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Unit Planning vs. Thematic UnitsOur district is slowly easing into unit planning, but I am really excited about it. I have always preferred to plan units over lessons. Unit planning begins with what you want students to be able to do and then plans units toward those goals. It reminds me a little of thematic units. The major difference between the two is that in thematic units teachers would sometimes make the theme fit an activity they enjoyed. Unit planning starts with the concepts students are trying to master and the activities are planned from there.
Start with the End in MindThe first step is to identify the skills students should have by the end of the unit. I selected the main standards I wanted to cover. After that, I asked myself how the students would demonstrate their skills.
These are some of the questions I considered:
- What skills should students master in this unit?
- What performance task will you use to evaluate their abilities?
- What are the expectations and criteria that you will use to judge how well they mastered the skills?
- Are there any other ways students might demonstrate their abilities?
As I was integrating social studies and language arts, I first looked at the social studies standards I wanted to cover. Then I looked at language arts to see what tasks could pair with them. I decided that we would focus on how immigrants impact Florida and understanding Florida's industries. For the language arts standards, I decided to focus on opinion writing and reading skills.
In order for students to show mastery, they would need to write a short essay on immigrants and write an opinion on a Florida Industry. They could also use oral responses and reading comprehension to demonstrate their learning. After that, I decided on the evaluative criteria I would use: factually accurate, grammatically correct, clear reasoning, etc.
Decide How to Reach Your GoalsThe next step is to decide how you will support students in reaching those final goals. Think of it like a trip: once you have selected a destination, you still need to plan your route. What information will students need? Students will need to learn about immigrants to Florida, as well as the major industries.
Now decide how students will learn that information. What do you need to teach during the unit? For example, in order to select important facts, students would need to be able to determine the main ideas in a text. Students will need to read and analyze texts on Florida immigrants and industries.
Select Your QuestionsBy questions, I mean the overarching ideas running through your unit - like an essential question. What specific ideas do you want students to know by the end of the unit? An essential question for my unit was, "Why do people move? " They should understand that push/pull factors cause people to move. What students should understand by the end of the unit should relate to the essential questions you selected.
Finalizing Your UnitAt this point, really look through your standards and see which ones you will integrate into the unit. Although I focused on just three social studies standards, the unit would end up integrating reading, writing, and language standards.
Once I zeroed in on which standards would be covered, I made a list of skills students would learn that they would be able to transfer to other units and activities in the future. For example, students would be able to use what they learned about synthesizing information from multiple sources to a future project.
At this point, I was able to plan my daily activities. I planned what we would complete in each class and the materials I would need to prepare. If I overplanned, I could always take two class period to complete each "day's" worth of work.
Yes, it does take more time, but in the end you have a week or more or lessons planned - and saved so that you can use them again next year. Of course, as the units are taught, teachers should reflect and update the units. For example, if something didn't work, edit your unit.
Unit Planning TemplateIn case you are interested in unit planning or already use it, I am attaching a unit template. I really recommend following up with the book or training from Understanding by Design if you haven't had it. Their training materials are terrific and easy to understand. However, teachers need to use a specific mindset when creating the units - it is all about focusing on what students should be able to do at the end.
unit for Florida History/ELA. I would love your feedback on it! Disclaimer: I did use some of my own materials in this unit. The materials are available in my TPT store.