Monday, November 18, 2013

Creating a Unit Study

There are plenty available. Just do a quick search and you are bound to find more than one unit study for the very next topic in your lesson plan. Some will cost you. Some are free.

One of them may just be perfect for you and your family. The topic, lessons, and activities are spot on. It couldn't get any better. After all, the work is done for you. You just have to implement it.

But what about those of us who actually want to plan our own? Maybe customize it completely? How do you plan a unit study?

Today, I'll walk you through a few quick steps to planning your own unit study. These steps will work for almost any unit study, whether it be a multi-subject unit study or a simple history unit.

How to Plan a Unit Study
  1. Pick a topic. Perhaps you'd like to study a time period in history, a specific culture, or science topic. Maybe you would like to build a unit study around a book you will be reading with your children.
  2. Find one main reference book, resource, or website. This resource will serve as a guide or starting point, depending how you choose to use it. Generally, if you want to build a unit study based on a piece of literature, this becomes your reference book.
  3. Create a list of subtopics. Good reference resources can be used to glean subtopics or areas of further study within one main topic. Some can be used as spines for the entire study. Usborne, DK, and other books like them lend themselves well to this usage. Their typical one topic per two page layout easily creates an outline for more in depth study. Unit studies based on literature, might use elements from the plot, characters, setting, and author. For instance, a unit study on Charlotte's Web could include subtopics like farm life, barns, spiders, farm animals, rats, and fairs.
  4. Collect {or create your own} ideas. Find books, projects, activities, and worksheets for each of the subtopics. Be sure to include ideas below, at, and above grade level. Generally, anything can be altered a little, and sometimes you may want an activity to serve as a review or a challenge for your child. In the past, before Pinterest, I used to collect all my ideas in a file. Now, I simply pin the idea onto a board.
  5. Find field trips. List local places and events which could relate to one or more of the subtopics. Check into virtual tours as well. Sometimes it may not be possible to visit a place, but students can 'tour' it through a website.
  6. Outline the order of study. It may seem backwards to place this step so far down the list. However, once you have the details collected, then you can decide which of the subtopics you'll likely spend more time covering or which are more important in the unit study.
  7. Assign a schedule for the unit study. Judging by the ideas you have found or created, you can decide how much time to allow each one. Be sure to keep it flexible and include a few extra days for topics of interest. Children often want to explore a specific topic further. Allow them the freedom to do so, by setting aside extra time.

If you are creating a unit study which is cross curricula, then you will need to pay careful attention to include subtopics, activities, and field trips which are indeed cross curricula. Balance your unit study by finding or creating lessons which include all the areas of study you want to cover.


Dorie and her drummer husband, Jerry, began the homeschooling journey over ten years ago. Currently, they home educate four children ranging from early elementary to high school. Dorie can be found at Homeschooling Just Next Door, Facebook, or Pinterest.

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