all learners in the classroom. The good news is that it’s really easy to differentiate within thematic teaching and the thematic teaching approach lends itself to natural, built-in differentiation.

Benefits of the Thematic Teaching Approach 

The thematic teaching approach leads to so many benefits in the classroom. Most importantly, it leads to a truly remarkable integrated learning experience for your students. Students will be learning the content in deeper ways than before and engaging with it on many levels.

Additionally, your daily schedule will be more open. Rather than trying to carve out time for each subject area, instructional time will be maximized by integrating subjects together. Technology will also become a natural part of your lesson when you implement thematic learning.

There are also so many opportunities for informational text to be embedded into different learning activities. Since students are becoming experts on the topic, there are multiple opportunities for students to read and analyze text, become experts, present what they’ve learned, and have voice and choice in the classroom.

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