Thursday, January 14, 2010

Using Themes in Teaching

It’s January and, for many of us, the weather outside is cold and dreary. Let’s keep that cold and dreary feeling out of your classroom, though! Why don’t you break the monotony this winter and try out some theme lessons or units to warm things up a little for your students? Take a look around you and try to think of things going on in the world that are interesting to your students.

You probably have a pretty good idea of what topics you need to cover for the next few weeks, months, or the rest of the year if you are really planning ahead! You know the standards you need to cover. You may even have lots of specific lessons and activities planned. Hopefully, you found some great resources on The Gateway to use this year.

It’s fun to be flexible with these plans and to adapt them to tie in with current events around the world, within your state or town, or even in your school. You can also tie lessons and units in with historical events and holidays. Lessons can even be matched up with other things that seem to capture your students’ attention, such as sporting events.

Your students might be more interested in talking about the football games going on during the week than learning about the important things you have to teach them. Maybe you can try to pique their interest by relating a week of your lessons and activities to an underlying theme in their lives (which during January might be football!) This can bring a new level of interest for you and your students.

I realize that I don’t know a whole lot about football. I definitely couldn’t teach the fundamentals of the sport! I do know that it’s a topic on many students’ minds right now, though. I can successfully use that to help my students be excited to learn what I am really trying to teach.

My search for the keyword “football” on The Gateway produced 41 results. If I am a math teacher, I can implement one of the activities that covers how to use and calculate football statistics. Your students would be using math skills they might even take home to teach their parents! If I am an English or Social Studies teacher, I can assign a positional papers or debate on a timely topic like football players’ inflating salaries. As a physics teacher, I can use football as a starting point for all kinds of lessons on projectiles, collisions, and more. I can even use a review activity that works a lot like a football game to review material for a big test in any subject. What a fun way to incorporate football into an ordinary day of school!

Look around in the news, on calendars, and around campus. There are ideas all around for themed lessons and units that will touch close to home for students. I like to use holidays (Especially some of the offbeat ones you hear on the radio!) My high school calculus teacher liked to celebrate Pi Day (3/14) with a big party. Everyone brought pies, and we learned about the significance of pi. I’ll always remember the poems and the fun that helped me remember that pi=3.14159…

January has a very important historical holiday, too. Martin Luther King Jr. Day can be a valuable topic to include in a history class or even an English class. Don’t be afraid to bring ideas from the civil rights movement into subjects that might not appear to be related at all. With a little creativity, you can relate the theme to a variety of seemingly unrelated subjects. You aren’t just teaching your class about an important part of history, you are using that event to help create lessons and units that are more cohesive and interesting.

The key here is that your time is precious, and your students’ learning time needs to be maximized. I am not suggesting that you spend an enormous amount of time creating original themed units for every season, holiday, and important current event. Use ideas from your colleagues, ideas you have come up with in the past, and ideas on The Gateway to 21st Century Skills.

Once you have a theme you want to try and you find resources you like, modify, modify, modify! There are some great ideas and resources here from trusted sources. You are the expert with your students, though…so make the lessons your own. When something works well, leave a comment so someone else can benefit. This is the kind of collaboration that will create change in our teaching!

It might make the content more fun for you to deliver, and definitely more fun and interesting for the students. After all, they won’t learn much if they are not interested enough to pay attention!

~Peggy's Corner~

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