There are 3.2 million teachers in the US. Thus, there are 3.2 million ways teachers plan their units.

I do, however, love seeing other teachers’ processes for planning, so this post is about mine.

I usually spend time during the summer rethinking units. Maybe not all the units I teach (I have three different preps–four starting this year), but ones that need a little freshening up.

I’ve tried myriad apps and books to plan units, but over the past few years, I’ve attached myself to Understanding by Design, and this summer, I’ve used a basic Google slidedeck.

With slides, it’s easy to add links, comments, and changes. I’ve kept the deck open most of the summer, so as I think of something, I can quickly make a note or comment about it and move on.


Essential Questions and Assessment Correlation:

Most teachers are familiar with essential questions. I’ve also added an assessment correlation–how will students be able to demonstrate their thinking on that question? This may not be a formal assessment by any means, but I don’t want to simply create questions and then not have some activity where students demonstrate their thinking.


This is a game-based learning technique, and it’s also an option in Classcraft, which I use to deliver assignments to students. Providing a storyline to students creates more interest and motivation to keep moving through the unit. Although I’ve put some notes into some of the narrative blocks on the slidedeck, I haven’t written any out completely. My students will do a collaborative writing activity the second week of school, and I’ll use many of their stories and ideas to use in these narrative components.


This section is simply a place for me to put some ideas for potential competition between classes.

Target Standards

This doesn’t cover all the standards, but the ones that I want to focus on most in this unit. (I live in Nebraska, so these are our own state standards; we don’t follow Common Core. We’re rebels.)

Performance Assessment

The best assessments are performance assessments. Period. This isn’t saying don’t use a traditional test, but also provide other assessments where students are creating or demonstrating the standards. I also make sure these correlate with an essential question.

Authentic Audience

This component isn’t part of the Understanding by Design format, but I think it should be. We can’t have students creating in a vacuum for an audience of one, the teacher. By adding this block, I force myself to consider how student work is shared to a larger audience. While some activities may be only to the audience of the class, I include at least one activity or project that is shared online or with the community

All the Rest

The next slide is a skeleton of the activities and lessons for the unit. It’s the meat and potatoes of it all.

It’s easy to skip to slide 2. Goodness knows I have when in the throes of a school year and didn’t plan out a new unit over the summer. But the danger of doing this and missing that first slide is that the vision is gone. I’m a firm believer in the mantra Begin With the End in Mind. I totally missed that lesson in my pre-teaching classes (I’m sure I was probably taught it).

Without that vision of your goals, your standards, and making sure your assessments correlate with what you’re teaching, it’s easy to drift away. And when you don’t have a firm grasp of your map, your students won’t either.

But what about Flexibility? Teachable Moments? Letting Students Drive the Learning?

I find that the more organized I am, and the more I have a vision of what my students need to learn, the more flexible I am, too. I better know how teachable moments fit in with the big scheme.

I also try to provide lots of opportunities for student choice within my assessments and activities. Since I teach ELA, some lessons and activities are simply non-negotiables, so having a plan for teaching them ensures that we’ll get to them throughout the year.

What’s your Process?

So here’s my challenge. Share your messy process. How do you lay out your units and plans? Write it up, share it out!