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Barbara Comments on Integrating the Curriculum
Through Theme-Based Learning

Barbara-photoSometimes I choose themes and sometimes the students choose them. I try to draw on their interests so that I can pull them in. A lot of our themes are based on familiar topics--seasons, holidays. When we do holidays, we focus more on an underlying theme. Like with Thanksgiving, we focused on family. Sometimes we center our themes on books. Forgetful is an example of this. Another example is Planting a Rainbow, by Lois Ehlert. It's a book about spring, the process of planting flowers and associating it with the colors of a rainbow. We made flowers for our spring mural and talked a lot about the gardening sequence. We planted flowers and let the children water their flowers with a single switch attached to the water pick.

When we focus on a theme, we place things related to that theme throughout the environment. For example, when we focused on Planting a Rainbow, we had a variety of water plants in the water table and potted plants in the housekeeping area. We had gardening and seed magazines in the cut and color area, as well as cut-out flowers that the children could trace. We made up our own story book about the students' favorite flowers, so they could take it home.

I like themes because they help me focus more closely on ways to adapt things. The goal is to use a diverse set of materials around a particular theme so that all children have an independent way into the content. Themes became familiar places and help students learn to generalize their skills, particularly those with cognitive needs who have a hard time applying skills across settings. Themes provide some continuity and a shared background, particularly for the students who are nonspeaking. The vocabulary becomes a shared vocabularly, so it's motivating for everyone.

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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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