Homeschooling Guide for Creating Unit Plans
I’ve created a lot of unit plans over the years that I homeschooled. Why? Because they’re easy to create (once you know how), they can be tailored to your child’s specific interests, and it’s FUN. Many times, my daughter felt more like she was simply enjoying some leisure time rather than doing a lesson. And that just makes a homeschool day so much easier.
I can almost hear some of you saying, "but doesn’t unit planning take much more time than just a regular lesson plan"? Well, technically, the answer is yes. Even in cooking or sewing or anything else you do that requires putting various “pieces” together, prep work is always necessary. Here, you get the benefit of creating the foundation for something really great that’s going to remove a lot of stress and potential burnout, just by mixing things up a bit. And, once you have a template made, you'll get faster at doing it.
Unit plans can really pack a lot of information into a short time frame, especially if you plan activities and lessons around them, and making them thematic units is even more fun! I’m going to take some time to show you how that’s done, and I hope that you get as much out of them as I have in the past.
What Grade Levels Benefit from Unit Plans?
When most people think of Unit Plans, they automatically think about the younger grades, especially preschool and early elementary. For these grades, Unit Plans can primarily be conducted simply by adding in “fun things” that are related to one another, yet teach the basic, core subjects.
As you move into upper elementary and middle school, daily lessons will take on more and deeper information that ties into hands-on activities that are more time-intensive and detailed. For instance, writing reports, giving speeches, or getting involved in a volunteer program are all things that older children can easily take part in as an extension of the Unit Plan.
Many homeschool educators think that high school is not a good place for learning experiences to be done with unit studies, but nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, there are exceptions, and you’ll have to take into consideration whether your child is on a general education track or a college track. You’ll also need to know what is expected from your state homeschool regulations and laws. And finally, you’ll need to know how many credits, in which subject areas, are necessary for the college track your child is on if any.
Generally speaking, a certain number of hours in a high school subject area equals a high school credit. This makes tracking unit plan time and summative assessment easy, especially with the hands-on activities and other projects they’ll be working on. You’ll be able to evaluate student progress when “mastery” has been achieved, as well, if that’s what you’re gauging progress on.
Choose a Theme for Your Unit Plan
Themes can vary, depending on what else you’re studying at the time, e.g. a holiday or new season coming up, or any one of a variety of different things. We have done Unit Plans on Little House on the Prairie books, Mark Twain books, seasons, holidays, birthdays, Native Americans…the list could really continue for several lines.
The most important thing in choosing a theme is to choose something you know your child shows at least a little interest in. There’s no point creating a math theme, for instance, if your child loathes and detests math! You’re just setting yourself up for failure in this sense, and we certainly don’t want to do that.
Instead, choose themes that you know are pleasant and that you’ll be able to extract several lessons from, even in a short period of time. This makes it easier for the child to transition from one thing to the next within the unit plan and makes lesson planning a bit easier for you in the meantime.
Great Books for Unit Planning
Really good books are the very hinges that can enable your unit plans to move smoothly. If you follow the Charlotte Mason Method, you already know how important Living Books are to the curriculum, so you can see how important they are to the overall lesson plan template. It also gives you many different angles from which to approach the topic of study. Choose from non-fiction, fiction, poetry, or even the Bible as a basis for your unit plan.
Depending on your child’s age, the books you choose can either be read aloud, even as a part of family time, or, if the child is older, it can be a part of their independent study time. No matter which way you allow the books to be read, make sure you follow the reading time with a period of discussion in which you can talk about the book’s theme, topics, or things that might relate to everyday life in your own home.
If you word the discussion just right, for instance, asking questions about the material that your child read, you can even count those discussions as lessons, quizzes, or tests themselves.
Unit planning around books is a language arts heavy credit for high school students.
Hands-On Activities for Unit Studies
These hands-on activities are the bits that really make the information you’re reading about and talking about much more memorable and meaningful to your child. This can include recipes, science projects, field trips and so much more. There’s just something about doing the things you’re talking about, or something very much like it, that really adds substance and causes the information to become rooted.
This is truly the difference between “knowledge” and “wisdom”. “Knowledge” is something you attain from reading or rote facts and can easily be forgotten once the lesson is over. “Wisdom”, on the other hand, is something that you draw from experience; it’s how you apply knowledge. For instance, you might attempt to learn chess through reading a book, and you’ll gain a lot of knowledge from that. However, when you actually sit down to play the game, that knowledge becomes wisdom, and so learning becomes concrete.
There are lots of activities that can be included in your unit plan. Before you even begin planning the actual unit, you should sit down and brainstorm – with your child, if possible – all the activities they enjoy doing and that could be included in just about any type of unit study.
Here’s a shortlist of possibilities:
- Use a prompt to write a short story
- Create a diorama
- Make a period-costume
- Draw a map (which could lead to a scavenger hunt)
- Read a famous speech out loud
- Play or create a board game
- Recreate a piece of art that is well-known or famous
- Watch a movie that ties into your unit
- Perform a play
- Do an audio journal
- Create a notebook specifically for one topic
- Conduct an interview
- Attend an event/convention/concert, etc.
Unit studies can be comprehensive and include activities from social studies, math, physical education, and language arts. They can be activities that are done individually or in small groups. They will often include critical thinking but are generally more comprehensive than just using worksheets.
Evaluate What Your Child Has Learned through the Unit Plan
As with any form of study, from the Classical teaching method, the Charlotte Mason Method, Unschooling, or any other, there should be a means of measuring progress. In regular lessons, that would be classwork, handouts or worksheets, quizzes, and tests. However, it’s not always plain and simple when finding an evaluation method for unit plans.
Some parents choose to record “mastery”, which means you count the subject as “passed” when your child can demonstrate that they know what you’ve taught. This can be accomplished in many ways, and your method of defining mastery might be different from mine or someone else’s. The point is that you get to that point, and make sure your child gets there, too.
You might decide to give one single written test at the end of the unit plan, with questions that will demonstrate the information studied has been retained. Or you could keep a portfolio of work done along the way to show progress from start to finish. Using both methods together would be ideal for a high school student.
Unit studies are an excellent way to teach and can combine a vast number of subjects. Planning the unit plan properly will allow you to move easily between subjects, sometimes without your child being any the wiser to it, resulting in an excellent amount of retained knowledge by the end of the study.
To simplify, coming up with a unit plan is easy. Just follow these simple steps as a template:
- Choose a theme/topic
- Choose good books
- Choose a hands-on activity
- Choose a means by which to evaluate the learning
Following these simple steps, you will have created an excellent unit plan. Better still, you’ll be able to create multiple-unit plans over the years, which can truly benefit the homeschool, help your child learn and retain information, and help stave off burnout for you.