Teaching with a unit plan makes your weekly lesson planning a snap.  It also helps you organize and plan your year.  Here are some quick steps to unit planning that will really work!

If you’ve already created a year long plan, you’ll use that to pick the unit you want to create.  If your yearlong plan is already out the window, don’t fret.  You can still create meaningful units that you can plug into your yearlong plan later.

Unit planning that will provide you with units that you'll actually use!
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Teaching with a unit plan makes your weekly lesson planning a snap.

Start your Unit Planning with an Essential Question

Before you even start your unit plan, you probably already have an idea of what it will be about.

You may want to (or be required to) begin with an essential question for your unit. This is an open-ended question that will help you frame your unit and help develop a theme for it.

So, let’s say you want your students to participate in book clubs.  You decide that you want your essential question to be:

  • How does conflict and challenge lead to change in a character?

Once you choose your essential question, you can probably begin to “see” your unit take shape.  Your students will be looking at the characters of their books and how they respond to conflict, what that conflict looks like, what the characters challenges are, and how they will change the protagonist.

The essential question will also help you choose the books for your book club.  You’ll want books with a strong protagonist who struggles with conflict.  (Books like Holes, Flush, and Red Kayak spring immediate to mind for me!)

Unit planning tips that will help you create units you can really use!

How will the Unit End?

Next, think about your goals for this unit.

Do you want your student to:

  • write a paper/story/poem/play
  • create a presentation/lesson
  • read and comprehend an informational text
  • make a poster/model/diorama/museum display
  • give a speech/debate
  • perform a play/puppet show/newscast/commercial
  • present a video/slideshow/powerpoint
  • take a test
  • something else

When you start with what you want students to be able to do, you have your summative assessment.  This is what your students are going to create to show you that they’ve mastered the concepts of the unit.

Continuing with the example of the book clubs, you may want to your students to:

  1. write a character analysis that addresses the essential question
  2. present a book talk summary, book trailer, or commercial (group activity)
  3. create a plot diagram of the novel (group activity)

You, of course, will need to determine if your students can complete all of those items through the unit and within the time frame you’ve set.

Next stop – standards.

Identify the Standards for your Unit Plan

First, to clarify:

  • Standards come from your state or district – they are for your unit.
  • Objectives are what you write for your individual lesson plans.  What will the student be able to do at the end of the lesson?

Start your unit planning with your standards.  You can easily convert them into an objective.  For example:

  • CCSS RL 6.1 states:  “Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.”
  • Your objective might be:  Student will be able to cite explicit evidence from the text to respond to questions.

Your objective probably won’t cover all of the elements of the standard.  Just look at CCSS RL 6.1 again.  The objective above doesn’t address inferences.  You will probably quickly notice that you’ll need more than one lesson to address a single standard.

And, in the case of our book group example, you’ll want your students to write a character analysis where they cover the two big concepts of RL6.1.  They’ll need to show and infer why the character acts the way he or she does.  So you’ll put RL 6.1 in your unit.

Scan through the rest of your reading objectives.  For the CCSS, you’ll see that RL 6.3 states “Describe how…characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.”  (That sounds a whole lot like your essential question!  Yay!) That standard will be addressed with your character analysis as well, so pop that standard into your unit.

Continue matching the outcomes (character analysis, book talk, plot diagram) with your standards.

When you finish, you’ll have a list of standards for your unit.

At this point, you’ll want to determine which standards support the goal of your unit.  You may need to weed a few out.

Break Up Your AssessmentsHow to write unit plans

I find it very helpful to list formative and summative assessments in a unit plan.  This provides me with an “at a glance” list of how I’ll be assessing student progress.  Additionally, I’m able to see where my grades are coming from.

You may have the following formative assessments for your book clubs:

  • quick writes
  • journal entries
  • exit card
  • reading notes
  • comprehension questions
  • discussion notes
  • quizzes
  • summaries
  • question of the day response
  • draft of character analysis
  • book talk outline
  • character trait list
  • vocabulary collector

I think formative assessments are really helpful in keeping students on task and in helping me understand where students are, if they are keeping up with the readings or falling behind.

Break Down Activities

Next stop, start breaking your unit down into activities.  This is where the formative assessment list will help.

Your list for your book club might look like this:

  1. introduce fiction and essential question (quick write response)
  2. who are the characters lesson
  3. club meeting 1 – task: cast of characters
  4. club meeting 2 – task: set up plot diagram
  5. club meeting 3 – task: setting
  6. club meeting 4 – task: add points to plot diagram
  7. club meeting 5 – task: problems encountered
  8. club meeting 6 – task: how is the protagonist responding to problems?
  9. club meeting 7 – task: add points to plot diagram
  10. club meeting 8 – task: protagonist growth chart
  11. group book talks
  12. character analysis essay

Take a Step Back

Look at your list of activities and determine how long your want your unit to last.  Sometime we get overambitious about what we think our students can do!  Adjust the activities and assessments to meet your time frame, your student needs, and the speed at which your students can work!

For our book club example, you may decide that you don’t need all those formative assessments.  You may just want students to provide you with an exit slip or a reading summary each day their group meets.

Additionally, as you plug your activities into your lesson plans, be sure to allow “overlap” time for lessons that run longer, need to be retaught, or days that the unexpected happens (Is that a fire drill? squirrel? snow day?).

Moving Forward

You can probably already see how you’ll use the unit to create your weekly lesson plans.

As you begin to do so and teach the unit, make sure that you make notations on your unit plan.  What worked?  What did the students have questions about?  What activities took longer than others?  That way, you’ll be able to revise the unit plan for next year, or be able to teach from it more effectively.

Even if your school doesn’t require that you create a unit plan, they are life savers when it comes to planning your daily lessons.  Give them a try!

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2 comments on “Unit Planning (for units you’ll actually use)”

  1. I have been researching how to do unit plans for several years. This post is very clear, and informative.
    Unit plans change up the curriculum and allow for more hands on work. Great topic!

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