Monday, August 8, 2022

Thematic Group Units in the Special Education Classroom

When I first started teaching, I did not have a curriculum. I didn't have anything really. So each week I was recreating the wheel trying to find something to use to target common elementary skills and IEP goals. It was EXHAUSTING! And extremely time-consuming. Eventually, I discovered if I chose a theme for each week it made planning easier and instruction more cohesive. As I repeated themes year after year, I was able to accumulate a variety of activities so I would keep the same theme for longer than a week. Typically 2-4 weeks would be just right. 

For each theme, I had some predictable activities with the same format that I would just modify to match that week's theme. As any successful special educator knows, predictability can be so important in our classroom! This allowed my students to learn the content without simultaneously needing to learn the activity expectations. 

Vocabulary:

Students chose vocabulary words from a bag to match to the corresponding pictures on my pocket chart. We would complete this activity every day to start our ELA instruction. 

  • Accommodation Tip: For my nonreaders, I would read the word for them and they had to find the picture. 
  • Extension Tip: For my more advanced students, I would ask them to use the word in a sentence. 

Plants & Flowers Thematic Unit

Visual Recipes:

Each week, we also had a cooking period. The students would make a snack to go along with the theme by following a visual recipe. I also assigned a Head Chef classroom job for a student each week. This student would be in charge of using the recipe to gather ingredients. They would also pass out items to the rest of the group which was great practice of one-to-one correspondence, social skills, and manners. 

  • Accommodation Tip: For students who needed more assistance, I would lay out all the ingredients and they would use the recipe to find each item and place them on a tray. 
  • Extension Tip: My more advanced students would use the recipe and find the ingredients within our classroom kitchenette (fridge, freezer, cabinet, drawer, etc.) which was great life skills practice! 
Gingerbread Thematic Unit


Then, students take turns reading the steps of the recipe and they follow the direction. Again this focuses on a variety of skills including reading comprehension, listening comprehension, and joint attention.

Holiday Traditions Thematic Unit

In addition to finding these visual recipes in my thematic units, you can also find them in my Visual Recipes for the Whole Year resource. 


Weekend Report

Every Friday I sent home a Weekend Report with my students so that we could share about our weekends during our Morning Meeting on Mondays. When I started my thematic instruction, I added a related question to the bottom of the report which was a great way to introduce that week's topic. 

Senses Thematic Unit

Back to School Thematic Unit

Picture Book Communication Board:

For each theme, I chose several popular picture books and created corresponding communication boards. These communication boards provided a predictable, picture-supported way for the students to interact with the story. 

Insects Thematic Unit

Zoo Animals Thematic Unit

Forest Animals Thematic Unit
  • Accommodation Tip: For my students who needed more interaction, I would print a second copy of the board and make an interactive velcro activity for them to build each sentence. 
St. Patrick's Day Thematic Unit
  • Extension Tip: For my students who were able to read the picture book, I would use the communication board for them during comprehension activities to support their recall of events. 
In addition to finding these picture book communication boards in my thematic units, I have expanded upon them to create units for a variety of books which can be purchased in my TPT Store in isolation or as part of the bundle. 

Games
To practice theme vocabulary, I also incorporated a thematic game each week that we could play during social skills group or free time. 


Plants & Flowers Thematic Unit


  • Extension Tip: Use the thematic board to practice other skills such as letter, number, or sight word identification. 


In addition to these repetitive tasks, I created additional activities to work on a variety of skills including math, writing, social studies, science, social skills, language, movement, and more! 

Plants & Flowers Thematic Unit

Fall & Leaves Thematic Unit

Thanksgiving Thematic Unit

Zoo Animals Thematic Unit

Thanksgiving Thematic Unit

Christmas Thematic Unit

Valentine's Day Thematic Unit

St. Patrick's Day Thematic Unit

Several years into my teaching career, our district adopted Unique Learning System. This was a great resource and also was thematic so it was easy to supplement with the thematic activities I had already created. Each of the thematic units pictured below can be found in my TPT store or can be purchased as part of my thematic unit bundle. 


As a bonus when you purchase the bundle, you can get sample lesson plans for bi-weekly or monthly unit implementation!




Until next time!

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