Planning a Single Unit

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Planning a single unit requires consideration of all available options, so gather up all textbooks, old teaching materials, and district or state provided curriculum materials. If you have Unit Boxes, open them up. Review the material in this handbook which pertains to your unit. Look through all the material to decide what areas you plan to cover. Think about what time each will require. Consider your audience. Now for the hard question. Ask yourself what one thing you want the kids to learn in that unit. That will be your unit objective or theme. Your response may be, "What do you mean one thing? In six weeks they'd better learn more than one." Of course, they will learn more than that, but if you can pull out the essence, everything else will fall into place. So in an Advanced Writing Unit, you might want them to be able to write a five-paragraph essay of either a descriptive, narrative, or expository type. When the unit is finished, you will want to know that they can do that with their eyes closed. Everything will build toward that goal.

Determining objectives is a sticky problem. There have been books written and lectures taught defining all the requisite components of a good objective. Generally, it should be written in such a way that the result is observable and measurable. English teachers love to write objectives that include words such as appreciate and enjoy as in "to learn to appreciate poetry." I would encourage you to consider a more concrete objective. It's hard to measure appreciation. Treat it as a fringe benefit of the unit and aim for "be able to discuss figurative language used in poetry" or "recognize five different types of poetry."

Once the unit objective is determined, it should be recorded on the Unit Plan Calendar, so that at all times it will act as your controlling theme in your day by day decision making.

Then you will fill in the day by day activities of the unit using the material in the Unit Box and other available resources. To indicate each activity, you will use whatever shorthand works for you. Just as the note "jeans" on your calendar at home might mean buy them, pick them up, or wear them, so will your Unit Plan Calendar have words that mean nothing to others. More detailed information can be included in daily lesson plan forms. The Unit Plan Calendar is designed to help you see the unit as a whole. It is also designed to discourage "Today is Tuesday, what shall we do?" planning by showing the day by day movement of the unit.

Basically, each unit has three components. A beginning or "splash day," an ending or test day to see what they know, and everything in the middle. The weeks in between are filled with supporting activities designed to insure success of the unit's objective. These will be mini-units consisting of chapters or small units of instruction. At all times, keep in mind that each must be in support of the overall theme. Don't let the "day by day" trap catch you.


Begin by deciding how you will introduce the unit. That will be Splash Day. It should be something exciting, something to get the kids' interest in the upcoming unit. Sometimes the crazier the better works best. That day you will show the class where the unit fits in. You will talk about what they have done previously to prepare for it and where it will take them. Just because you know how all the pieces fit, doesn't mean the kids will figure it out. They have other things on their minds. They will need some explanation of why you chose this unit. It won't always convince them, but it's worth the try. You may just want to list Splash Day on your calendar and then later outline a complete activity on your daily plans.

Next, determine what activities and teaching will be necessary to reach the unit goal. There will probably be one or more unit components for each week of the unit.

Then it's time to think about the instructional details. Exactly what information will be taught? This is one of the harder parts of the exercise. It's when the crystal ball gets pretty cloudy. Sometimes you just have to teach a unit to find out what your students needed to know to succeed. Don't forget to think about what they need to know before they can learn what you have to offer. Consider building into your plans a review of basic information.

Textbooks are usually treated as foundation information. They, however, lack your viewpoint. They also restrict the transfer of information to a single mode of learning. Don't be limited by what the textbook offers. As the teacher, you have the ability to offer a number of different instructional styles.

Think about the activities which will be necessary to insure retention, augment instruction, and make students eager participants in the instructional process. These may be text assignments, writing activities, or reading selections. Choose these activities carefully. They should support and reinforce your unit goal. It may be necessary to delete major portions of textbook assignments to make that happen. Don't assign material just because it is in the book. Make it be your choice - not the publisher's. This is where "cut and paste" becomes particularly important.

Again, use the calendar to help you make decisions. Looking at the time frame of the unit will help you decide how much depth and how many mini-units to include. It's much like a budget. You only have so much time, so you must ask yourself how you wish to spend it. This handbook outlines many of the content areas to include. Use it as your guide. Use your own experience. Use any resource you can find.

Don't forget, when choosing assignments, the four steps that will insure success. First, show them what to do by doing it first yourself while they watch. Then let them do it while you watch and help. Next, stand back while they do it again, helping only when they are really stuck. Finally, have them do it alone. While this takes longer in the beginning, it makes a difference later. Build adequate time into your plan.

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