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Teaching with themes
Teaching With Themes
22 Jul, 2014. 9 Comments. A Day In First Grade, Autumn, Back to School, February, First Grade Science, Free, Kindergarten, Kindergarten Science, November, October, Preschool Science, Reading, Science, Social Studies, Writing. Posted By: Kristen Smith

As many of you know, one of my favorite things to do in my classroom is to teach using themes. I have had many people tell me, “I just don’t have the time to do that, Kristen!” Or, “I just don’t know where to start! ” Today I am going to try to break down a little bit of the why and how I teach using themes.

Theme Teaching.001

First of all, I choose all of my themes based on a few things:

1. Student Interests

2. The Standards

3. The World Around Us

Young learners are naturally inquisitive. They LOVE to learn and to understand WHY. For these reasons, I teach using themes. To put it simply I do this to build

ENGAGEMENT!

Theme Teaching.002Another reason WHY I teach with themes is because it builds excitement across the subject areas. When I theme teach, I integrate my theme across ALL areas of my classroom. I tie the theme to reading, writing, math, science, social studies, art and MORE. I use my theme to help my students meet the standards they need to reach in a FUN, hands-on way.

In October last year, my students were using the “can, have, are” model of writing. To do this, we used our bat theme to give us something to write about. Because my students were so into learning about bats, getting them to come up with the writing elements was a piece of cake!

The best thing about theme teaching is the possibilities of integrating are endless.

Theme Teaching.010

Whenever we do an activity in my class, I always look to see how I can meet the standards. For example, in the pictures above you can see that we used MANY cooking activities to help us make our learning come to life. Whenever we would make something, we ALWAYS would take it to the next level. When we made apple juice, we wrote down adjectives to describe the juice. When we made apple sauce, we wrote down the sequence of events. When studying weather, we wrote about clouds. My students thought that it was SO much fun and worked so hard because they were engaged!

Theme Teaching.011

Themes also REALLY help me teach reading. I have seen this work time and time again. Not only does teaching with themes allow my students to build their vocabulary, but it also creates an excitement in my students to want to read about the topics that we are discussing. I make sure that I have at least 5-10 books for each theme that I teach.  I display these in my classroom library and do not let my students put them in their book boxes. Rather, they are welcome to read them but they must put them back on the bookshelf when they are finished so that everyone can have a turn to look at them. Using themes helps ALL levels of readers in my classroom– especially the reluctant readers! {Remember to go to your local library! My library will let me take out 25 books at a time for my classroom!}

Theme Teaching.006I also use my themes to help me teach math skills. By using real life objects and experiences, my students can see the “real world” connection to our math concepts. Graphing is so much more fun when you have taste tested something or asked the opinions of the class.

Theme Teaching.007Theme Teaching.009Theme Teaching.008

In the pictures above you can see my students at centers, participating in a matter activity, and making “October Punch.” Center engagement sky rockets when we use simple manipulatives of things we are learning about. Above my students are using bats as game pieces that I got from the Dollar Spot! In the counting activity, my students are counting mini marshmallows by 2s, 5s, and 10s. For the punch, my students had to not only read the directions as to WHAT and HOW MUCH to pour into their cup, they also then graphed if they liked it or not.

Theme Teaching.012

To practice measuring using standard and nonstandard units of measurement we measured ourselves using mini pumpkins!

Theme Teaching.004

I make sure all of my themes fit into our Science and Social Studies standards. Instead of teaching Science and Social Studies at certain times during the day, we are constantly learning and hitting the standards and skills that we need. This allows more time for fun hands on activities at the end of the day. I’ll be honest and tell you that I don’t have a “Science/Social Studies” block. Rather, the end of my day would look like “Apple Activity” or “Earth Worm Activity.” During those lessons we might be measuring those items with rulers, writing about them, or drawing and labeling them. Other possibilities would be that we would taste test apple cider to see if we like that better than apple juice. In my opinion, this works really well because it gives me 30-45 minutes! During this time the possibilities are endless as to what you can have your class work on. If you see that your class is struggling with addition, you can use that time to use your theme to help with that, etc.Theme Teaching.005
Another thing that makes my themes come to life is I love to use the real world. I frequently take my students outside to explore. During our weather weeks, my students made wind catchers and then used them outside. THEY LOVED THIS!!! 
Theme Teaching.013

So, how did I start teaching using themes? Honestly it was a matter of really looking at what my students needed to learn and planning, planning, PLANNING!

Here are my themes for this upcoming year:

Kindergarten Themes.002 Kindergarten Themes.003 Kindergarten Themes.004 Kindergarten Themes.005 Kindergarten Themes.006 Kindergarten Themes.007 Kindergarten Themes.008 Kindergarten Themes.009 Kindergarten Themes.010 Kindergarten Themes.011 Kindergarten Themes.012

(You can have this document plus a blank one by clicking on the picture below.)

Kindergarten Themes.001

For each theme I gather a few items:

1. Manipulatives (These can be big or small, free or purchased)

2. Centers

3. Books!

4. 1-2 Hands-on activities

I tend to spend about 1-2 weeks per theme. I am NOT afraid to extend the length of my theme if my students are REALLY into it!

For each theme I introduce the theme on a Monday and make sure we read a picture book with LOTS of great pictures in it. We typically will write down what we know and what we would like to learn.

On Tuesdays, I extend the learning with another picture book, a short movie clip, and a SIMPLE craft. (simple means it is a cut and paste activity or a coloring activity– usually that goes with writing)

On Wednesdays, we tend to do an INVOLVED craft/activity.  An involved craft tends to require paint, glitter, tissue paper, or contact paper. An involved activity would have us make something or eat something.

On Thursdays, we would continue learning through the use of picture books and movie clips.

On Friday we would complete a hands-on activity. (Typically a science or cooking activity)

{During the week my students are fully immersed in the theme through Guided Reading groups, Math Lessons and activities as well.}

Theme Teaching.014  Theme Teaching.016 Theme Teaching.017

If you have never taught using themes, I suggest choosing one per quarter and go all out! Then, as they years go on, add one theme per quarter! This way you don’t feel like you have to go CRAZY this year! Feel FREE to do the same themes that I do if that makes it easier for you! I always blog about what goes in my classroom and have MANY products and Freebies available to help you get started!

For manipulatives and items, my go-to stores are Amazon.com, Target, and The Dollar Tree!

In the schools that I have worked at, I have been so blessed to have LOTS of parental support. Whenever I am getting ready to teach a theme, I post what I am going to need on a sign up list on my Shutterfly account. My parents will each sign up for 1-2 items and bring them in on the days that I ask for them. If this is not an option for you, many companies are willing to help work with teachers. My local grocery store and farm have donated TONS of items to my classroom! Don’t be afraid to ask for help, the worst thing that they can say is no!

I hope that this post helped and that you found it useful!

 

 

 

 

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9 Comments
  1. kELsey -

    I was wondering how you fit in your requirements for both social studies and science by teaching thematically?

    • Kelsey, I theme teach based on my science and social studies standards. That is actually how I come up with my themes! Everything is standards based. :)

      • KelsEy -

        I recognize that. I meant how do you fit in the standards. Do you do science & social studies in the theme? Do you alternate between science/social studies standards for the themes?

  2. Thank you! I found you on Pinterest and I’m so glad that I did. I’m going to be homeschooling my twins in Kindergarten this coming Fall. In the past, we took the learning through play and geared learning towards their interests. I know they will LOVE this! Thank you so much for sharing. I look forward to reading through your posts. Thank you again!

  3. Sherry -

    Kristain, first of all thank you for sharing your wonderful ideas. I used to teach at an Accelerated Learning Academy and we used school-wide themes to teach. I am at a STEM/Leadership school now and want to go back to my thematic teaching. I wanted to know if the themes you posted in this blog are your first grade or Kindergarten themes. Could you or would you be willing to share your centers (ex: comprehension, vocabulary, writing, etc). Where do you get your resources for your subject areas?

  4. Is this item still available for purchase?

  5. Do you have access to your class schedule available? Just wondering how you fit everything in. Thank you!

    Angie

  6. Hi!

    I was wondering where you got your adorable clip art from? Your calendar is so cute!

    Thanks!

9 Comments

  • kELsey -

    I was wondering how you fit in your requirements for both social studies and science by teaching thematically?

    • Kelsey, I theme teach based on my science and social studies standards. That is actually how I come up with my themes! Everything is standards based. :)

      • KelsEy -

        I recognize that. I meant how do you fit in the standards. Do you do science & social studies in the theme? Do you alternate between science/social studies standards for the themes?

  • Thank you! I found you on Pinterest and I’m so glad that I did. I’m going to be homeschooling my twins in Kindergarten this coming Fall. In the past, we took the learning through play and geared learning towards their interests. I know they will LOVE this! Thank you so much for sharing. I look forward to reading through your posts. Thank you again!

  • Sherry -

    Kristain, first of all thank you for sharing your wonderful ideas. I used to teach at an Accelerated Learning Academy and we used school-wide themes to teach. I am at a STEM/Leadership school now and want to go back to my thematic teaching. I wanted to know if the themes you posted in this blog are your first grade or Kindergarten themes. Could you or would you be willing to share your centers (ex: comprehension, vocabulary, writing, etc). Where do you get your resources for your subject areas?

  • Is this item still available for purchase?

  • Do you have access to your class schedule available? Just wondering how you fit everything in. Thank you!

    Angie

  • Hi!

    I was wondering where you got your adorable clip art from? Your calendar is so cute!

    Thanks!

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