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Integrating the Curriculum Through Theme-Based Learning

James pointing to his communication board.Focusing on "themes" enables
teachers to meaningfully link different disciplines so that students will develop "big" and important ideas. Educational researchers are learning that students are better served when provided opportunities to develop deep knowledge about a few "big ideas" rather than a superficial knowledge of a broader range of ideas and information. Barbara and Susan try to choose themes that are developmentally appropriate and socially engaging for students. Themes can vary in nature and scope, however, they should be motivating to students and relevant to their lives. For example, one theme might focus on the color red where students discuss, experience and manipulate red things in different contexts during the day. Another theme might focus on ocean life and students can learn about salt water, waves, beaches, and ocean fish through a range of activities that happen in different contexts.

Developing themes through a variety of activities over time has particular benefits for many students with disabilities whose experiences may be limited. For students with communication needs, themes enable the entire class to develop a common content vocabulary that they can use to deepen their interactions. Because teaching students with disabilities requires a delicate balance between addressing learning needs and personal care needs, a theme-based curriculum can provide continuity throughout the day. As you explore Barbara's and Susan's classrooms, you will see how they weave themes into different curricular activities throughout the day.

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP)  in collaboration with the Center for Literacy and Disabilities (CLD)  at Duke University.   NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by CLD, NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

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