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How to Plan a Thematic Unit for Elementary School

by Carissa Lawrence

Many effective teachers use thematic units to help students gain a deep knowledge of chosen concepts and make connections between a variety of disciplines. By choosing themes that relate to their students' lives, teachers can increase student participation and interest in the theme. When planning a thematic unit, teachers should should focus on finding activities that will allow students to develop a strong understanding of concepts in creative and engaging ways. (reference 1)

Gather information about student interests and hobbies as well as your students' academic strengths and weaknesses. Personal information about students can be collected through take-home questionnaires, in-class polls and oral or written surveys. Use formal and informal assessments including observations, quizzes and standardized test scores to determine students' academic levels.

Choose your theme. Common themes include holidays and the seasons, but thematic units can be planned for a range of topics related to all subjects. Choose a theme that is relevant to your students. Determine the focus of the theme and put it into words. Frame the theme in the form of a question to encourage students to ask themselves meaningful questions.

Determine the objectives of the thematic unit. Clarify the knowledge and skills sets students should acquire through completing the unit. Align the objectives with school and state standards for each subject in your grade level.

Decide what subject matter to include in the thematic unit. Complete additional research on the theme if necessary. Being an expert on a theme will help you better facilitate student learning. Focus on giving students increased exposure to areas they may be struggling with, including grade level-specific skills.

Plan the learning activities that will be included in the thematic unit. Design hands-on activities that provide students with inquiry-based learning experiences-- this includes individual, partner and small group activities. Choose worksheets and reading assignments only if they are developmentally appropriate for your students. Incorporate appropriate technology tools that will allow students to explore ideas, engage in simulations and make new connections.

Arrange the activities in a logical sequence. Structure the thematic unit to engage students with different learning styles as much as possible. Provide for student choice within the thematic unit. Allowing students to make choices in the curriculum promotes autonomy and engages individual students.

Decide how you will assess student learning and meeting of objectives throughout the unit. Include both formative and summative assessments. Create rubrics if applicable. Use authentic assessments that require students to apply what they have learned in different ways.

Gather the learning tools you will use during the thematic unit. Include fiction and non-fiction books, manipulatives, visual displays and other instructional materials that will enhance student understanding of the theme.

Items you will need
  • Computer
  • Grade-level state standards

About the Author

Based in Gainesville, Carissa Lawrence is an experienced teacher who has been writing education related articles since 2013. Lawrence holds a master's degree in early childhood education from the University of Florida.

Photo Credits

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