What You Need to Know to Set Up Your Upper Elementary Classroom for Thematic Teaching

I put off thematic teaching for far too long becuase I felt like I didn’t know how to get started. I don’t want you to fall into that same trap so I’m sharing everything I’ve learned about getting set up for the thematic teaching approach. If you’re ready to make the switch to thematic teaching, here’s what you need to consider before getting started.

What is Thematic Teaching?

When teaching a thematic curriculum, keep in mind it is centered around one single theme or topic. Therefore, it is necessary to identify a variety of learning standards among many subject areas. Then, add in skills and 21st Century competencies.

For example, examine whether you want students to use technology, different types of literature, or working together. Next, work on developing activities that bring student interests to mind. Thematic teaching has a focus on students and creating a highly engaging classroom.

As a reminder, plan activities for the wide range of learners in the classroom. Since thematic teaching can take place over the course of several weeks or months, it is important to have activities that fit all students. 

Classroom Setup 

When switching to teaching thematic curriculum, a few changes in the classroom will make for a more enjoyable process.

First, examine the physical space. The best setup for thematic teaching allows for students to work in groups. Although students don’t always need to be working in groups at all times, it will be helpful to have a setup that does allow this to happen. Hence, when students can quickly and easily move into groups, less class time is wasted.

Second, examine your walls. It is so helpful to have a focus wall where students can find posters, anchor charts, visuals, and reference materials for the theme. Therefore, they are taking an initiative to work out any challenges they find.

Third, organization is key. Since the entire theme is prepared and ready to go, there may be a lot of materials needed. Additionally, this will allow students to know exactly where to go to find what is needed. This will be a great way not to spend time answering the same question again and again! 

Managing Thematic Teaching 

On the teacher’s end, it will be helpful to pace out your year in advance. You do not want to get to the last month of school and realize the theme really needs two months to teach. Taking some time to map out theme lengths, it will make for a much smoother process throughout the year.

Also, there will be a lot of student work coming in among many different activities. So, the use of student portfolios simplifies this process. Even better, they can be used in different ways. For example, students can put all of their materials into the portfolio to be graded at the end. Or, students can have due dates or check-in dates throughout the unit in order to ensure they are focused. Either way, students are not losing papers and teachers are not spending hours a day grading. 

Thematic teaching is going to be one of the best changes made in the classroom. It is going to allow students to think deeper and really engage with the content. Additionally, it will allow teachers to feel proud of how much students are learning when not rushing from subject to subject. While it does take some changes up front, everything will be well worth it when witnessing how engaged students are!