Planning a Year of Lessons Using Thematic Teaching

Are you looking for a simple, and fun way to plan a whole year of lessons? If so, I know you will absolutely LOVE today’s post! Today we’re talking about my system for simple, streamlined lesson planning every year in the primary classroom. Come along to check out my annual planning method and take a peek at how you can get started planning a year of lessons using thematic teaching.

What is Thematic Teaching?

This image showcases a back to school phonics activity that is perfect to use when you are thematic teaching.

Before we dive into how to plan for a year, let’s talk about how I make it super easy to do… thematic teaching! Not sure what I mean? Thematic teaching refers to teaching a variety of subjects while using one primary theme throughout all the lessons. To use thematic teaching, you choose a theme and plan all of your activities to align with it. 

Thematic teaching makes planning simple and easy because once you’ve got your theme, it helps to narrow your focus. Planning for young learners can feel overwhelming, but using a theme helps reduce decision fatigue. After all, if it doesn’t fit your theme, it doesn’t need to be included! I love this method because it makes it super simple to plan engaging, meaningful lessons for young students. Plus, it means you and your kiddos will get to explore fun, new topics each month!

Benefits of Planning a Year of Lessons at Once

So why would anyone want to do this? Well, my friends, annual lesson planning can be a real game-changer! There are tons of benefits to planning a year of lessons at once, but my favorite is the ease of annual planning. I don’t know about you guys, but once I’m on a roll with something, I can usually power through for quite some time. This is definitely true with planning. 

This image showcases thematic teaching resources that focus on apples and pumpkin in a unit perfect for fall!

Once I start planning my lessons, it’s actually easier and more effective for me to continue and plan the whole year at once. I love being able to see a high-level overview, while also ensuring I’m making room for all the things that I’d like to include in our year. We’ve all had those times when we really wanted to include a specific topic, but forgot about it halfway through the year right? With annual planning, this happens much less since you’re mapping out everything at once.

Now, don’t worry – you don’t need to plan every single lesson down to the T! Instead, I like to focus on thematic teaching as my guide and choose topics for each month, or week. This helps keep this process simple, quick, and effective! Then, as the year progresses, plug in your weekly or monthly lessons as you go.

How to Get Started Planning a Year of Lessons 

Wondering how to start this process? It’s really quite simple! Here’s how I get started planning every year:

  1. Get out your school calendar and count the number of weeks you’ll be in session. 
  2. Make notes of these dates in your planner. 
  3. Make notes of holiday breaks and semester/quarter-end dates. 
  4. Make a list of the topics you’d like to cover with your students. 
  5. Begin plugging these topics in for each week or month. 
This image features a planner opened to February. It has examples of February themes for each week to make planning a year of lessons easier.

That’s it, friends! I know this process sounds complicated, but really it’s very simple. I like to either use a fresh monthly calendar or planner for this and simply jot down themes for each week. Some people prefer to use monthly themes, so this option is up to you. 

In my planning system, I usually have 1-2 main “umbrella” themes with more specific weekly ones that fall under each. For example, in January the primary theme is “winter”. Within that winter theme, students learn about snowmen, penguins, polar bears, and winter weather. This helps to break things up every week. 

While this process is simple, I know it can feel super overwhelming the first time around. So, if you’re ready to give planning a year of lessons a try, but don’t know where to start – don’t fret! Let’s walk through a whole year of 13 different themes together and how I use them. 

Planning a Year of Lessons – Fall Themes 

Most schools in the U.S. start in August or September and teachers everywhere happily roll right into fall themes for the classroom. Here are some of the fall themes I’ve used in my room over the years. 

1. August – Back to School Theme 

I think as teachers, we can all agree there are few things better than fresh pencils, clean desks, and crisp, new folders, right?! Back to School theme is all about starting the year off on the right foot and setting the stage for a great year of learning. Inside my Back to School Centers and Activities Unit, students will learn about people in a school, school rules, feelings at school, and more!

2. September – Apples & Pumpkins Theme 

This photo shows turkey themed math and literacy activities that can be used during November.

I love this theme and typically teach it in September. Apples and pumpkins are great themes for primary students as they learn about how apples grow and how they compare to pumpkins. It’s also fun to explore seasonal foods you can make with these fall fruits!

If you don’t start school until September, I would do a Back to School theme and apples in September. Pumpkins is very versatile in the fall and can be added to October or November as well.

3. October – Bats & Spiders Theme

This next option is perfect for the month of October! Students will love learning about these spooky, creepy creatures. For more info on how to plan for this specific theme, be sure to check out this post.

4. November – Autumn Theme 

This next idea actually covers a few themes in one. When I teach a fall theme in my classroom, this usually includes fall seasonal changes, leaves, and Thanksgiving. These topics are perfect for November and can be spread over a few weeks with the resources that I use. I love exploring this topic before we’re out of school for Thanksgiving break!

Planning a Year of Lessons – Winter Themes 

After Thanksgiving break, we dive into fun-filled winter themes that make everyone smile. These are among my favorites for the whole year since they align with Christmas and other fun winter holidays! I think you’ll find that your students love them too!

The December activities in this resource are great for thematic teaching that brings in themes like reindeer and gingerbread. Use these in your winter activities as you work on planning a year of lessons.

5. December – Holiday Themes 

Speaking of holidays, December is the perfect time to use this activities and center unit. Even if you don’t focus on the Christmas holiday, there are lots of great themes your kids will love.

Inside the December themes unit, you’ll find math and literacy centers, writing activities, mini readers, and more all about gingerbread, non-magical reindeer, and holidays around the world. When it comes to planning a year of lessons, this month is probably my favorite! 

6. December – Christmas Theme 

If you love Christmas as much as I do, you’ll be pleased to know that I have another thematic unit completely dedicated to this holiday. These activities are perfect for the end of the month of December and even over the holiday break if you’re homeschooling or teaching a holiday camp! 

7. January – All About Winter 

After the holiday break, we dive into a new theme… winter! This topic is big and can easily be spread out over the whole month of January. Inside my resource, we study winter seasonal changes, penguins, snowmen, and polar bears. Primary students love these topics and they are especially fun for kiddos who live in a warmer climate and may not get to experience traditional winter weather firsthand! 

8. February – Valentine’s Day and more!

It’s always seemed funny to me that February is the shortest month of the year, but there are so many fun themes to explore during this month! Inside my February thematic teaching unit, students learn about Valentine’s Day, community helpers, dental health, President’s Day, American Symbols, and Black History Month. This unit is perfect for spacing out over the whole month and keeping engagement high.

There’s more than enough in this unit that you could tackle a theme or two another time of the year if you need to.

Planning a Year of Lessons – Spring Themes 

There is so much fun to be had in the spring in the primary classroom. Here’s what my favorite spring themes and lesson plans include. 

This photo showcases spring thematic teaching resources that focus on plants as well as oviparous and viparous animals. These will make planning a year of lessons simple and easy!

9. March – Farm, Rainbows and St. Patrick’s Day!

While spring doesn’t technically start until around March 20th, I definitely consider this month to be the beginning of spring! Inside this thematic teaching unit, students learn about St. Patrick’s Day, Leprechauns, Rainbows, and Farm animals. It’s the perfect way to add a little spring cheer to your room after a long winter. 

10. April – Spring Weather, Easter, Earth Day and Life Cycles 

When planning a year of lessons with thematic teaching, I make sure to space out the spring themes over a few months since there is so much to cover during this season. In April, we’re usually learning about Spring weather, Easter, Earth Day, and life cycles that are focused on frogs and oviparous animals. 

11. May – Bugs, Weather and Living & Nonliving Things

This next set of resources is one that I usually use in May. It’s perfect for springtime though it can be used during any month you’d like. Inside students learn about bugs, weather, living and non-living things. These versatile themes are great for any time of the year!

Planning a Year of Lessons – Summer Themes 

This photo is of a variety of summer themed that can be used as part of an ocean unit.

These final options are perfect for those of you who teach in a year-round format and need a few more themes to carry you through! Homeschoolers will also love these themes for summer learning.

12. Summer – Texas & Rodeos 

Is there anything more fun than the rodeo? I don’t think so! Inside this fun thematic teaching resource, students learn all about the state of Texas and Rodeos! 

13. Summer – Summer Weather, Ocean Animals & Summer Fun!

My last thematic teaching unit is all about ocean animals, summer weather, and other summer-related topics. It’s perfect for your June and July lessons as well as a resource for summer camp. And. . . if you want to do a patriotic theme in early July, check out the American Symbols activities in the February unit.

How to Use These Thematic Teaching Resources 

You might be wondering how exactly to use these resources once you’ve picked and planned for the year. The good news is that picking the themes will be part of this that takes the most mental focus. If you decide to use my thematic teaching units, I think you’ll find they offer an easy, low-prep way to simplify your lesson planning! In fact, these ready-to-use lessons will likely save you time as you move through your year of learning.

This photo features resources that can be used in August and September as a part of your thematic teaching plans. Specifically, it shows a back to school themed math center.

Inside you’ll find TONS of resources. Most of the units include over 1000 pages of engaging, hands-on learning activities aligned to each theme. You and your students will love the activities to practice math skills, literacy concepts, writing, crafting, and more! Many of the units feature activities such as:

  • Math centers
  • Literacy centers
  • Writing prompts
  • Craftivities
  • Fine Motor activities 
  • Mini readers
  • Booklists 
  • Color by code pages and more! 

Whether you’re teaching in a traditional classroom setting, small group lessons, or looking for activities that can be used as homeschool curriculum – I’ve gotcha covered! There’s a little bit of everything inside these units, making them super versatile and easy to differentiate.

These thematic teaching units make planning a year of lessons super simple and easy. Just choose your theme, prep your activities and you’re ready to go! Plus, each pack includes a blend of centers and lower-prep items to help balance out your time.

Get Started Planning Your Year of Thematic Teaching

Ready to try annual planning for yourself? If you want to make your thematic lesson planning process as simple as possible, I know you’ll LOVE my Thematic Unit Bundle. Inside, you’ll find all 13 of the lesson packs shown here to help simplify and streamline your yearly lessons! Not to mention, grabbing the bundle means you’ll get all of these resources at a fantastic price!

And. . . with the bundle at your fingertips you can create a thematic schedule that works for you. Want to teach community helpers in September? Great – just pull those resources from the February unit. Want to teach about spiders in the spring when you teach insects? No problem! Just grab the spider materials from the October unit.

Planning a year of lessons doesn’t have to be complicated. Check out the bundle to make the most of your time and ensure that your students have a fun new theme to explore every month. These resources will make it even easier and more simple to plan for the whole year at once! 

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Make sure to pin this post on Pinterest so that you can keep track of these ideas for planning a year of lessons using thematic teaching. 

Want to simplify lesson planning in your lower elementary classroom? Check out this post to find out how you can plan a year of lessons using thematic teaching. I also share resources and theme ideas to help you start planning!