Unifying theme versus skill? (Choice post)

August is right around the corner… literally. And we all know what that means!

Month of August


With only five years under my belt, I still do the Sunday plan. I get the sense that some seasoned teachers do this by choice but that most are pretty much planned from memory after a certain point. I’m nowhere near there yet, so Sunday is always my planning day (and thus my dread) and therefore August is my planning Monday. With the first of the month around the corner, it means that my PD books are in piles in the living room and my brain is swirling around all of the files I want to rewrite and reorganize in my Google Drive for the year’s curriculum. Reading Twitter as part of my prep and thinking, I came across this article from Edutopia and it got me thinking – do I focus around theme or skill for each unit?

I believe there are drawbacks to both, and in some ways, the drawbacks can be the same. With theme, by focusing on one theme but a variety of skills throughout, I find myself often get burned out by a given topic of conversation. For example, our curriculum has us discussing the “American Dream” as the first unit. By the end of it, the students don’t even want to hear the phrase any more. They are so sick of hearing about, talking about, and reading about the American Dream. But they do have a strong and thorough understanding of its strengths and weaknesses.

On the other hand, by focusing around a single skill, the unit can feel disorganized and disjointed without a topic to keep it flowing. Yes, we can build toward mastery of a certain type of variety and practice it with a range of texts, but there’s something in me that misses the connections we can make in conversations by not having some sort of unifying theme between the texts while building toward mastery in a given skill.

This brings me to my final point. I believe what I hope to try this year is combing the two – focusing on a skill and a theme, and in places where I would normally overdo it with theme, I will focus more on skill practice and tweaking. Then, my students may not get so burned out by the topic and will still polish those necessary and vital skills of the content area. Also, I’m thinking that by making my themes broad enough, it will allow for large scale discussion and not over saturation on the topic. Instead of talking about the “American Dream,” we could look at “freedoms” for example – really broaden it. Our original theme would encompass that and wouldn’t require a rewrite of any curriculum, but if I move the magnifying lens out a bit further we can solve the problem without much stress.

In closing, how do you handle curriculum development for your courses? Some content areas decide this for you, but others may not. Do you organize around a theme or topic? Or do you organize around a skill? Which do you prefer? What strengths or weaknesses do you see in one choice or the other? And how do you compensate for any weaknesses you perceive? 


3 thoughts on “Unifying theme versus skill? (Choice post)

  1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who loves/dreads August. I like making new plans, but it is overwhelming. When August rolls around, I know I need to get moving. I agree with you that a hybrid of theme and skill is important. I think the theme helps motivate the students to work at the skill.

    • Me too! I think theme helps them get the skills. Otherwise, they seem confused by the point of the lessons or the learning. Themes make sense to them as a purpose for learning but skills don’t always, at least in English class ironically!

  2. Pingback: Backwards Planning – Understanding by Design | Orange in the Middle of a Table

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