3rd Grade Thematic Unit Ideas


Many third-graders are fascinated by, or even obsessed with, specific topics such as horses, outer space or historical figures. While the topics will vary depending the students in your class from year to year, you can build interest by learning what your third-graders are passionate about. Once you've gained this knowledge, you can incorporate their interests throughout the rest of your curriculum.

Social Studies Units

  • Thematic units allow your students to get up close and personal with a topic, and you can use simple themes or more complex explorations. Many teachers utilize Black History Month in February to introduce students to the civil rights movement, the Brown vs. Board of Education decision and key characters such as Martin Luther King Jr. A study of holidays around the world, the Oregon Trail, historical figures, shipwrecks, community helpers and Lewis and Clark are social studies themes as well.

Science Units

  • The diversity of life, ecology and how living beings change are topics that many third graders learn over the course of the year. If you have budding entomologists on your hands, teach a thematic insect unit or if your students are fascinated by rocks, introduce a rock and jewel theme into your classroom, both of which could cover earth science content standards in certain states. Additional science themes appropriate for third grade include simple machines, natural disasters and animal habitats.

Literacy Units

  • Because literacy is a cornerstone of a third-grade classroom, they can be the starting point of effective third-grade thematic units. A study of folktales, fairy tales and fables is sure to engage most third graders. Introducing a thematic unit that describes famous authors, such as Dr. Seuss, Mark Twain and Laura Ingalls Wilder is appropriate, too. Book talks -- motivational speeches designed to encourage students to read a particular book -- can be a part of this theme. The book talks allow students to share good books with the rest of the class. Back-to-back thematic units, one about fiction and one about nonfiction, will allow students to explore the two genres.

Units Based on the Arts

  • The arts, often called specials, include music, drama and visual art, and are usually taught by someone other than the classroom teacher. You can, however, bring elements of the arts into your classroom by choosing themes that can also be incorporated into the subjects you do teach. Use a famous artist theme and ask students to choose one artist to learn more about through reading, writing and research. The third graders can then share their new knowledge with the rest of the class. Opt for a drama theme, which can be tied into literacy by having students choose short stories to act out in front of the class.


  • Photo Credit John Lund/Sam Diephuis/Blend Images/Getty Images
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