You are on page 1of 2

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


Place value number systems use numbers raised to powers in
Math
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
Language Arts
life. Communication in other content areas is dependent on the power of
language.
Each branch of science deals with power, from the power of the atom to
Science the power of the elements as they shape our environment to the power
of scientific explorations that uncover our past.
The social sciences are the result of mankind's use and misuse of power.
Social Studies Each unit of study can relate to positive and negative applications of
power through the ages and their implications for our future.
Each art form demonstrates the power of expression in its respective
Fine and
media as is reflects its respective culture and time. Emotions stirred in
Performing
observers and participants deepen our understanding of others and of
Arts
ourselves.
Be it the through individual effort or teamwork, physical education gives
Physical
students concrete proof of the power that result from rigorous and
Education
relevant work in any given field of study.

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
Math nothing. Word problems are solved by discovering the relationships of
one set of values with respect to another.
We must respect the opinions of others, even if we disagree with what
Language they have written. We must respect ourselves in being true to our
Arts thoughts when writing, as well as respect our audience by writing clearly
and using grammar and vocabulary that are appropriate to that audience.
We respect the subjects in our experiments. We learn respect for our
Science physical environment whether studying geology, ecology, or astronomy.
The work of other scientists commands our respect.
As we study our community and others, we learn to respect our
differences. A much higher level of understanding of the curriculum can
Social Studies 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?
Fine and Children are exposed to many art forms in school and in their daily lives.
Performing Opinions are formed. Respect for the artists, their dedication, and their
Arts achievements are paramount to any effective study of art forms.
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,
Technology
much damage can be done through misuse.