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Unit Plans For Teachers

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Updated on Nov 18, 2011

Unit Plans

Unit planning begins with identifying the particular content to be taught and your goals for learning outcomes. Goals are about your purpose or aim. They relate to your rationale for teaching the particular content that your students will study.

Goals help set the stage for study and typically are written as broad statements. Often they are tied to state or national curriculum standards. It is important to always remember that your goals should go beyond the basic cognitive (knowledge) domain. Don't neglect to consider the affective and psychomotor domains (for more on this, you may wish to research the White House Conferences on Education). Note that other scholars have also created models for educational domains. So, using Yager and McCormack's (1989) domains, you will need to go beyond the knowledge (knowing and understanding) domain and also address the creative (imagining and creating), attitudinal (feeling and valuing), process (exploring and discovering), and application (using and applying or connecting) domains.

Your introductory lesson to the unit should be given extra attention. You will want this lesson to grab your students' attention and stimulate them to want to know more. There are many exciting ways to begin a new unit, but reading a chapter out of a textbook is not one of them. Likewise, you should give attention to your culminating lesson. You will want to wrap up your unit by helping students reflect upon and synthesize the content that they studied. If there is to be a final test or exam, you might also plan a review activity that is also fun. Framing a review in a game such as "Jeopardy!" is an example. Another way to wrap up a unit is for students to present individual or group projects. Depending on the project and the quality you expect, you might even consider culminating with presentations to other students, or to family and community members.

Single-Topic Units

Probably the most typical way teachers plan their classroom curriculum is in terms of instruction in units organized around a single topic. This kind of organization generally reflects a daily schedule in which reading, math, science, social studies, and so forth are taught separately and divided from each other by assigned time periods. Many of us have been taught most often this way. Remember the unit on the Civil War? It is likely it was organized this way. Another example would be the math unit on fractions and the science unit on weather.

Thematic Units

Thematic units use a single topic to address several subject areas.

Instruction through thematic units assumes students learn best when the curriculum is a coherent whole and when they can connect their studies to the real world. The challenge for the teacher is to integrate content from many subjects, all the while being specific enough to be practical yet broad enough to encourage creativity.

Instruction in a unit organized around a theme integrates, for example, reading, math, and science through the study of a broad area, like, for example, "energy" or "exploration." The rationale for the thematic approach is that it demonstrates the interdisciplinary nature of learning itself. First among the reasons for using a thematic approach is that student interest and engagement are likely to increase. Thematic planning lets you use collaborative and cooperative learning, as well as classroom computers. Further, you end up with a more compact curriculum—with less content overlap and simpler organization of the content. This approach also expands both your assignment and your assessment options.

Often, thematic units are team taught, and several teachers work together to plan and teach the unit. Either way, you begin by selecting an appropriate theme reflecting the curriculum, student interests, experiences, issues, or problems. Identify the goals you wish students to accomplish by the end of the unit. These can be related to state and local standards and competencies. Select and organize content-rich and challenging activities to use. Activities will be broad based, integrating many subject areas.

When your unit is completed, it should be stored for later access. Probably it will first reside on your computer hard drive. We suggest you back up your hard drive regularly and also store a hard copy of it in a file folder in a filing cabinet, where it will be easy to find the next go round. Alternatively, a looseleaf binder will do if that works for you. Either way, a hard copy will probably be helpful as a place to make notes for changes as you go, and it can later be used for making revisions on the electronic version. The hard copy in the file cabinet can be altered as your class and the content change and as different teaching resources become available.

Single Topic Units

Most typical. This kind of organization generally reflects a daily schedule in which reading, math, science, social studies, and so forth are taught separately and divided from each other by assigned time periods.

Thematic Units

Assumes students learn best when the curriculum is a coherent whole and when they can connect their studies to the real world. The rationale is that it demonstrates the interdisciplinary nature of learning itself.

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