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Thematic Cross-Curricular Approach Toward Literacy Learning Essay



Approaches to learning and teaching have often been subjected to changes due to the continuous need of achieving the best educational outcomes for students. Thematic and cross-curricular approaches to curriculum planning gave been recently brought up to educators’ attention due to their innovativeness and attention to factors that have the potential in making a change in students’ understanding of subjects, their literacy, and overall knowledge development. This research paper will focus on exploring the benefits and challenges of thematic and cross-curricular approaches to curriculum planning in primary education with the focus on student literacy.

Cross-curricular or thematic instruction planning raises many questions for teachers, especially with regards to connecting their perceptions about teachers with students’ understanding (Rowley & Cooper 2009). Therefore, the lack of balance can significantly limit the success of integrating a cross-curricular approach towards learning. It has been recommended for schools to pay closer attention to the needs of teachers in planning a thematic curriculum and facilitate the establishment of policies that will help support teachers and their students in the process of implementing a cross-curricular approach.

Thematic Approach Toward Early Literacy Teaching

The effective teaching of literacy has been subjected to extended debates for over five decades, with a variety of approaches coming in and out of curriculum development procedures (Harvey 2013). Because modern classrooms are complex and dynamic environments for learning, there is a need for identifying the most beneficial approaches to teaching that can help students achieve the best learning outcomes (Harvey 2013). Cross-curricular and thematic learning for facilitating the development of literacy skills can be applied to promote students’ learning and introduce new strategies targeted at the improvement of teaching strategies (Curriculum Development Council 2017). In the context of primary school learning, thematic cross-curricular instruction is likely to help students develop new literacy skills based on previous knowledge while integrating innovative strategies that connect literacy learning with other disciplines.

A thematic approach to curriculum implies the organization of material taught during a class into themes, which can include different disciplines such as literacy, sciences, math, and so on (A thematic approach 2015). Such themes explore broad subjects, the use of which can be disseminated into several disciplines. For example, chocolate can be the theme for planning a curriculum; in this case, each subject (math, science, literacy, etc.) will integrate the topic of chocolate. An option for this may be planning a trip to a chocolate factory and developing assignments for each week. While during a math course students will be taught on the use of money, charts, and numbers in the process of making chocolate, a literacy class is likely to focus on experimental writing, watching a movie about a chocolate factory, and so on. It should be mentioned that a thematic approach goes hand-in-hand with cross-curricular teaching since it implies establishing connections between different subjects that all focus on exploring a particular theme, like, for example, chocolate (Centre for Global Education 2014). When it comes to literacy, the thematic cross-curricular instruction is expected to broaden students’ vocabulary, enhance fluency in writing and reading, facilitate a better comprehension of new subjects, as well as improve their overall awareness in learning (Hayes 2010).

Benefits of Thematic Cross-Curricular Instruction

Literacy refers to a combination of skills that students need to learn to facilitate successful reading and writing, which are essential for their further learning and functioning in modern society (Nordquist 2017). According to the findings of the Centre for Global Education (2014) (funded by the UK government), cross-curricular approaches to curriculum planning are expected to bring the following broad benefits:

  • Creating rich environments for a variety of learning opportunities;
  • Making the process of learning more meaningful;
  • Building opportunities for the development of new cross-curricular skills;
  • Allowing learners to create links between subjects.

In the context of primary school learning, cross-curricular instruction is likely to create a basis for students’ future learning. Since a thematic approach is linked to cross-curricular instruction, it is also important to mention its advantages. According to

Tuffelmire (2017), a thematic approach to curriculum planning has the following benefits:

  • Establishing motivation through integrated theme units;
  • Building new knowledge on prior knowledge;
  • Demonstrating the understanding of subjects through using multiple methods;
  • Involving a cross-curricular approach.

Theme units allow students in primary classes to use their knowledge across several disciplines. Under a specific theme, students can use different skills to further their knowledge. During literacy development, primary school learners are encouraged to use non-scientific knowledge to discover new skills that they can use in the future; however, the non-scientific knowledge during literacy development is expected to be supported and reinforced by skills learned during such subjects as maths or sciences (Scottish Government 2014). A thematic and cross-curricular approach to curriculum development is considered motivational because it encourages educators to be very creative in encouraging the adaptation of new skills (Tufferlmire, 2017).

If to provide an example of successful integration of cross-curricular instruction, it is essential to mention the study conducted by John (2015) who focused on exploring a new thematic, “integrated curriculum for primary schools of Trinidad and Tobago” (p. 172). After the integration of the thematic curriculum into students’ learning, teachers at primary schools where the study was conducted mentioned that the new approach solved several problems that they used to have. To be specific, the teachers mentioned that the thematic approach was extremely effective in developing literacy and numeracy skills through the use of cross-curricular instruction development (John 2015). Also, it was found that the thematic approach helped teachers “develop systematic differentiated instruction to meet the needs of a range of students” (John 2015, p. 173).

It is important to mention that teachers should choose topics that will be interesting to young learners; for example, everyone loves chocolate, and probably a lot of young students have seen or heard of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. By integrating familiar topics into learning when developing a curriculum, teachers are highly likely to capture students’ attention and achieve successful learning outcomes. Therefore, building on prior knowledge is a benefit of thematic and cross-curricular literacy that is highly likely to bring the most success to the process of learning.

Challenges in Thematic Cross-Curricular Instruction

First, the most common complication associated with the successful integration of a thematic cross-curricular approach toward instruction refers to the pressure of teachers to meet timetables and avoid overloading the curriculum (Savage 2010). Importantly, this challenge has been placed in the center of the educational reform in the United Kingdom where teachers reported the lack of confidence in integrating cross-curricular themes in their practice (Savage 2010). Second, due to teachers’ lack of self-confidence, cross-curricular instruction requires an emphasis on teacher development first before implementing this innovative approach to practice.

In curriculum planning, a thematic cross-curricular approach toward literacy development presents several challenges for both students and their teachers. First, developing such an approach implies a complex process planning that should take into consideration every detail regarding the use of logistics for navigating between different subjects. This means that communication between teachers of different subjects should be clear and transparent to ensure the alignment of a theme within and between skill sets (Earp, 2016). According to the National Research Council (2012), an additional challenge within this framework refers to getting both students and teachers on the same page with regards to the demands of the thematic curriculum. When developing literacy skills, teachers should explain clearly what are the expected outcomes regarding reading, writing, and comprehension, as well as how these outcomes will be achieved through the use of thematic learning (Earp, 2016). It is sometimes hard to communicate such expectations because students may get confused or scared or possible challenges.

For students, a cross-curricular approach toward literacy teaching in primary school is challenging because of the risks of confusion (Jones 2010). Because students learn the same topic, but from different perspectives, they may often get confused between different subjects, which creates some difficulties for the learning process. Therefore, teachers should be clear about the differentiations between learning similar subjects in different disciplines and help students assign specific skills to the expected learning outcomes (Coe, Aloisi, Higgins & Major 2014).

Conclusions and Recommendations

It can be concluded that thematic cross-cultural instruction in teaching literacy at primary school can bring a variety of benefits such as building new skills on prior knowledge or making connections between literacy and subjects such as maths or sciences. Because of the existing connections between subjects, teachers may experience the lack of integration within the curriculum while students may get confused between subjects.

It is recommended to teach literacy by using familiar topics and information that students have already encountered. If, for example, the topic is chocolate, literacy assignments can include retelling episodes from a movie (e.g., Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), writing letters to Willy Wonka, and so on. Due to the all-encompassing nature of cross-curricular instruction, teachers are encouraged to use their imagination and be clear about their expectations of students’ skills.

Reference List

Centre for Global Education 2014, Cross-curricular approaches to global learning: guidance for primary schools, Web.

Coe, R, Aloisi, C, Higgins, S & Major, L 2014, What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research, Web.

Curriculum Development Council 2017, English language education. Key learning area curriculum guide, Web.

Earp, J 2016, Navigating the challenges of cross-curricular, Web.

Harvey, S 2014, , Web.

Hayes, D 2010, ‘The seductive charms of a cross-curricular approach, International Journal of Primary’, Elementary and Early Years Education, vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 381-387.

John, Y 2015, ‘A “new” thematic, integrated curriculum for primary schools of Trinidad and Tobago: a paradigm shift,’ International Journal of Higher Education, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 172-187.

Jones, C 2010, ‘Interdisciplinary approach – advantages, disadvantages, and the future benefits of interdisciplinary studies’, ESSAI, vol. 7, pp. 76-81.

National Research Council 2012, A framework for K-12 science education: practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas, National Academic Press, Washington, DC.

Nordquist, R 2017, , Web.

Rowley, C & Cooper, H 2009, Cross-cultural approaches to teaching and learning, SAGE, London, UK.

Savage, J 2010, Cross-cultural teaching and learning 2: a short research review, Web.

Scottish Government 2014, Curriculum for excellence building the curriculum 4 skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work, Web.

2015, Web.

Tuffelmire, D 2017,, Web.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Thematic Cross-Curricular Approach Toward Literacy Learning'. 28 December.

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