Looking for a way to teach more core content each day? Take a tip from seasoned educators. Find as many ways as you can to integrate instruction by connecting one subject area to another. It's creative, meaningful, fun, and saves valuable teaching and learning time.

The first year I did any full-time integrated instruction, my school went on double sessions from August to early March. I remember looking at my long-range plan for the year, wondering how I was going to teach everything that was required in a much shorter day. The answer was integrating curriculum. I realized that if I taught science during reading, social studies during writing, or health during math, I just might be able to get through all of the curriculum by the end of the year.

The results were so exciting that I continued to integrate the subject areas even when my school stopped double sessions. I found that I enjoyed teaching language and math through filters of science, social studies, and health more than separating the disciplines. I noticed, too, that my students were highly motivated and, in general, seemed to be able to remember their lessons more readily.

Integrated instruction has many faces:

  • A unit is a group of activities based on a common topic, such as weather or pets.

  • A theme is a grouping of activities based on a common concept, such as change or exploration.

The Brainstorming Process

I enjoyed designing integrated instruction with a partner. The ideas flowed freely, and the end product was much more instructionally solid than when I planned alone. Whichever way you go, here are the questions you should think through when trying to develop themes, topics, and concepts:

  • What science, social studies, or health topics are of interest to me and my students?

  • Which of these topics can be related to my state or district curriculum?

  • What is the big idea (concept) behind the topic I want to integrate?

  • What do I know about the topic I want to integrate?

  • What do the students already know or think they know about the topic?

  • What do I want the students to know and understand about the topic?

  • What do I want the students to be able to do by the end of the theme?

  • What resources are available for teaching about the topic?

  • Which skills can be drawn out of the available materials and which skills require additional resources?

  • What activities and experiences are appropriate for teaching the skills and exploring the concept?

  • In what order will I present the content and activities?

  • How will I help students collect and organize their work?

  • How will I assess the students' work?

  • How will I culminate the unit?

Integrated Days

If integrated instruction is new to you, you may want to start by developing an integrated day — one day that employs several subject areas to develop a single topic. My first integrated instructional days were one-day themes based on particular holidays. For these special days, I set aside my regular plans and substituted integrated activities. For instance, on Columbus Day, my first graders received reading, writing, math, science, and social studies instructions through the following combination of activities:

  • Listening to the story of Columbus

  • Estimating, then measuring the size of his ships

  • Building a model of the ships

  • Writing a short story about sailing with Columbus

  • Trying out a surveyor's tools

  • Building a class compass with a needle, a piece of Styrofoam, and a container of water

  • Playing Weathervane, a game in which students practice jumping around in place to face each of the cardinal directions

If you would like to test the waters by creating an integrated day, choose your topic. Once you have determined the day(s) you plan to integrate, search through your curriculum for objectives that can become a part of your day. Conscientiously teach those skills through the topic and remember to review and reinforce them in other contexts throughout the year to ensure retention and understanding.

Literature Themes

You may also choose to develop an integrated unit around a piece of literature. A literature theme can be united by a concept, too, if you are ready for the next step. One of the first literature themes I created was based upon Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett. I read the book and was immediately charmed by its humorous and fanciful content. Plus, the book could be connected to all content areas: literature, reading, math, language, science, health, social studies, art, music, and physical education.

Click the image above to see a larger version or to print the Literature Theme Web Example: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

You can also use a professional resource, such as Scholastic Book Guides: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, for more integration ideas.

Month-Long Themes and Concepts

As you become more comfortable with integrated instruction, you may create a theme that will last a month or so. At this point, the theme must be grounded in a concept. Month-long themes based on a topic rather than a concept and rationale can become tiresome for students and teachers. In addition, they often fail to result in deep understanding of anything meaningful because they may focus on learning facts related to the topic rather than creating connections to be carried over into life.


This article was adapted from The New Teacher's Complete Sourcebook Grades K–4 by Bonnie P. Murray (© 2002, published by Scholastic).