Thematic units consist of a series of learning experiences
that are focused on a particular topic,
idea, author, or genre; each unit consists of specific
learning or literacy outcomes for students.
Several pieces of literature that support the theme
become the basis for major reading and writing
experiences within the theme.
There are several major advantages to using themes:
Learning About Text Structure Across Selections
In order for students to become effective constructors
of meaning, they must learn to understand the
differences in narrative and expository texts (Beach
& Appleman,1984; Taylor & Beach, 1984).
Thematic organization makes it possible to arrange several
pieces of related literature together to
help students learn to use different text structures as
aids to constructing meaning.
Strategies/Skills Evolve from the Literature
Students learn the strategies and skills of reading
and writing by reading and writing (Wells, 1990).
By placing related pieces of literature with similar
characteristics together, it is possible to scaffold
(Ibid. page 23) instruction and gradually release the
responsibility for learning to the students (Pearson,
1985). In the first selection the teacher can provide
heavy support and modeling. In the next selection
students can begin to take control and model what
they are learning, still under the teacher's guidance
or coaching. Finally, students use the last selection
to model and apply what they have learned. Reading
the literature provides models for the strategies and
skills. By encountering several related pieces of
literature, students get repeated modeling and practice
with the same types of strategies and skills.
This is what Walmsley and Walp (1990) call a skills
through application approach.
Building Connections and Relationships
Thematic organization helps to account for the
concepts of schema theory and prior knowledge. By having
related, focused literature, students are able
to build connections and relationships about a given
theme, which is how one develops prior knowledge
and uses it to construct meaning (Anderson & Pearson, 1984).
Provides Models for Reading and Writing
Children learn to read and write together (Teale &
Sulzby, 1986). A thematic organization allows
reading and writing to be taught and developed together
as readers and writers naturally learn. By
having themes with several pieces of the same type of
literature, students have models to use in their
writing. For example,
if students are reading several well-formed stories with
very strong character descriptions, their
writing can focus on the writing of stories with strong
character descriptions; the exact topic of the
student's writing, however, should be selected by the
Efficient Use of Classroom Time
A thematic organization also makes it possible to use
classroom time more efficiently by focusing on
a variety of curricular areas across the theme (Pappas,
Kiefer, & Levstik, 1990; Walmsley &
Walp, 1990). Teachers are constantly faced with the
dilemma of having too many things to teach and
not enough time to teach them. By having a strong
thematic organization, teachers are better able to
provide students with learning experiences that make
more efficient use of their time and match the
way students actually learn.
Supports Constructing Meaning
Overall, the major advantage of focused themes is that
they make it possible for students to more
effectively construct meaning by reading related
authentic selections and building connections among them.
See also Interdisciplinary/Cross-Curricular Teaching
Go on to Responding to Literature
Back to Role of the Teacher
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