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Readtopia Thematic Unit — A Story of Survival anchored by The Swiss Family Robinson for Upper Elementary

A teacher points to a screen depicting the characters from "The Swiss family Robinson".
Readtopia® is on a roll. Thousands of special educators now have access to the just-released thematic unit for upper elementary students. The theme, A Story of Survival teaches students that there are always challenges in life. It takes tenacity to overcome those challenges.
Cover of "A Story of Survival: Anchored by Swiss Family Robinson" Readtopia Teacher Guide depicts the Robinson family treehouse.

Thematic Unit Resources & Instructional Components

The thematic unit includes a Teacher Guide that walks step-by-step through the entire unit, which typically takes 6-8 weeks to complete. It is the navigator that helps special educators deliver engaging lessons that include the following resources:
  1. Videos– quickly engage students and provide an opportunity to introduce vocabulary, build background knowledge, and mental models to support learning.
  2. Leveled Readers– offering five levels of accessible text- anchor reading comprehension as you introduce, model, and practice literacy and communication skills through Interactive Read Aloud and Shared Reading Lessons
  3. Informational Text– provided at three levels- includes science, social studies, and social / emotional topics.
  4. Predictable Chart Writing– Offers students at all reading levels an opportunity to participate in structured and systematic shared writing activities.
  5. Phonics Instruction – Offered at three levels including Learning Letters, Making Words, and Independent phonics lessons.
  6. Integrated Math– provided at four levels- connect basic mathematical concepts with thematic unit content using Video/ Vocabulary lessons, Hands on Application lessons, and Independent Practice

ELA / Literature Component—ELA graphic novel at five levels

The A Story of Survival thematic unit is anchored by a modified version of the classic novel, The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss—a story of immigration, shipwreck, and survival.

Cover of Readtopia The Swiss Family Robinson graphic novel depicts the Robinson family.

The story takes place more than 200 years ago. The Robinsons are crossing the ocean to a new land. But when a storm hits their ship, they crash into rocks. There is an island nearby, but can they reach it? There are sharks in the water and dangerous animals on land.

Mr. and Mrs. Robinson and their boys must make a raft, hunt for food, and build a house. Can they do it?

This book will take you there to find out while engaging all of your students.

Five pages from Readtopia The Swiss Family Robinson Thematic Unit with animated versions of the family on each page.
Graphic novels at five levels cover the same story, but the text is leveled to cover the widest range of reading levels.

Content Area Learning Component — Social Studies and Science

Page from Readtopia The Swiss Family Robinson Thematic Unit science lesson.
Informational text at Levels 1 & 2
The thematic unit integrates maps and directions (below) as informational text types as well as lessons on science such as how to tell the age of a tree (above). These lessons are incorporated into video, reading, and many other lesson types so they flow seamlessly throughout instruction, with the teacher guide to help guide the way.
Page from Readtopia's Swiss family Robinson Upper Elementary Unit, with Geography lesson.
Informational text at Level 5 (the highest level)

Math Component

Readtopia Math is designed for students with complex needs including students with autism taking the alternate assessment.
Math lessons use the familiar literature, story settings, and characters within Readtopia to promote student engagement and to teach math in the context of what is being taught within each thematic unit.
Page from a Readtopia math lesson.
Informational text at Level 5 (the highest level)
A math lesson from the teacher guide takes students through a Base Ten activity—teaching students about grouping.
Readtopia independent practice math lesson page.
Basic math concepts connect with the story elements from the Thematic Unit.

Math Objectives for A Story of Survival –

 Addition-Combine sets and count to add; Use single and double digit numbers to add.
• Geometry-Identify shapes that are the same;Sort shapes by number of sides or angles.
• Money-Identify the value of money, more and less; counting on.
• Numbers and Operations in Base Tens-Combine sets and count to add; Use repeated addition to solve problems.
 Operations and Algebraic Thinking-Use shapes and numbers to create a pattern.
• Time-Sequence pictures using “before,” “during,” and “after;” Tell time to the hour, half hour, and minute.

Social Emotional Learning

Page from a Readtopia Social/Emotional learning lesson.
Basic math concepts connect with the story elements from the Thematic Unit.
Social Emotional Learning is incorporated into the ELA lessons with a focus in this unit on feeling lonely. The goal is to help the students identify and understand what situations the characters are in that may make them feel lonely, and what situations the students themselves are facing that make them feel lonely. Building understanding and empathy within the students for each other and understanding of the deeper meanings within the text. The lesson gives activities, readings and video to help teachers connect the story to the students’ everyday lives.

About Readtopia Upper Elementary

Readtopia Upper Elementary is designed to support literacy instruction and content area learning for upper elementary students with complex learning needs. Each Readtopia Thematic Unit provides the resources you need to teach comprehensive literacy. Multi-leveled materials allow students to learn at their optimal instructional levels. Lessons are structured to provide both whole and small group instruction. The Teacher Guide is a godsend—helping you implement the most effective instructional strategies while giving you time back to spend with your students.
Moving Don Johnston logo with picture of a child in a mask, reading a book, that reads, "Believe in better."

Believe in Better — see what Readtopia Upper Elementary would bring to your instruction and your students

Presented by: Karen Erickson Ph.D., Don Johnston M.S., and Jeanmarie Jacoby M.Ed.


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Karen A. Erickson, Ph.D.​

Karen A. Erickson, Ph.D. is Director of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill. Her focus is on understanding the best ways to assess and teach reading and writing to children with the most severe disabilities. As a special education teacher, Dr. Erickson has worked to support students with a range of disabilities in a variety of classroom settings, particularly students who do not use speech as their primary means of communication.


Author Profile:,Ph.D.

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