How to Plan a Unit of Study

Strategies for "big-picture" unit planning

By Paula Naegle
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8


Whether you teach elementary school or middle school, one of the keys to early success is planning ahead. But where do you begin planning when there are so many lessons to prepare on a day-to-day basis? Many teachers start with unit planning for each content area. Unit planning gives you a "big picture" of the entire year and shows you how you will fit major topics and specific concepts together. Once the unit is planned, it's much easier to move on to planning individual lessons and activities. These unit-planning strategies will get you started:

Strategies to Get You Started

  1. Become familiar with your school district's curriculum guide, benchmarks, and state standards.
  2. List the major curriculum categories.
  3. Summarize the curriculum by listing single concepts within major categories.
  4. List the concepts in these categories for both the grade level above and the grade level below the one you are currently teaching. This gives you a sense of continuum. It will also save you planning time if you teach a different grade in the future.
  5. Select the category you will teach first. Combine any concepts that are appropriate to teach together and arrange the concepts using any of the following criteria:
    • obvious chronological
    • sequential
    • ascending
    • descending order
    • availability of materials
  6. Use a three-ring binder to organize your materials by unit.
  7. Locate teaching materials appropriate for each concept, such as relevant newspaper articles, trade books, Web sites, field trip information, and lists of guest speakers. Include all materials related to the concept (it's easier to discard or return materials than to find them again later).
  8. Sketch out your unit plan by listing concepts, objectives, and expected student outcomes.
  9. Review all materials gathered for each concept and list those you actually plan to use.
  10. Break the unit into lessons containing learning activities that match curriculum objectives. Gather ideas for student projects, demonstrations, problem-solving activities, and other hands-on learning activities.
  11. Ask yourself these two essential questions when planning a unit:
  • What do I want my students to know or be able to do at the end of the unit?
  • How will I know if they know it or are able to do it?

The answer to the first question comes from your school district's course curriculum guide. In most districts, a committee of experienced teachers and administrators has written the curriculum guides. Try to view the curriculum guide requirements as a minimum level of student competency.

It's also important to be flexible and to challenge all students to reach their potential. It's never a good idea to water down your curriculum in the name of remediation. To help all students succeed, challenge them with meaningful learning experiences that require them to apply themselves and actively solve problems.



This article was adapted from The New Teacher's Complete Sourcebook: Middle School by Paula Naegle, © 2002, published by Scholastic.



  • Subjects:
    Curriculum Development, New Teacher Resources, Teacher Tips and Strategies

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