Planning a Thematic Unit

Planning an individual thematic unit is not much different from regular lesson planning, and because of the work you’ve already completed in selecting and organizing the themes, and listing the resources you have available, you can just start filling in your plan book.  Decide on the main topic for each day and then select corresponding materials in each subject area that support that main topic. Here is an example for a unit on the origins of the American colonies.

1.     Brainstorm the primary topics you want to cover.  This will be influenced by the state frameworks and your own desires. Here’s what I want to include:

  • what their lives were like in Europe
  • why they wanted to leave Europe
  • how they came to America
  • what they found when they arrived
  • how did they transition to life in the wilderness
  • what interactions did they have with native people
  • how did they provide for basic needs
  • food
  • clothing
  • shelter
  • what native plants did they use and how did they use them
  • what did they do for fun
  • who were some of the important people
  • what was each colony known for
  • what was the founding purpose for each colony

I am planning a three-week unit; it doesn’t include the Revolutionary War period, which will be a separate unit dealing with many other issues. (Of course, you can set things up anyway you choose.  This is a unit students really enjoy and I want to be sure there is enough time for them to recreate period artifacts thoughtfully, creatively, and realistically.)

2.     Organize the topics and list them as headings on a planning sheet like the one in your lesson plan book.  Then start putting in the resources you have (trade books, textbooks, library books, internet sites, maps, art prints, etc.) according to the topic with which they best fit.  You can use the skill instruction and practice exercises in the reading text that supports the research work the students will do during the unit, or you can teach the research skills directly in the context of the project, which is what I prefer to do.  That way the skills are learned in context and transfer becomes a non-issue.  Here is an example:

stnw lesson plan 1

stnw lesson plan 2

This shows the first five days of the unit.  I will continue to do the same thing for the rest of the daily topics which are:

  • Setting up a Town
  • Housing
  • Clothing
  • Furniture
  • Household Items and Tools
  • Leather Work
  • Crafts
  • Food
  • Put it all Together
  • Museum Day

It is fine to leave some items blank if you don’t have specific ideas for those subjects.  You can always come back and fill those in when you finalize the lesson plans.

You may not be able to plug-in math units completely.  You may only be able to supplement the main math program with activities as they fit in your themes.  I started the day with a separate math period, and then integrated everything else for the rest of the day.  Some themes lend themselves to much greater math integration–you just have to evaluate each theme and decide how to handle the math.  These lesson plans do not show the primary math lessons for the day, only the supplemental items that fit with the unit.  It is best, though, to include math in all the planning stages, because some units strongly support certain math areas.  This unit requires a lot of measurement when the students are making their period artifacts (sewing, building furniture, constructing a classroom cabin, etc.) so measurement would definitely be a good math choice during this thematic unit.

Originally published on March 11, 2010 on another website.

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