I remember at some point during my educational training, thematic units went OUT… and so many teachers seemed relieved. At that point, with my lack of experience I didn’t really mind either way. All I knew was that it made it easier for me to submit my subject units when they weren’t really tied together.
I heard teachers saying things like “Thank goodness I don’t have to go out and find worksheets with seashells on them for ocean week anymore.” Before I began creating my own themed resources, I was worried about the exact same thing. After all, did the seashells on the page actually provide students with opportunities for deeper learning?
Then something happened… I began teaching. It became my job to engage young learners. It became my job to light them up to learning and get them excited about all there was to know and discover in the world.
This was also around the implementation of the common core and teachers were wondering how to ever include informational text and learning in the classroom, particularly at the kindergarten and first grade levels. What did all this mean, and how would we manage to teach all these new units to our students? The wonderful team I was working with at the time had never really let thematic units go, and that sure was a gift at this time in our teaching journeys!
The key for my students was… you guessed it… thematic units! I am definitely talking about old school topics, penguins, cats, pumpkins etc.
Here are the reasons I love thematic units
Students are excited to learn and explore stories about different topics. They are bursting with anticipation to discover the theme of the week (or sometimes two).
2. More authentic reading, research, and writing experiences-
When we read about, wrote about, or watched about a certain topic, students were invested in this topic. They wanted to learn all they could about it and they wanted to share it orally and in writing.
3. Opportunities for spiraled practice in a cohesive way-
The great thing about organizing our units within themes, helped students to continue to do all sorts of reading and writing throughout the year, rather than having one trimester of the year all about narrative writing, one quarter about procedural writing, and another all about informational writing. This approach offered real opportunities to practice writing all about the theme, writing a story about the theme (or exploring stories within the theme), answering opinion questions.
4. The connections are real-
Exposing students to informational and narrative text and writing in the same time period surrounding a common theme really helped my students to make meaningful connections. One of my favorite examples was during a “bat week” fall unit, students learned all about bats. They wrote bat books… and then we read Night Song (which is such a beautiful story) and their eyes lit up! They had the science vocabulary and knowledge do make real inferences about the text… what was the night song anyway?
5. Builds background knowledge-
Not only is the gaining of background knowledge amazing for students as young learners, but even just short term within the week, if students are exposed to informational text and opportunities to share, when they write to share an opinion or to make an inference, they are operating with some background knowledge on the topi.
6. Facilitates the incorporation of text evidence-
Even very young students can do a great job finding text evidence to support their opinions when they’ve had a chance to engage with text in an authentic way and to draw their own conclusions.
7. Keeps skill practice fresh!
Kids, especially young learners, are acquiring many beginning and foundational skills which require repeated practice. Skills such as sight word practice, math fact practice, number and letter identification can all become tedious and even boring for students. When you can make that small connection between the theme and this practice (yes even just with clip art) it renews their excitement and engagement with basic skill practice.
What are some of the other reasons you love thematic units?