Connecting Students to Success: Thematic Instruction in Action





Tales from the Heart. Creative, Inventive, and Notable People. America in Conflict. These are just a few of the themes that students are investigating in DeSoto County’s classrooms, and the experiences across the curriculum are limitless.

The thematic approach has been around for decades. Thematic units build around a certain theme with a central idea to connect the topics within the unit. The 5th grade unit America in Conflict centers around the conflicts that our country has experienced throughout history, specifically during the Civil War era. While our students were not alive for a first-hand view of the Civil War, the investigation and discovery that happens daily in classrooms allow students a deeper experience with this period of American history. Students are reading from multiple sources and varying viewpoints, examining artifacts from times past, and using technology to research their personal interests on the topic.

The variety of instruction incorporated in thematic learning encourages student engagement by keeping learning creative and fun. In short, the thematic approach enables a more student-centered approach to learning rather than a textbook-driven classroom.

Some other advantages to teaching in themes are:

  • Students are given multiple opportunities to make authentic connections between their learning and how it relates to the real world. Because units typically extend over several weeks, students are able to go deeper into the topics at hand, allowing for more understanding and retention.
  • The thematic approach allows for a more compacted curriculum with the focus topic remaining the same throughout the subject areas. Students who are learning about oceans through our Inspired by the Sea unit not only read and write about the ocean but also learn about Earth’s ocean resources and underwater ecosystems.
  • Technology integration is an important part of thematic learning, and our students in DeSoto County Schools have more access than ever before. Teachers are facilitating as students of all ages research and share new knowledge with their peers.
  • Classroom Culture. One of the most valuable aspects of thematic learning is that students are given a voice in what they learn. Since the themes are student-driven, students are given the chance to choose topics within the units that interest them to research further. This approach also encourages collaborative learning where students work together to investigate topics and further individual learning. As students share learning goals, they practice cooperation and increase positive social skills in an authentic setting. Every student has something to offer to benefit the group. Every student has a voice.

While the topics vary throughout the grade levels, one theme rings true for DeSoto County students—making connections through reading and exploring encourages success for all learners.