Universal Themes and Essential Questions for the Gifted
This is a topic that I keep revisiting because I feel that it is the very essence of gifted education.
Teachers are often accused of delivering curriculum that is not relevant to today’s students. If we teach (or have discussions at home) using universal themes, the material presented does become relevant. By using universal themes, you will provide umbrellas under which details become easier to remember, and give students frameworks of understanding that they can carry with them the rest of their lives.
A universal theme is a timeless, broad, abstract idea that can be used to tie together literary works or to understand broad concepts in history. It is a concept to which all people can relate. It transcends race, gender, and creed.
We learn best when we are able to relate new information to previous experiences and to ideas that are familiar. By teaching universal themes/concepts, we help students better understand their past experiences and form “big ideas” that are transferred to future experiences. Themes give a common reason for students to read many different books, including books on different ability levels, which is excellent for differentiation. Universal themes can be used with any subject, but they are especially suited for literature and social studies.
When working with universal themes, it is important to ask essential questions. Essential questions are open ended (i.e. they do not have a single answer). Instead, the question requires a longer, more involved response and causes the respondent to think and reflect. These cause students to think critically instead of simply looking up answers. Essential questions
provoke deep thought
may not have an answer
encourage critical thinking, not just memorization of facts
require students to draw upon content knowledge and personal experience
Universal Theme: Identity--This theme might be used with a literature unit or while studying ethnic differences in social studies.
Identity might be defined as uniqueness, distinctiveness, individuality, or personality. The identity of a person or group is rarely static, but instead is constantly being changed by internal and external forces.
How do we form our identities?
How does what others think about you affect how you think about yourself?
How is identity shaped by relationships and experiences?
What can you learn about yourself by studying the lives of others?
When should an individual take a stand in opposition to an individual or larger group?
One resource that will help you with these topics is Universal Themes and Generalizations
, from DukeTip. In this pdf file, ten different themes are listed along with sample sub-categories for each of those themes.
You may want to refer to previous posts I have written on the topics of universal themes and essential questions. Some of these previous posts provide examples, demonstrating ways these tools can be used in the classroom. Parents, remember that you can always modify classroom suggestions for your discussions at home. Here are the links to the previous posts.