Learning to teach efficiently is a skill that takes time to develop. It’s not just about timing your lessons or thinking through potential problems; you can create a curriculum that layers different content areas together to help your students meet multiple learning targets in one lesson set.
Most elementary teachers quickly master cross-curricular planning. When I first taught sixth grade, my classroom was elementary but my state’s standards were written for sixth grade to be in a middle school. That year, I read my standards and realized that since our sixth grade teachers weren’t departmentalized, I would actually need two years to teach one year of the state curriculum standards! That was clearly impossible, so I had to work smarter.
Language arts is the easiest content area to crosswalk. Studying genetics? Write a readers theatre based on a genetics mystery your heard on the news. Teaching nutrition skills? Have students write out a recipe with clear and detailed steps. Almost every content area at every grade level includes directions that students need to read or primary source texts.
As a science teacher, math is my second favorite content area to crosswalk with my science standards. I love it when my students say, “Wait, why are we doing math in science?” I also love when they roll their eyes when I reply, “Science IS math. They’re not different.” Teaching conversions within the metric system also helps students learn about prefixes and bases. Then students can convert between milliliters and liters during an engaging chemistry lab. Teaching students to use technology to make graphs is another double crosswalk!
There’s no such thing at being a natural at writing cross-curricular lesson plans. It takes time, experience, and failure (Yep, I’ve made some ineffective lesson plans before. It happens!). You are, however, an expert on your own life! You know what sets your soul on fire with excitement. Bringing that energy to your classroom will be infectious.
Here are my top tips for find inspiration for writing cross-curricular lessons and units in your own life:
- Get scrappy. At heart, I’m a thing-finder, like Pippi Longstocking. One of my all-time best finds was an article in an airline magazine about a woman who created an app for finding plastic trash in the water. She paddleboards and cleans up plastic. My eighth graders loved this article during our unit on Human Impact on the Environment. Finding artifacts, articles, and actual art to use in your lessons can help to easily create cross-curricular connections.
- Follow your interests. I love talking about food. I’m not a foodie: I am an eater. It’s my jam. I like the science of food. Did you know that the yolk and the white of an egg take different amounts of time to cook? Facts like that are so cool! This is my authentic passion and kids can sense authenticity from a mile away. Are you a knitting freak? Love running? Are obsessed with YA murder mysteries? Find ways to connect your interests to your learning standards.
- Connect with experts. It’s a true story from my parenting life that I once took a parent-teacher conference at my child’s elementary school on a hard left turn when I found out her teacher’s husband worked at a local water utility. I went from being the interviewee to the interviewer in seconds! By the end of the conference, I had about twelve ideas for how my daughter’s teacher’s husband (yep, I said it) could support learning during my sixth grade unit on water in ecosystems. Reach out to willing experts when you meet them-anyone from your dentist to your town’s librarian can help inspire cross-curricular lesson design.
The amazing author Maya Angelou is credited with saying, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” Take a risk and get creative for efficient learning in your classroom!