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Differentiated Instruction - Thematic vs. Topical Instruction

Although the terms "thematic" and "topical" instruction are often used interchangeably, they are distinctly different approaches to presenting curriculum.

Topical instruction focuses on a specific topic, such as "natural resources," "electricity," "cultures," or "Benjamin Franklin." Topical instruction connects instruction across content areas while confining itself within the limits of the topic.

Thematic instruction, however, revolves around broad concepts found in the Core Curriculum Content Standards. Change, growth, power, or connections would be examples of such themes. Thematic instruction connects basic concepts across content areas through essential questions that are at the heart of each discipline.

By learning thematically through the broad concepts that connect each discipline, students can form a mental framework that will serve as a strong foundation for both their present and future studies.

The following table contains examples of thematic instruction using "power" as the theme.

Content Area

Connection to Theme

Math

 

Place value number systems use numbers raised to powers in determining the value of digits.

 

Words have power. The power of the printed word can be found in every form of writing. The power of the spoken word is evident in everyday life. Communication in other content areas is dependent on the power of language.

Language Arts

 
 

Each branch of science deals with power, from the power of the atom to the power of the elements as they shape our environment to the power of scientific explorations that uncover our past.

Science

 
 

The social sciences are the result of mankind's use and misuse of power. Each unit of study can relate to positive and negative applications of power through the ages and their implications for our future.

Social Studies

 
 

Each art form demonstrates the power of expression in its respective media as is reflects its respective culture and time. Emotions stirred in observers and participants deepen our understanding of others and of ourselves.

Fine and

Performing

Arts

 
 

Be it the through individual effort or teamwork, physical education gives students concrete proof of the power that result from rigorous and relevant work in any given field of study.

Physical

Education

Technology

The power of the Internet is undeniable as a force in our world.

Think of what can happen if themes such as change, form and function, or relationships, are substituted for topics such as seasons, shapes, and families. The educational possibilities would be endless.

With thematic instruction - each subject reinforcing the others, each teacher reinforcing the others - students can begin to make cross-curricular connections that will add unparalleled depth and breadth to their learning. This table shows only the tip of the iceberg using "respect" as a theme.

Content Area

Connection to Theme

 

Number names must be respected. Otherwise, place value means nothing. Word problems are solved by discovering the relationships of one set of values with respect to another.

Math

 
 

We must respect the opinions of others, even if we disagree with what they have written. We must respect ourselves in being true to our thoughts when writing, as well as respect our audience by writing clearly and using grammar and vocabulary that are appropriate to that audience.

Language

Arts

 
 

We respect the subjects in our experiments. We learn respect for our physical environment whether studying geology, ecology, or astronomy. The work of other scientists commands our respect.

Science

 
 

As we study our community and others, we learn to respect our differences. A much higher level of understanding of the curriculum can be obtained by asking students to speculate on the different outcomes that conflicts in history may had if the parties involved respected one another's viewpoints. How does that apply in current events?

Social Studies

 

Fine and

Children are exposed to many art forms in school and in their daily lives. Opinions are formed. Respect for the artists, their dedication, and their achievements are paramount to any effective study of art forms.

Performing

Arts

Physical

 

Respect for teammates, respect for the opposition. Respect for the rules.

Education

 

The Internet must be used with respect, as any tool should be. Otherwise, much damage can be done through misuse.

Technology