George Lucas Educational Foundation
Integrated Studies

How Interlinking Learning Promotes Critical Thinking in Middle School

Fostering connections between subjects encourages students to think deeply about big problems and questions at the core of their work.

September 28, 2023
nadia_bormotova / iStock

Every year around Halloween, our middle school in Spain divided students into four assigned houses, venturing beyond the typical core classes to engage in collaborative activities centered around one spooky concept. One year, it was all about pumpkins; the next, vampires became the seasonal topic of choice. 

This wasn’t just a festive tradition: It was a vibrant representation of interlinking learning in middle school—the instructional approach that involves connecting content across different subject areas, fostering a more integrated and holistic understanding of material. Interlinking learning enhances the learning experience, as it allows students to transfer skills and knowledge acquired in one area to another. It also helps students to see patterns, relationships, and contradictions across subjects and promotes critical thinking, a vital skill in today’s fast-paced world.

What is Interlinking Learning?

Interlinking learning is based on the main principles of connectivity, context, and applicability. It encourages students to build connections between concepts across different subjects, placing learning in a real-world context and emphasizing the application of knowledge in various scenarios. The philosophy can be traced back to John Dewey, a renowned educator and philosopher, who encouraged connected learning and emphasized learning through doing, advocating for a practical, interactive, and student-centered approach to education.

Interlinking learning fosters vibrant classroom environments where students can make connections between different subjects. Around Halloween, there are a variety of fun activities that create connections for students around a spooky theme; for instance, "pumpkins meet pi" is a spirited lesson on measurement. The tale of turnips (evolving into the pumpkins we associate with Halloween today) is a fascinating history lesson of the Irish immigrating to America. A vampire theme can bring intrigue, with language arts classes dissecting passages from Dracula, and science lessons can become hubs of discovery as students sink their teeth into studying different blood types

Similarly to the Halloween themes of pumpkins and vampires, teachers can use something like a “big idea” for connected learning, where that same idea is seen, felt, and experienced across subjects. The big idea, whether it is adaptability or justice, is an excellent example of interlinking learning, urging educators to focus on a central concept that can transcend individual subjects. 


Promoting connectivity in the classroom involves creating a nurturing environment where students can interlink concepts from various subjects. Consider the following strategies:

Cross-subject projects: Encourage students to work on projects that require knowledge and skills from different subjects, thereby fostering an understanding and application of diverse concepts. For example, a project where students design a sustainable city could require knowledge of geometry (math), an understanding of sustainable practices (science), and historical context (social studies).

Thematic learning weeks: Organize learning weeks that focus on a specific theme, weaving in various subjects to offer a rich, multidimensional perspective on the topic at hand. For instance, during Space Week, English classes could focus on science-fiction literature, while science classes delve into the solar system’s dynamics.

Connecting concepts to current events: This strategy can involve linking concepts being taught to unfolding events globally, offering students a dynamic and contemporary context to anchor their learning. For instance, social studies could relate a historical event being studied to a current geopolitical situation, encouraging students to see the repercussions and interconnectedness of historical events in today’s world.


This approach to learning is greatly influenced by situated learning theory, which suggests that learning is most effective when it is closely related to the real-world context in which the knowledge or skill will be applied. Here are some examples:

Guest speakers: Inviting guest speakers can provide students with a rich contextual background for the topics they are studying, such as a local author discussing their writing process in a language arts class.

Field trips: Field trips can offer firsthand experiences that enhance understanding and retention. For instance, a visit to a local museum can offer a rich, contextual background for a historical period being studied.

Case studies: Facilitate deep understanding through case studies, encouraging students to apply conceptual knowledge to solve real-world problems. For instance, analyze a recent environmental case to understand the practical applications of scientific concepts in real-life scenarios.


Applicability calls for an emphasis on the practical use of knowledge and skills in various scenarios, aiding students in understanding how they can apply what they learn in real-world situations. The following are strategies to consider:

Problem-solving: Promote active engagement with learning materials through problem-solving, encouraging a cycle of reflective thinking. For instance, setting up a mathematics problem that involves budgeting for a small business can bring real-world applicability to theoretical concepts.

Internship opportunities: Facilitate platforms where students can apply the knowledge garnered in classrooms to real-world settings, offering a firsthand experience of the applicative value of their learning. For example, a student interested in journalism could intern at a local newspaper, applying their language arts skills in a practical setting.

Simulations: Create environments where students can safely yet realistically explore the practical utility of the concepts learned through simulations, bringing theoretical knowledge to life. For example, a mock trial in a civics class can help students understand judicial processes firsthand.

Implementing Interlinking Learning in middle school

While interlinking learning offers numerous benefits, it can be challenging to balance the curriculum and find time to implement it effectively. There might also be resistance from individuals who stick to traditional teaching methods, so it’s vital to showcase the benefits of interlinking learning through demonstrations and discussions to overcome this resistance. 

When interlinking learning, start small, and gradually integrate more interlinking concepts into your lessons to foster a richer and more interconnected learning experience, perhaps by drawing parallels between subjects during a single lesson or utilizing a theme to encompass different disciplines over a week. As comfort and familiarity grow, gradually integrate more complex interlinking concepts into your lessons.  

As we steer our students toward a future where interdisciplinary understanding is paramount, integrating interlinking learning into our educational approach becomes not just beneficial but necessary. Whether it is picking apart pumpkins through multiple classes or exploring a chosen big idea, fostering connections between subjects enriches learning and aids in the development of well-rounded individuals ready to navigate a multifaceted world. 

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  • Integrated Studies
  • Critical Thinking
  • 6-8 Middle School

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