For me thematic teaching is all about engagement and thinking. Practically there are a ton of reasons why this style of instruction makes sense, but for me, watching children take charge of their learning, seeing them playing at recess what they are studying during class time, and observing daily the new connections they make is the thrill of the job.
Thematic teaching is teaching in themes—reading, writing, listening, speaking, doing math, making art, and investigating any theme or idea from a variety of perspectives. Kids are immersed in what they are studying, rather than moving from subject to subject in an unrelated fashion.
My preferred method is to teach language arts and math objectives through art, science, and social studies themes, but some teachers like to limit themes to language arts. (Many elementary reading programs are organized this way.) I like teaching language arts and math in the context of the art, science, and social studies content for the grade level. I can reorganize textbooks and materials so that content builds sequentially, and line up the core objectives with themes to make learning more comprehensible. Each theme builds on the one before it. Each theme focuses on a different language arts genre.
The most obvious benefit to organizing a year’s worth of curricula in this manner is the efficient way time is used. Using language arts to teach science and social studies saves a lot of time—you are doing two jobs at once. Research and reading skills are taught in the context in which they are used, so transfer isn’t an issue. An enriched base of experiences provides great background for speaking and writing activities so the quality is far better with much less teacher effort. The children are immersed within subjects and assignments so repetition is a natural part of the process. Anyone needing more than one pass before learning something new (just about everyone) has multiple exposures from a variety of different angles to help them develop new skills.
Integrating instruction across content areas creates a sum FAR greater than its parts. Connections foster thinking: application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation—all those things I magically began to practice without knowing it the semester my four unrelated college classes related. You see it on the playground when your students are really caught up with what they are learning. When they are building their own wickiup or measuring the temperature of soil samples during recess you know you’ve scored!
Originally published on February 25, 2010 on another website.