Teacher resources: Planning lessons from themes and events in 2021

As we head into another year of schooling, it’s a good time to begin brainstorming activities for lessons throughout 2021. We’ve had a look at significant themes and events which might help inspire some of your lessons over the next 12 months.

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly changed the way we look at events. Landmark events which were scheduled for last year, like the Tokyo Olympics, will instead be held this year. At the same time, many events will now be viewed through a new lens of flexibility. For instance, if your budget is tight this year, or time is short, you could consider organising virtual activities for students, like excursions, to coincide with events and themes. Flexible options like this, such as Science Space’s virtual planetarium excursions, are now being used more frequently by educators.

So, whether you’re looking for events related to literacy or STEM; themes of global significance for this year; or the confirmed dates for events you’re familiar with, there’s something for you in this round-up. We have organised the events to roughly fit into each school term, and have also acknowledged some themes which will run throughout the year.

Themes and events throughout 2021

There are many themes of significance for 2021. Firstly, the UN has dedicated this year to four separate causes, declaring 2021 as the International Year of Peace and Trust; International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development; International Year of Fruits and Vegetables; and International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour.

UNESCO’s Decade of Ocean Science also begins this year, which UNESCO says will help accelerate progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14 – life below water.

‘The ocean is a new frontier. It covers 71 per cent of the globe and we have explored less than 5 per cent,’ UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay says. ‘The Decade will ensure greater coordination of research.’

[©Rich Carey/Shutterstock]

Term 1

Next month, an event of significance to school communities, Safer Internet Day, is taking place. Held on Tuesday 9 February, Safer Internet Day is organised by the Australian Government’s eSafety committee. The event is all about celebrating the positive aspects of being online, and is an opportunity to raise awareness about internet safety. You can register to receive up-to-date information at the event’s website. There are also resources and lesson plan ideas for early years, primary and secondary students.

February is also when the Australian STEM Video Game Challenge kicks off. The Australian STEM Video Game Challenge is a competition which invites students to develop their own video game from scratch, and begins taking registrations in February. The challenge was cancelled last year in light of school closures due to COVID-19, so will have the same theme as 2020, scale, to allow students who began work on their game before the cancellation to still have the opportunity to submit their games for judgement.

The STEM Video Game Challenge aims to enhance STEM learning and bridge the gap between male and female participation in STEM activities. Each student who would like to participate, either individually or as part of a group, needs to have a mentor. Mentors are usually teachers, so you can find an outline of the mentor’s responsibilities here.

Term 2

Looking forward to May now, when National Simultaneous Storytime will be held on 19 May at 11:00 am AEST. Each year, organisers at the Australian Library and Information Association choose one book to be read simultaneously across the country. This year, the book will be Give me some space! written and illustrated by Philip Bunting, and, as always, students of all ages are encouraged to participate.

Past years have seen entire schools, individual classrooms, or even multiple schools read together. For instance, Teacher spoke with a teacher librarian at Hobart College in Tasmania, who shared how she involves Year 11 and Year 12 students in the event.

[©Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock]

Term 3

In the second-half of 2021, lots of well-known events will be taking place. While official announcements are still due, NAIDOC Week will likely take place during Term 3. You can keep an eye on NAIDOC Week’s official site for confirmation of dates. As well as this, the Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to be held between 23 July and 8 August. If you’d like to commemorate this event in your classroom, you might find the Olympic Committee’s Olympic Values and Education Programme (OVEP) Toolkit useful.

‘The OVEP Toolkit is a set of free resources designed to enrich any educational curriculum with Olympic-themed activities, teaching strategies and inspirational materials,’ the resource reads. The toolkit has four key resources and is available in multiple languages.

The week after the Tokyo Olympics wraps up is when Science Week kicks off. This year it will be held nationwide between 14 and 22 August, and the theme, Food: Different by Design, lends itself to the United Nations Year of Fruits and Vegetables and International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development.

‘Food: Different by Design will cover a broad range of areas in food production and sustainable agriculture, enabling students to explore topics such as biosecurity, food technology and laboratory-developed foods. Scientific development will be at the core to the theme, with other hands-on projects for students to explore,’ the page dedicated to school involvement in Science Week, reads.

And, finally for the busy month of August, the Children’s Book Council of Australia has scheduled Book Week for 21 to 27 August. The theme for this year is Old Worlds, New Worlds, Other Worlds.

One last important event to highlight in Term 3 is RUOK? Day on 10 September. The national day of action encourages all of us to ask those around us, ‘are you okay?’ to remind us of the importance of opening up about mental health struggles. The official website will update the unique message, resources and materials for 2021’s RUOK? Day in July of this year, but in the meantime, you can access useful information, like learning what to say after ‘are you okay?’ on their website.

Term 4

To end the year, there are a few environmental events of significance that could be relevant to learning outcomes for your students. National Water Week is held in the third week of October and part of the event includes a poster competition for primary school students to enter. Organiser the Australian Water Association encourages schools and communities to create awareness around the value of water. There is a dedicated page on its site housing learning resources of note.


And finally, in November, you can acknowledge National Recycling Week with students during the week of 8-14 November.

‘National Recycling Week provides an important opportunity for councils, workplaces, schools and individuals to improve their recycling knowledge, build better recycling habits and build trust in recycling,’ the website reads.

With a colleague, discuss the themes and commemorations occurring this year that you anticipate would fit in well with units you’re teaching. Which of these do you think will be best received by students? Why?