An ELD (English Language Development) thematic unit combines content information with language standards. According to WIDA, Multilingual Learners are ” best served when they learn content and language together in linguistically and culturally sustaining ways.” Using themes to teach language standards helps students to organize new information. It provides content for students to speak, read, listen, and write about. As the unit progresses, all students have common background knowledge from earlier in the unit that they can build on.
Themes are not only helpful for English Langauge Learners (ELLs). Background knowledge plays an enormous role in reading comprehension (Hirsch, 2003). Themes allow a teacher to give all students access to background knowledge knowledge. This results in students being able to read and write at a higher level.
How to Choose a Theme
If you work with a grade level with a strong focus on a content area such as science or social studies, you can use those topics to build thematic units. This gives ELLs multiple exposures to the same vocabulary.
Seasons are a good topic for elementary students, especially those in the primary grades. Learning about the environment around them gives students concrete examples that they can draw from. If you live in an area that does not have four distinct seasons, you can still use seasonal topics and add in a compare and contrast aspect.
High-interest themes can include sports, animals, vehicles, space, and games.
What to Include in an ELD Thematic Unit
Creating a thematic unit to teach English Language Development skills should include opportunities for students to read, write, speak, and listen. WIDA has key language uses (argue, narrate, inform, and explain) that should also be incorporated into the types of materials you use. Depending on the student’s age and language level, add in phonics, grammar, vocabulary, and games. The main point is that the theme connects the materials you use to teach language skills. If someone asks students what they are learning about, it is simple for them to say the theme (I am learning about fall.) At the beginning of each lesson, inform students of the ELD skill they will be working on. (Today, we will tell information about fall.)
Start by collecting books on the topic to create a text set. This way, you can quickly read aloud during the unit. Also, set out the books for students to browse through. Try and find a range of reading levels. Books that students can decode independently. Strong picture support in the books. Books with advanced vocabulary.