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How to Plan a Unit Study – easier than you think!


One question that people asked all the time is, “Why unit studies are good and how do I plan a unit study?”


Unit Studies are a fantastic way to engage in a topic or theme that you can explore in lots of diverse ways by including multiple subject areas within the unit study. This allows you to teach other subjects while investigating a topic or theme, this can be especially good when teaching multiple children in different grade levels.


How long does a Unit Study last?

A unit study should last only as long as it engages students’ interest so generally from 1 week to a full term. Of course, this is dependent on the age of the child as older children can dive deeper in subject matter than younger children. When studying forms of matter in science with younger children, you may need 1-2 weeks to cover this topic but when covering human organs in higher grades you may require 8-10 weeks to cover this topic fully.



Step 1 – Setting Goals

First step is to set goals, so you need to think about what your family goals are in terms of scope of what you want your children to learn. So, if you are looking at history, are you wanting to teach this in a chronological order or vary topics throughout history. This will affect how you will set up your unit study.

Once you have decided goals for your learning, then it is about what you want to achieve in the unit study for this topic that you have chosen.

Answering the questions:

  • What do we know already?

  • What do we want to know?

  • What have we learnt?

 

Step 2 – Which Subject to Include in your Unit Study

 

The idea is to incorporate as many subjects as possible around this area of learning so the child will learn other concepts at the same time. So, include history, science, geography, art and music as well as language arts and mathematics. Do not just include workbook or information books around the subject, it is best to involve your child in activities and games to create fun within their learning environment.

 

You will need to think about which subject you will be including into your unit study. Unit studies allows you to incorporate other subjects into the one-unit study, so children are not just learning about one topic. Most times children are not aware they are learning multiple skills at once when you created enjoyment in their learning space.

 

Something to consider, do you need a program running alongside the unit study for spelling, Maths, handwriting etc. Or will you tackle these subjects within the unit study. Or will you teach foundation subjects separately.


Most subjects can be easier to cover in a unit study. History, Science, Art, Composition, Handwriting, Reading, Geography, Oral Presentations, Spelling, Dictation are all subjects that are easy to cover in a unit study. And of course, you can include all learning areas within a unit study, but dependent on topic can make it harder to include foundation subjects. Foundation subjects require children to understand more in the early years, so it is best teaching these subjects separately.

 

Incorporating as many subjects as possible into a single unit study is quite easy to do. For example, a unit study on the water cycle, one task could be to make a 3D model of the water cycle, children are using other skills in the following ways:

 

  • Art & Craft – sculpture, painting and modelling

  • Spelling & Vocabulary - Earth-atmosphere, precipitation, evaporation, transpiration, condensation

  • Geography – landscapes forms within the model

  • Mathematics Concepts - scale of their project and use of measurement

  • Reading – book on the water cycle

  • Composition, Handwriting & Oral Presentation – writing a presentation for 3 min video, PowerPoint presentation plus science report.

  • Technology – use of software to drafting reports – use of tools in making the 3D model, researching through computers or tablets.

 

Step 3 – Subject outside the Unit Study

Not all subjects will fit into your unit study so how do you teach these subjects outside the unit study?

 



Mathematics is one subject that in the early years is a foundation subject and is much easier taught on its own 3-4 days a week. Maths concepts will at times fit into your unit study but if you are wanting your child to learn in a sequential way, then you will need to specifically program that teaches it that way. This can be time consuming to incorporate each Mathematical concept into your unit studies and therefore teaching Mathematics separate in its own program could be much easier.

 

 



Spelling is another foundation subject that is super important in the early years. You can choose words from that unit study to expand your child’s vocabulary and discuss phonogram in these words and find other words that use these phonograms, long and short vowels, silent e rule, ends and beginnings of words etc.

  • Syllable Endings (tion) – Precipitation, transpiration, condensation, transportation.

  • Long and short vowels – drop, earth, clean, river, stream, fish, drink, boil, rain, sea.

  • Consonant Blends – fresh, drain, grow, clean, sprinkle, splash, drench, cry, shower.


If you use a phonic program separately alongside the unit study, then you can use the unit studies to reinforce concepts, so your child retains them for life. Recommend a sequential multisensory program that incorporates Orton-Gillingham instructional approach that is evidence based to help children in learning to become proficient spellers.


Recommended programs - All About SpellingMemoria Press Traditional SpellingIEW Phonic Zoo (from Grades 3).



Teaching the earlier concepts of Grammar in a unit study will be easy to do – like parts of speech but other areas like pre-fixes, suffixes and so on, may prove to be a challenge. Teaching nouns and verbs is an easy concept and can be as simple as a piece of paper: nouns on one side and verbs on the other:

Noun                                                     Verb

River                                                    Flows

Stream                                                Runs

Ocean                                                 Crash

Sea                                                      Splash

Fish                                                      Swim

Rain                                                     Pours

Water                                                  Drink    

 

Look at how these words. Can do other things? Rain - howls, thunders, drops, sprinkles etc.


For adjectives and adverbs ask questions.


Adjectives

What kind of river? Which River? How many rivers? And Whose? We want children to describe the river (noun).

Large, rough, blue, deep, long, slow, dirty, flowing etc.


Adverbs

These words modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs so you ask questions to the verb. Adverbs often end in “ly” so questions would be:


How did the river move? Roughly, quickly, slowly, smoothly. When did it move? suddenly, daily, immediately, purposefully. Where did the river go? Far, beyond, down, beside.

Or through reading you can take passages from a book to use in your unit study, use a dictation first and then ask the child to find the adjectives and adverbs in the sentences.


Example:

Rivers often flows great distances.

Find the noun (Rivers) then the verb (flows). In asking the question – What does the river do? Flows. Find the other nouns (distance). What is the adjective (great). Find the adverb (often).

 

But if you are time poor or have limited ability yourself in this area then I would suggest a program to run alongside the unit study.


Recommend – IEW Fix It (around 10 minutes per day) or Memoria Press Grammar



Reading - One of the most important skills children can gain in their education is to fluently read so this is my number one reason children should learn to read away from unit studies. You can use unit


studies to support their learning by including reading within the unit study as this can help children who read or begin to read with extending vocabulary and gaining fluently in their reading.


Learning to read is not natural for most children, therefore lots of children find it harder to decode the English language and therefore require explicit instructions to learn to read. I have two children, one who had learning difficulties (son) and my youngest (daughter) who never had a lesson to learn to read (I am sure she listened to my sons’ lessons over the years and clued on very quickly). The modern world requires these skills for us all to be able to read well to function in holding down employment or living within our society. Most children will learn to read in the first few years of their educational years but for a small percentage of children it can take to 11-13 to gain these skills.


Explicit instruction helps children break down their learning into small learning outcomes and this suits how the brain processes, stores, and retrieves information. When using a systemic and explicit teaching with phonological awareness and phonics these elements are essential for learning to read. For children to successfully decode words it requires them to learn the language’s grapheme-phoneme that corresponds and recognises the words so they can then store these skills in long-term memory.


As well the use of a multisensory phonemic awareness programs plays a significant role in the early development of reading.




Step 4 - Which topic to pick.

This is the easy part, but it is important to focus on the child’s interest to which unit study will benefit your child. So, if your child is interested robots then that is what should inspire you to create your study around.


Topics to pick from is limitless to where children can study. Start by choosing the subject area first in which you would like the unit study to be based on. This could be History, Science, Geography, Literature, Bible, Art or Character Enrichment or something your child may be interested in learning. Sometimes unit studies will find you, like being in the garden and your child is interested in how plants grow, or your child has a book on history of pyramids and is keen to learn more. Take your inspiration on what is happening in your child’s life and what they love to learn is always the best starting base.


Brainstorming ideas with your kids, this will give you an understanding of what topics they would like to learn about and what interests them. Most times children will lead you down a path that they find interesting and of topics that they have not learnt about before so let them lead. As you gain a list of topics store them in a journal or in a file on your computer. This will be handy for your next unit studies you plan to do. Here is a list of suggestions on topics and themes to get you started.


Historic Themes

  • Beginning of Time – Dinosaurs, Early civilizations, mammoths, stone age

  • Ancient Times – Fertile Crescent, Egypt, Greece, Rome, South & East-Asia, Mesopotamia, Israel etc.

  • Middle Ages – late Roman Empire, Anglo-Saxons, the Huns, Black Plague, Constantinople, Christian Theology, Feudalism, Crusades etc.

  • Early Modern Times – The Age of Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, Colonisations of the Americas, Han Ming Dynasty etc.

  • War Events – Trojan, World Wars, The Hundred Years’ War, War of the Roses, Vietnam, Falklands Island War etc.

  • Modern History – Pearly Harbour, Stock Market Crash, Russian Revolution, Fall of the Berlin Wall, 9-11 September Attacks, Covid 19 Pandemic,  

  • Australian History – Aboriginal & Torris Strait Islanders, First Fleet, Abel Tasman, Botany Bay, Gold Rush, Rum Rebellion, Henry Lawson, cyclone Tracey, Advance Australia Fair etc.


People

  • Artist – Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Claude Monet, Jason Pollock, Bansky etc.

  • Poets – Henry Abbey, Emily Dickson, William Shakespeare, Banjo Paterson etc.

  • Authors – Virgil, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Andy Griffiths, Jackie French etc.

  • World Leaders – Cleopatra, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln etc.

  • Inventors – Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Nicola Tesla, Marie Curie, Tim Berners-Lee etc.

  • Explorers – Marco Polo, Henry the Navigator, Christopher Columbus, Sir Walter Raleigh, Captain James Cook etc.

  • Scientist – Charles Darwin, Galileo Galilei, Jane Goodall, Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, Isacc Newton etc.


Science Topics

  • Biology – Animals, Insects, birds, plants, the human body, DNA etc.

  • Chemistry – period table, acids & bases, atomic structure, chemical bonds etc.

  • Physics – Circular motions, energy, electric circuits, vibrations, sound waves etc .

  • Geology – landforms, rocks and minerals.

  • Astronomy – stars, suns, planets, moon, nebula, galaxies etc.

  • Nature Study – leaves, cocoon process, ant or worm farm, bugs, trees, plants etc.

Literature Studies

  • Picture Books – Blueberries for Sal, Caps for Sale, Make way for Duckling, Peter Rabbit,

  • Grades 1-5 – Little House in the Big Woods, A Bear Called Paddington, Mr. Poppers Penguins, Homer Price etc.

  • Grades 6-9 – Robin Hood, The Door in the Wall, Anne of Green Gables, The Hobbit

  • Grades 9+ - Hard Times, Henry V, The Great Gatsby, Little Women, To Kill a Mockingbird

  • Poetry – A Child’s Garden Verse, ABC Book of Australian Poetry, Favourite Poems of Banjo Patterson

  • Fairy Tales, Myths & Legends – D’Aulaires Book of Greece Myths, Beowulf, The Nutcracker, Aesop’s Fables, Just So Stories,

 

The list is endless and can be anything that your children are interested in learning.


Step 5 - Planning your activities.

Now you have chosen your topic, and which subjects you will include in the unit study, the next step is about how your child best responds to learning. When we engage in the world, we learn through exploring, reading, researching, and observing. This is where you will now find activities that will engage your child to learn.



Knowing your child’s learning style will help you in setting activities that suits your child to engage in the unit study.


Visual – prefers to use pictures, diagrams, images and spatial understanding to help them learn. Activities – movies, dice or board games, drawing, visual pictures in books, visual presentation, lab books, visual instructions and doodling.

Musical/Auditory – prefers sounds or music or even rhythms to help them learn. Activities – Sing aloud to songs, reading aloud, discussions, dictating notes to audio, reciting learning aloud, visual presentations.

Physical/Kinaesthetic – prefers to use hands, body and sense of touch to help them learn. They might act things out. Activities – drama, role play, field trips, experiments, hands-on activities with objects, use of manipulatives, flashcards, games and projects.

Verbal – words are a strong point. They prefer to use words both in speech and written form. Activities – note taking, dictation, read aloud, verbal games, singing songs and tongue twisters.

Logical/Mathematical – Learning is easy for these children if you use logic, reasoning, systems and sequences. Activities – puzzles, coding, problem solving, riddles, surveys, use Venn Diagrams, timelines and science experiments.

 Social – Like to learn new things as part of a group. Explaining their understanding to a group to understand concepts. Activities – games, projects, Collaboration, brainstorming, sharing information, teamwork and research projects.

Solitary – prefer to work alone. These children use self-study and prefer their own company when learning. Activities – note taking, science experiments, journaling, reading, composition, research projects, bookwork, independent study and assignments.

Combination – Child’s learning style is a combination of 2-3 of the above learning styles.


Step 5 – making a list of resources.

The first thing is to check out what you have on hand in your home on that topic.

Take a box with you and collect what you have on hand around your home on the unit study topic, check out your bookshelves for picture books, beginner readers or other resources books on the topic. Then research other resources that you would like to include into your unit study. This can be books from the local library, items to purchase, video links to documentaries or movies, links on websites, games, art and craft activities etc. Record all these resources into a journal or in a computer file for safe keeping.


Now find your main resource or book that you will use to lead you in planning for this unit study. Let us look at a unit study on the book, The Adventures of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter.


Main resource - story book The Adventures of Peter Rabbit. Remember to include into your study other areas to study. Here are some more topics you could include within this unit study – rabbits, vegetable gardens, Easter Bunny, character building and nature.



Step 6 – Make a list of ideas you wish to cover.

  • Pre-Reading – discuss what the book will be about – review the plot to the child prior to reading the story. Talk about the characters, setting and plot of the story.

  • Read the story aloud together so the child will recognise words and understand the meaning of these unfamiliar words.

  • Vocabulary – look at words within the sentence in its context and determine its definition. Find synonyms for these words. New works – Ask the child to write the unfamiliar words into their journal. Syllabication for Pronounce Words – ac-ci-dent, cu-cum-ber, mis-chief, un-for-tun-ate-ly, dreadfully, overheard, camomile – use words within the text - accident, cucumber, mischief, unfortunately, dreadfully, overheard, camomile. Find other words on rabbits – Lagomorpha, jackrabbits, cottontail, breeding, Polish, Flemish, urban, bunny, Easter, kitten, hunted, imported, hamster.

  • Comprehension Question – Asking questions to make sure children understand what they have read, these can be orally or writing in their journal to answer – Who bought a loaf of brown bread and five current buns? Was the blue jacket with brass buttons, quite new? Why were the little rabbits not allowed to go to Mr. McGregor’s Garden? Mr. McGregor stopped chasing Peter. Why?

  • Enrichment – these can include composition, copy work, dictation, research, mapping, drawing, poetry work, literacy terms etc. Look at life lesson with the book – this case, look at Peter’s behaviour compared to his sisters. Who make the best choices? What was the result of Peter’s choices? What was the results of his sister’s choice? Ask the child in their journal to draw a map of the garden – add a scarecrow to your garden with an outfit. Label each row in your garden with the fruit and vegetables that are growing.

  • Composition – each week your child should complete a task – for younger grades 1-2 sentences to a paragraph but of course as they get older, increase the length of their text to their ability. Include that they write diverse types of texts: narrative, book review, expository, information reports, persuasive, descriptive, recount, Procedure, Blogs, Newsletter, posts etc.

  • Games – using a base board and create games using the words in your spelling list,

  • Visit – events outside the home – visit a local friend or families vegetable garden, older children could do a course on horticultural.

  • Drama – create your own play around the story line or produce your own.

  • Sciences – different species of rabbits, caring for rabbits, introduction of rabbits to Australia, their effects on wildlife, socialisation of rabbits, predators of rabbits, differences between hares and rabbits etc.

  • Science Experiments – plant seeds to determine which seeds will germinate first – which plants grow faster – which plants need more light or less light to grow.

  • Myths, Tales or Legends – Ancient Egypt – The Scared Hare, Asia – The Clever Hare, Native America – The Trickster Rabbit, African Folklores – The Moon-gazing Hare and other modern characters in stories like Bugs Bunny.

  • Cultural – Easter Bunny - Easter

  • Movies & documentaries – Peter Rabbit Movie, Miss Potter Movie etc.

  • Nature Study – investigate plants – vegetable gardens – pests, leaves of each type, what is eatable and non-edible parts of each vegetable etc.

  • History - Where did rabbits originate from? How have they spread throughout the world? How have humans used rabbits for food, fur and pets? What is the year of the bunny? Beatrix Potter – Who was she? Where did she live? What was her influence at the time when she wrote this book?

  • Character Building – manners, risk taking, honesty, responsibility, sharing, caring, friendship, respect, trustworthy.



Step 7 Planning

It is now a matter of planning everything in a daily and weekly plan. Using a one-page diary or something similar and pencil in each day what your plan would be look like. – Also add in the subjects you are not including into the unit study here so you can see all the work for the child on this day. So, if you plan to run a Mathematics program alongside the unit study, then you can allocate a planned time this child should be working at this subject. This gives you an idea of total time already used in their day. You do not want to overwhelm a child with too much workload, but also need enough work to keep them interested in the topic and engaged.

 

Day 1

Discussion on the book pre-reading:

  • Title – What do you think the story will be about just by the cover?

  • Plot – Talk briefly about what the story will be about – an adventure of a rabbit.

  • Characters – Peter Rabbit, Mr. McGregor

  • Vocabulary – look at words within the book the child may not know. Explain their meaning – writing these in the child’s journal.


Read the book aloud together. Discuss any words the child does not know or their meaning – writing them in their journal.


Resources Needed: journal – Adventures of Peter Rabbit book.


Day 2

Re- read the book aloud together – discuss any words the child may not know and write them in their journal.


Question to ask:

  • Who brought a loaf of brown bread and five currants?

  • What did Mr. McGregor see when he was hoeing onions?

  • What was Mr. McGregor going to do with the sieve?

  • Why did Peter feel rather sick?

  • What did Peter eat from Mr. McGregor’s Garden?

  • Peter jumped into a can. Why was this not a beautiful thing to hide in?

  • Mr. McGregor finally gave up chasing Peter. Why?


Review all the words in the child’s journal, adding any new ones – re-writing them and adding their meaning beside each one.


Map Work – draw a picture of the garden, include garden beds, the shed, a fence, and gate, add a scarecrow (add an outfit of your choice).


Dictation – first 2-4 sentences from the Adventures of Peter Rabbit book for the child to write into their journal.


Extra resources needed:

Day 3

Re-Read the Book aloud together – discuss ideas around the book – introduce another book on rabbits to read together. Review unknown words – add to their journal. Discuss what happened in the book.


Review spelling words in their journal – rewrite them with the new ones – add meanings to the new words.


Dictation – next 2-4 sentences from the Adventures of Peter Rabbit book for the child to write into their journal.


Movie – Watch the Peter Rabbit movie – discuss what was different to the book and the movie? What words were different to the book and the movie? Did you like the book or movie best?


Composition – Write 2-4 sentences on why or why not you liked the movie.

 

Day 4

Introduce a new book - The Clever Hare, Native America – review the title, cover, plot and setting and characters prior to reading. Read the story and discuss the story – what was the story about? Was there a meaning behind the story? Who was the main character in the story? Where was the setting of the story? Review any unfamiliar words and meanings from the story.


New Book – Children’s Garden book – look at the different vegetables you can grow – What is required to grow these vegetables? What parts of each vegetable can you eat? Which vegetables do you like to eat? What vegetables have you not tried before?


Write unfamiliar words and meanings in their journal – review all words from days 1-3.

Dictation – next 2-4 sentences from The Adventures of Peter Rabbit book for the child to write into their journal.


Visit a vegetable garden in your local area.


Science experiment – plan four different vegetable seeds to see which ones will germinate first. Write up a science report – ask for a hypothesis, list of equipment needed and what the variables will be and how to keep these variables the same. Set up the experiment and leave to grow to and follow up in coming days.


Resources extra needed – need plan on science experiments – science report form – small pots – soil – seeds – tray - measurements for water – water.


Each day add 1-3 new activities to your plan – this will all depend on the child, their ability to how long they can work and achieve. Best to write in pencil because you will come to days when your time poor or your child asks a question that leads you down another path not intended. This is good, when your child asks questions, and they require answers as it shows your child is engaged in the learning. Follow their lead and go down that path, there is always tomorrow to catch up. Use your rubber and pencil it in for another day. Only plan for the first week and the following weeks only pencil in briefly items you want to cover, then over the weekend before the week you can fully plan as you will have a much better idea of what you have covered or not covered.


Take a look at Memoria Press Literacy Unit Studies as these are well worth using as a base on studying of a novel and then adding other areas to study within the book themes. For Example: Robin Hood you could look at Medieval Times, castles, bow & arrows, crusades, English Folklore, feudal system or Little Women you could look at Civil War, scarlet fever and other diseases of this time, medical advances, social constructs for women then and now, write a play like the March sisters, education at the time for girls & boys, character flaws.



 

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