Generalizations, big ideas, abstractions, universal themes… they are designed to help our gifted students learn. However, what I didn’t realize was that they would help me teach!
Universal themes are ways to connect ideas across all disciplines. My district rotates themes annually so students experience a new one each year (and teachers get some variety as well). Universal themes are broad and can include:
Within each universal theme are generalizations or big ideas. Working with power as a theme, students could investigate ideas such as:
- Power can be used or abused.
- Power comes in many forms.
- Power may be seen or unseen.
Here’s a list of universal themes and generalizations from the depth and complexity framework.
Introducing a universal theme is an excellent use of the first days of school.
Last year, I began attaching generalizations to specific subjects as a way of focusing students learning. I’ve used:
- Ancient Civilizations: “Civilization begins with order, grows with liberty and dies with chaos.” – Will Durant (thanks to Araceli for this quote)
- Earth Science: “Power may be seen or unseen.”
- Writing: “Good writing is clear, concise, and creative.”
Although I expected these generalizations to benefit my students, they also benefited my planning. As I plan, I know to focus my instruction towards these big ideas. These generalizations became the theses for students’ writings in science and social studies. Students collected evidence throughout each unit to support these ideas. Students graphed the changes of order, chaos, and liberty over time.
Where To Find Ideas
I heard the Will Durant quote from another teacher at my school. The power quote came from a universal theme training I attended. Finally, I simply made up my writing theme. If you’re stuck, try adapting:
- Famous quotes
- Combinations of depth and complexity
- Literary themes
Wherever you find your material, make sure the big ideas truly apply to each subject. If it’s a good fit, your teaching will become more efficient, if not you’re going to spin your wheels trying to make it work.
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