A thematic analysis in qualitative methodology is much easier for students to comprehend if they give it a go themselves.

Lesson Idea: Understanding thematic analysis

tdixon Qualitative Research Methods, Research Methodology, Teaching Ideas Leave a Comment

The aim of the activities in this lesson is to help students understand the process and purpose of conducting a thematic analysis in qualitative research.

This is more relevant for the “old” syllabus for IB Psychology, as thematic analysis won’t be assessed in the new curriculum.


Students are going to gather some data on a shared experience and then conduct a thematic analysis on the data. I like to use a google form survey and ask students to write 50-100 words in response to this question: “How does social media affect your life?”

After the data is collated in the google form, you can share the spreadsheet of data with students and then ask them to go through the process of a thematic analysis (or you can use a “here’s one I prepared earlier” approach):

  1. Read and re-read the data to become familiar
  2. Identify themes that are recurring throughout the responses
  3. Group these subordinate themes into larger superordinate themes
  4. Draw conclusions based on the findings

Qualitative research methodology can be difficult for students to understand if it’s taught in the abstract; practical activities like the one suggested in this post can help students grasp the methods and concepts more readily since they become concrete. 

Extension Activity #1: Evaluation

I like to get students to conduct the analysis in groups and if some finish before others, they can start discussing the strengths and limitations of a thematic analysis.

Tip: A thematic analysis could be applied to either observational data or interview data – there’s no need to revise different approaches, although because of the nature of the notes and data, the process might be a bit different.

Extension Activity #2: Qualitative versus quantitative 

After all groups have finished the analysis, the next task I assign is to have students discuss in what types of situations qualitative methodology would be advantageous and when quantitative methods might work better.

This works well if social media use is the subject matter because you can get students to first think about questions they have about the use of social media and then thinking about which methodologies would be more appropriate.

For example, in our class some students talked about doing an experiment that studied the effects of social media on concentration spans. Another group came up with the idea of using interviews to see how using Facebook made people feel.  I then used these two different approaches to highlight the fact that quantitative methods can be useful to test hypotheses, whereas qualitative methods are useful to understand subjective experiences.

If you’re interested, I can post the data that I use for this activity to our Facebook group for teachers – just leave a comment on the group page to remind me 🙂

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