Name of Assignment:  Themed Literature Unit

Faculty to be contacted for specific questions:  Katherine Schlick Noe


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1.      Creates learning experiences that make subject matter meaningful for students.

2.      Applies understanding of how children learn and develop by providing learning opportunities that support their intellectual, social and personal development.

3.      Applies understanding of how students differ in their approaches to learning and creates instructional opportunities that are adapted to diverse learners.

4.      Understands and uses a variety of instructional strategies to encourage students' development of conceptual understanding of various subject areas  through critical thinking, problem solving, and performance skills.

5.      Designs lessons and units of study to create learning environments that encourage positive social interaction, active engagement of learning and self -motivation.

6.      Uses knowledge of effective verbal and nonverbal communication techniques and makes appropriate use of educational technology to foster active inquiry, collaboration, and supportive interaction in the classroom.

7.      Plans instruction based upon knowledge of subject matter (concepts, generalizations, principles, and skills specific to the core subject areas), students, the community, Essential Academic Learning Requirements, and curriculum goals.

8.      Understands and uses formal and informal assessment strategies to evaluate and ensure the continuous intellectual, social and physical development of the learner.

9.      Synthesizes components of effective instruction by developing a unit that reflects an integration of curriculum.

10.    Considers ethical dimensions of teaching and applies those considerations in choices of curriculum instructional strategies, assessment and strategies to address individual differences.


Rationale for assignment:

            One of the requirements of your preparation program is to demonstrate "positive impact on student learning."  In the MIT Program, that competency is met through one or more of the unit plans that you create, teach, and assess (for more information on these expectations, please see "Teaching Your Unit").  To meet that competency, one option is the Themed Literature Unit (TLU) which should, if possible, be related to your Social Studies Integrated Unit or Problem Solving/Data Gathering Unit.

            Literacy learning is most powerful when tied to specific content.  Therefore, placing reading and writing instruction within the context of social studies or mathematics/science learning makes sense. One way to do this is to organize literacy instruction around a central theme that comes out of a social studies or science topic. 

            A TLU differs from an integrated content unit whose main focus is content knowledge and integration in science, math, or social studies.  An integrated content unit, such as the Social Studies Integrated Unit or Storypath, uses a topic as the central focus (e.g., Communities, Ancient Civilizations, the Civil War).  A TLU explores the human themes that might relate to those topics.  For example, a TLU (Facing Hard Times with Courage) might accompany an integrated unit on the Revolutionary War by exploring through literature the rich themes that might come from that topic (e.g., survival, injustice, discovering the horrors of war, overcoming loss, developing character through adversity).  However, the same TLU could also accompany a science unit on environmental disasters.

            A TLU can be built around fiction (e.g., read novels about the Civil War in which characters portray various forms of courage), nonfiction (e.g., read biographies of famous scientists and learn about the risks they took), or both.  You can structure a TLU using literature circles or more traditional instruction.


Preparation for the assignment:


1.         Planning:  You may complete this assignment individually or with one classmate.  There are numerous advantages to developing units of study in collaboration with a colleague.  However, since one goal of the assignment is to develop a unit that you will use during student teaching, you need to make sure that it will fit both classrooms.  If you opt to do the unit as a team, include a brief explanation at the end of your TLU of how you worked together to design the unit plan.  Indicate each team member's specific contributions.


     Review sample TLU's. Examine the examples of complete units, as well as various aspects of the planning process.  These are intended to help you visualize the various aspects of a TLU.  You may adapt components of these examples for your own TLU.  If you do so, please give the author credit in your references.

     Read "Themes of Human Experience: Linking Literature and Concept Development.”  Betsy Rupp Fulwiler and I wrote this article based on our work in themed literature units.  This article should help you separate "themes" from "topics."

     Study the concept development process described on the TLU web site

            and the examples designed for TLUs by classroom teachers Janine King (6th grade), Kirstin Gerhold (5th grade), and Lori Scobie (4th grade)

     Further information on literature circles is available in Chapter 5 of Conversations, in Getting Started with Literature Circles, and on the Literature Circles Resource Center Web site.


2.         Selecting a Theme:   In consultation with your cooperating teacher, identify a theme that is appropriate for your students' level and possible for you to teach during student teaching.  Link the theme for the TLU with the topic you choose for the Social Studies Integrated Unit or the Data Gathering/Problem Solving unit. If you cannot link your TLU to your Social Studies Integrated Unit or to the Problem Solving/Data Gathering Unit, plan a TLU around a general theme that will be of value to your students (e.g., Persevering Despite Obstacles could be a strong theme that isn’t necessarily tied to social studies or science content).

            Select a theme that deals in some significant way with the concepts of problem solving and diversity.  For example, the theme of Immigration: Coping with Loss would include books and instructional concepts that address diversity within the context of immigrants' backgrounds, nationalities, reasons for coming to America; and explore the multitude of problems faced and solved in the process. 

            The challenge may be in deciding what is a topic and what is a theme.  If you selected "Immigration", you would have chosen a social studies topic.  The theme is a specific aspect of that topic, "Coping with Loss".  A good theme can be applied to a wide range of topics; similarly, a topic can spawn many meaningful themes.  We will discuss the process of selecting an appropriate theme in class.


These are topics …


These are themes …

Civil War

Finding Courage to Help Others

Marine Life

Taking Action to Care for Others

Endangered Species

Working for Justice


Standing Up for Your Beliefs


This topic

~ Civil War ~

could relate to these themes (and more!)


Finding the courage to help others          Working for justice          Persevering despite obstacles


This theme

~ Taking Action to Care for Others ~

could relate to these topics (and more!)


Endangered species               Communities          Revolutionary War Rain forest


            Choosing a worthwhile theme with depth and breadth will make the unit much easier to develop.


Pose a Central Thematic Question:  Your theme should guide students to think about a central thematic question or questions:  What does it mean to (work for justice, persevere despite obstacles, or challenge yourself to reach for the stars)?  What does it take for someone to (find the courage to help others, overcome adversity, or reach out to others)?


3.         Choosing Books:   Select 5-8 children's or young adult books (exact number will depend on grade level and reading level of students in your class) that illuminate, extend, or relate to your theme.  This will be a challenge and needs to be approached thoughtfully.  These titles form the core of book choices that you will offer your students.  Or, if you have all students reading one book, the other titles can be the source of focus lessons and independent reading.  Your goal is to identify 5-8 well-written, engaging books that complement your theme.  Consult with your cooperating teacher or with me if you need help.  Although you do not need to read every book, you need to know enough about each to understand how it fits your theme and to determine its quality for the unit.

            Where to Look for Good Books:

                 Annotated bibliography in the Blue Pages of Conversations (74b - 132b).

                 Sample book lists in Literature Circles Resource Guide and in the searchable database on the CD-ROM (available for checkout from KSN).

                 Teaching with Children's Literature web site

                 Literature Circles Resource Center web site

                 TLU examples


Presenting Your TLU at the Resource Fair:

You will share your TLU as part of a Resource Fair on March 18 with a display related to your theme and a brief oral description of the unit. The format for the Resource Fair is much like a science fair:  Five or six of you will be assigned to each 10-minute "session" and will set up your TLU displays at the same time.   The rest of the class will mosey among your displays, pausing to talk briefly with you about your TLU.  When the session ends, another assigned group will set up until everyone has shared.

  You do not need to prepare any formal presentation -- just be ready to say a few words about your TLU, perhaps give miniscule book talks about your books, and answer questions.

  The only requirement for the display: Provide something for us to look at besides you (e.g., samples of books, poster with generalizations, example response projects).  This does not need to be elaborate – just some visual aid to help us all understand your theme and what you are trying to teach.

  Prepare a one-page (back-to-front) handout for participants including the annotated book list, learning targets and content generalizations, and any other pertinent information you can fit on one page.  Provide citations for any information that comes from another source.  Please put your name(s) on your handout. Bring copies for each of your classmates and Katherine.  In addition, email as an attachment one copy of the handout formatted as a web page (HTML) to Katherine.

Description of assignment:  Refer to the rubric in the hard copy of your TEED 521 syllabus.


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