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Thematic Units - A Highly Effective Way to Engage Learners

Have you ever walked into a classroom but felt like you were in the forest, the ocean, outer space, or on a farm? If so, that teacher was likely using thematic units to bring the curriculum to life.

 Thematic units are when a teacher uses a theme to teach across multiple classroom disciplines. In early childhood, this is a highly effective way to engage learners. Since the brain naturally looks for patterns and connections, we learn more effectively when learning topics are not segmented, but grouped together and based on our current knowledge (Moyer, 2016). Thematic units increase student motivation and academic achievement (Tuffelmire, 2017).

With so many options for themes, it may seem challenging to determine which one you want to choose. To get started, think about a theme that is broad enough to cover multiple areas. If a theme is too narrow, it may not allow for much learning across the curriculum. In the same way, a theme that’s too broad may cause students to lose interest, as there are too many connections to be made.

It is important to select themes that support the needs of your class. Think about who your students actually are. What cultures are represented by the class? What are their socioeconomic backgrounds? What is important to their communities? How do your students learn best? Create themes that represent the children in that class. When teachers account for student background, a natural dialogue develops (Ashokan & Venugopal, 2016). Students become more invested in the learning.

Along with the needs of your students, you want to take into account their interests. What is the maturity level of the class? What hobbies do they enjoy? Who are their heroes? What do they aspire to do with their lives? When students are interested in a topic, they are more willing to study that topic across multiple subject areas.

Finally, when planning themes, use the top down approach. Start with your big idea (theme) and create lessons to teach under that theme. Be sure that each lesson has a goal and objective that tie to the theme, subject, and learning activities. Now look at different considerations for different learners. As you plan, think about which activities will be beneficial for all students, for students who need extra support, and those who need an extra challenge.

Thematic units allow children to better understand the teaching and retain the learning concepts (Ashokan & Venugopal, 2016). They turn lessons and learning into an exciting adventure!

University of Arizona Global Campus/Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education

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Moyer, C. D. (2016). A thematic instruction approach. Technology & Engineering Teacher, 76(3), 8–12.

Ashokan, V., & Venugopal, K. (2016). Impact of thematic approach on communication skill in preschool. Online Submission Imperial Journal of Interdisciplinary Research (IJIR), 2(10), 394–397.

Tuffelmire, D. (2017, September 26). What are the benefits of using the thematic approach with kindergarten students? The Classroom.