How to Plan a Successful Interdisciplinary Thematic Unit at Your School

How to Plan a Successful Interdisciplinary Thematic Unit at Your School

Teaching a successful interdisciplinary thematic unit depends on strategic planning up front. Follow these best practices for success.

Many schools are realizing the rich learning experiences that interdisciplinary thematic units can provide to students. But planning and coordinating a multidisciplinary learning experience can be a daunting proposition. The success of your interdisciplinary thematic unit depends on strategic planning up front.

Ready to create an extraordinary interdisciplinary learning experience for your students? Many of our users who are teachers or school administrators follow these best practices for planning the thematic unit, and they’ll help you set yourself—and your students—up for success.

Appoint a Team Leader

Assigning a team lead helps ensure that the important planning and coordination activities are taken care of well in advance. The team leader shouldn’t shoulder all of the tasks, but he or she drives your planning efforts and holds other team members accountable for their responsibilities.

Take Advantage of Team Planning Opportunities


Make good use of the in-service days and other built-in common planning times. At the start of your planning phase, commit to meeting weekly. As your vision begins to take shape and the elements of the interdisciplinary unit fall into place, you won’t need to meet as often. Once the multidisciplinary unit begins, schedule regular check-ins to address unexpected issues and keep each other on the same page.

Know What Each Team Member Is Teaching

Share your lesson plans with each other, so that you can integrate other teachers’ lessons into your own. When students see how separate disciplines are interrelated and connect to each other, they’ll get a deeper learning experience from the thematic unit.

Plan Assessments Strategically

When you’re planning an interdisciplinary thematic unit, it’s important to be sure the right hand knows what the left hand is doing—especially during testing. If you have a four-discipline team and all four disciplines are testing on the same day, you’ll create a tremendously stressful situation for the students that could negatively impact their test scores.

Instead, communicate clearly with team members so that you can coordinate end-of-unit testing that students can adequately prepare for.

Establish Important Milestones and Timelines

Think through all of the milestones and timelines across the unit for each discipline. The California Center for College and Career makes the following recommendations:
*Set the date for the kick-off of the curriculum unit. When will the unit begin, and in which class?
*Create timelines for the lessons in each class. Think about how to synchronize the lessons to enhance the learning experience, but be sure assignments don’t overlap significantly—overburdening students will undo your efforts.
*Set dates for periodic check-ins to assess progress and make adjustments.
*Set due dates for discipline-specific assessments. Communicate these clearly among the team.
*Coordinate in-school and off-site activities with industry and postsecondary partners.

Be Agile and Make Changes on the Fly

Whether it’s snow days, sick days, or an overly-optimistic schedule, chances are pretty good that you’ll need to make adjustments during the multidisciplinary unit. Make sure you communicate with other team members if you fall behind schedule, so that you can determine the impact it may have with the other classes in the unit.

It’s important to keep a flexible schedule that’s easy to update in real-time and is easy to share with the team.

Use the Right Planning Tool

The right planning tool plays an important role to make your interdisciplinary thematic unit a great success. Circular planning is one of the best methods available for team collaboration, and it naturally brings all of these best practices together in one easy-to-use tool.

Used extensively in Europe for years, circular planning was originally developed in Denmark where it’s known as “årshjul”. The format is popular for its ability to let you quickly view your school’s calendar and the academic plan of all your team members. You can then strategically plan the unit so that key lessons are cadenced properly, testing schedules don’t collide, and guest presenters can be scheduled at the best time.

The Plandisc circular planning tool is also easy to share and easy to update in real time as changes need to be made.

Start Using Plandisc for Free

Plandisc’s interactive, real-time planning tool uses circular planning to make interdisciplinary thematic units easy to plan and coordinate. See how Plandisc can help you coordinate your curriculum, and play around with a live template. Like it? Get Plandisc for free!

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