How I Plan a Unit

I was going to hold off on my normal blogging until the TeachThought 30 day challenge was over, but my “blog about this” list is getting so long that I don’t think I can manage. So here we go for post number 2.

I’m still very new to this whole planning a unit with no textbook thing, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of it. And if this is something you’re looking to try, maybe some of the things I do will inspire you somehow. My whole process borrows heavily from Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell’s advice on planning a unit. I also followed her previous post to plan out the year-long schedule of each unit, so before I begin to plan a unit, I know how many days I want to plan for. Usually, my units range from 4-6 weeks, with review units at the beginning of Spanish II, III, and IV lasting from 2-3 weeks. I also have a “research” unit in Spanish II and III, each of which is 3 weeks long.

Since I know how many days I have to plan for, and (following Sara-Elizabeth’s advice) have created a Google Docs spreadsheet (here’s the one I made for Spanish III, if you’d like an example. If you want to see the ones for the other levels, just let me know and I’ll be glad to share!), I’m starting off on pretty good footing. In my spreadsheet, the first page is a daily overview of the whole year. The second is a quick glance at all the units, their main focus points, and their lengths. After that, each unit has a page with a list of Can-Do statements, resources I’ve gathered that I may or may not use, ideas for assessments and activities, and a more exhaustive list of focus points for that unit, and a link to the summative assessment I created for the unit. Up to this point, everything was done for each unit before the school year started.

From there, I take a close look at my summative assessment for the unit. A few times, I’ve revamped them because, at a second look, I thought I could do better. Then, I go through and make a list of “vocabulary” that students will need. Some of it is review, some of it is categories (for the unit I’m currently working on, one item on the list is “sports” and another is “pastimes”), and some of it is new phrases or words that I think will be necessary for students to be successful on the assessment. I do the same thing for grammatical constructs, keeping in mind that the goal is “Students will be able to teach someone how to play a game,” and not “Students will know how to form and use commands”. This allows me a little more leeway (do they really need to learn ALL the command forms right now?) and helps me focus my activities and my teaching on helping students be able to do with the language, and not just do the language.

Then I look at the other can-do statements and focus points for the unit to see if there are any other things that I want to cover, but don’t necessarily want to “test” over and add to my vocabulary and grammar lists.

Next, I work backwards. I look at my summative assessment again and ask myself “The day before the test, what’s one thing we could do to make sure students have a grasp on what they need?” So the day or the few days leading up to the assessment, my activities tend to look similar to (but not the same as!) what the students will see on the assessment. I gather authentic resources (Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube are great places to look!) and fill in my spreadsheet. If, for example, we’re doing a reading activity from a blog I’ve found, I put that in the “Interpretive” column, and add a link directly from that box to the resource I want to use. If the activity has several steps in different modes of communication, I put each step in the appropriate column and number them so that I can see at a glance where we’re starting and where we’re going from there.

Additionally, I noticed that I have a tendency to lean more heavily on reading and writing than listening and speaking. I thought about separating the “Interpretive” column into one for reading and one for listening, and doing the same for “Presentational” with writing and speaking, but that would require adding more width to my spreadsheet and I really like being able to see it all at the same time. So instead, I’ve gone with color coding to help me see if I’m leaning to heavily on one area. I just thought of this today, so it’s not on all of my spreadsheets yet. For presentational, I’ve been highlighting writing activities in green, speaking in blue, and activities that could be either in orange. I haven’t done any with interpretive yet.

In my experience thus far, working backwards goes really well for about 3/4 of the unit. And then I start thinking of things and realizing “Hey, that would be really good for day 2” or “That would go great as an exploratory station on the first day.” At that point, it starts getting difficult for me. Building the bridge between the “simpler” building block, exploratory activities for the first few days and the increasingly deep and demanding practice activities of the third week of the unit is difficult for me.

I don’t worry about making all the daily manipulatives, transcripts, or other things we need in class when I plan the unit. Sometimes I work on them over the weekend but usually they wait until I arrive at school in the morning (I get here early, so I usually have plenty of time) or during my planning period.

So there you have it! What have you found that helps you plan units? What’s hard for you?

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