How to Integrate Thematic Instruction into Your Adult Ed Classroom

Posted by on November 3rd, 2016

Thematic instruction is the organization of curriculum around a theme. It is cross-curricular exploration of a broad subject using multiple disciplines such as math, reading, writing and science.

Themes are usually centered around topics that are most relevant and interesting to students. The use of overarching themes in education has grown as the effectiveness of the approach continues to be recognized. Benefits include the ability to make connections, increase in collaborative learning, time savings and more. As an educator, you have the opportunity to integrate the use of thematic units within your adult classroom in real world contexts.


Effectiveness of Thematic Units

Thematic units are effective in the following ways:

  • Connections – Thematic units help students identify and make connections between concepts, real world examples and overall goals. Students can use prior knowledge to make connections and extend learning.
  • Increased Interest in Learning – Students are engaged in a variety of learning activities with the use of overarching themes. The variety of exposure promotes the creation of well-rounded learners.
  • Cooperative and Collaborative Learning – Thematic units are usually student centered rather than teacher focused. Cooperation and collaborative learning are often major drivers and components of thematic, student centered instruction. The collaborative environment promotes a community of learners with shared learning goals.
  • Varied Assessment Options – Assessment options are increased with the use of cross-curricular themes. Student knowledge can be assessed on a particular concept through any of the chosen disciplines. Assessment and informal evaluation are an ongoing part of thematic instruction.
  • Time Saving – Time is saved through thematic learning because multiple subjects are being taught at the same time.


Incorporating Thematic Units in Adult Education

Thematic instruction takes planning. Your thematic units can last anywhere from several days to several weeks. It is important to know your objectives and determine how integration will take place. Five steps to incorporating a thematic unit in your classroom are:

  1. Choose a theme.
  2. Identify objectives for integration for each subject you would like to include.
  3. Plan lessons and activities.
  4. Implement the plan.
  5. Evaluate student progress and unit success.


Potential Themes for Adults

Within adult education it is helpful to use the interests and concerns of your students to tailor your lessons. Job requirements, parental roles or current events are potential options for adult students. In general, the themes for your adult education classroom should be centered around real world activities and responsibilities. Potential themes include:

  • Careers
  • Parenting and Family
  • Household Tasks
  • Community
  • Healthy Living
  • Elections
  • Sports


Thematic instruction offers a wealth of benefits that can be translated into the adult education classroom. Your decision to utilize a theme and implement a cross-curricular approach will afford your students a well-rounded learning experience. Moreover, your choice to use relevant, real world themes will promote greater interest, engagement and knowledge retention among your students. The thematic unit allows for learning to be less fragmented and more natural.

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