Theme Day/Immersion Lesson Workshop
By Steven Haberlin
5th grade teacher
Research has shown that we learn best when immersed in a subject. When our senses are fully engaged, we make emotional connections to the material being taught. That is why I am a big believer in immersing students in learning. While immersion projects can take a lot of work, they are the lessons that students tend to remember.
The following is a step-by-step guide to how to conduct a successful immersion lesson.
Step one: Be clear on your goal.
*What are you trying to accomplish? Do you want to achieve certain academic goals or standards, teach social skills, or both?
*Also, who is your audience? Do you want to invite parents/community members? Do you want to invite other students and teachers from the school?
Each year, I conduct an immersion day, where my 5th grade students transform the classroom into a working hospital to teach the body systems. We invite the lower grades and teach them the subject through hands-on activities.
Step Two: Pick a theme.
Choose something you enjoy or a theme that works well with the academic subject you are teaching. I used a Hospital Day for teaching about the human body. However, I've used Italian Restuarant Day to review math using uncooked macaroni. I'ved used a newsroom theme, complete with police scanner, "coffee" and donuts, to cover writing.
STEP 3: Decide what supplies/materials you will need.
For Hospital Day, I use white sheets to hang as room dividers. Students also wear scrubs, white labcoats and rubber gloves to add to the effect. We also used candy and other supplies for the handson materials. Make a list of what materials you will need and don't be afraid to ask parents or colleagues at your school for help.
STEP 4: Select an organizational method.
Based on your goals and theme, you should decide how to operate your theme day. I used rotating stations for my Hospital Day, which allows visitors to view each room and learn about each
body system. However, for Newsroom Day, I have students sit in traditional rows since they will be taking part in a press conference and writing on computers. Your setup really depends on your theme. If you have a Restuarant Day, you may want students sitting together at tables. I conducted a SuperHero Day, which involved students dressed as superheroes and I dressed as the evil villian. The best approach was to have students compete against me so I kept them sitting in desks, facing me.
Step 6 (optional): Media Attention/Parental Involvement.
Now that you have your plans laid out, you can invite parents to view the event or help out. I like my parents to be involved in Hospital Day so I ask them to serve as tour guides, which requires them to usher groups of children around the classroom. You may just want parents to watch their children in action. Also, consider whether you want the media to cover your event to create positive attention for your school or simply to recognize your students. If so, e-mail the editor of the newspaper, or perhaps the reporter who covers education, a few weeks ahead of time to invite them to cover the event. You can also take photos of the event yourself and place them on a website or send them into the newspaper's community section (be sure to have permission to use children's photos).
Step 7: (optional) Rehearsal
I listed this step as optional, but I strongly advise that you follow it. Have your students practice the theme day activity, especially if you plan to involve parents and the community. You want it to look polished. During Hospital Day, I require my students to perform their instructional skits in class, a week before the event. I grade the presentations as well as give feedback and help teams make changes before the actual theme day.
Step 8: Engage!
Conduct the theme day!
(If adults are helping, it is not a bad idea to ask them if they might stay and help cleanup the classroom since there is a lot of work to do).
Step 9: Reflect
Finally, reflect on what worked and what didn't work. Did the students perform well? Did the event take longer than you thought? What was parent participation like? Make some notes on how you could improve the event. Hospital Day works like clockwork for me now, but I have conducted the lesson for several years. Each year, I try to make some improvements in terms of scheduling of visitors, props, curriculum, etc.