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Monday / December 17

Your Days Are Numbered: 3 Steps to Plan a Month-Long Unit

This post is the second in a series on my lesson planning process. I teach 5th grade Language Arts and Social Studies in Baltimore County, Maryland. The first part of this series was on long-range planning in a post called, “The Process of Planning: 3 Steps to Long-Range Planning.” TL;DR, the end-product was this plan for Language Arts:

  • September: Building Strong Habits
  • October: Summarizing, Personal Narratives
  • November: Point-of-View, Strong Paragraphs, Rewriting an event from a different character’s perspective
  • December: Analyzing poetry, Writing poetry
  • January: Close readings, Literary essay that draws on two sources
  • February: Point-of-View of Marginalized Voices, Opinion essays
  • March: Text structure, Writing a report
  • April: Character Analysis, Writing an original story
  • May/June: Test-taking strategies, Writing a concise essay with time constraints, readers’ theater, self-reflection about personal academic growth

Step 1: Building the Bones

My spine was almost complete. I just had to figure out how many vertebrae. I pulled up

the district calendar on line and counted the number of school days in each month. Based on experience, I knew to leave at least three days for a buffer, in case I was called into a meeting (which happens often), or in case we had to give some sort of mandatory assessment (which happens often), or in case the school planned some sort of well-meaning and worthwhile event that would also interrupt instruction (which happens very often). Living in Maryland, where we live in denial that we get ice and snow every single winter and should probably double down on our snow emergency personnel and equipment, I built in six buffer days for January and February. I also reserved one day for a special experience to kick off the month, but descriptions of those will come in a later post.

What did that leave me with? Not a lot of vertebrae. The number of days I realistically had to teach lessons ranged from only 12 in December to 18 in October.

Step 2: Beef it up

Now that I had my skeleton, it was time to put some meat on these bones.

For example, in October, we would focus on summarizing. Here are the strategies I wanted to explore:

  • Summarizing by noting story elements (protagonist, antagonist, setting, exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, theme)
  • Summarizing by using a web to identify the main idea and the pertinent details
  • Summarizing by using a gist statement (_______ wants ______ but ______. So _______.)
  • Summarizing by illustrating
  • Summarizing by sequencing
  • Summarizing by eliminating unimportant events from a list of plot points
  • Summarizing by determining the main idea of each paragraph

In October, I had 18 days, but only seven strategies that I felt were crucial. I prefer to go in depth rather than in breadth, so I did not try to find other strategies to fill in the blanks. Instead, I looked at my list and determined that some should take more than one day. I also decided that I would assign a take-home project in September so I could use two days for the students to present their projects in October. I assigned two days to apply our summarizing strategies to non-fiction articles giving me an opportunity to address current events during Language Arts.

Before I filled in the blanks of the last days, I did the same process for the writing unit of writing a personal narrative.

  • What is a personal narrative?
  • Gathering ideas for personal narratives by thinking about places and people who are important to you
  • Gathering ideas for personal narratives by thinking about times we’ve gotten in trouble
  • Gathering ideas for personal narratives by thinking about times a big change happened
  • Gathering ideas for personal narratives by thinking about the first time we tried something
  • Choosing an idea and focusing on a small moment to develop
  • Drafting a personal narrative
  • Revising a personal narrative by adding action
  • Revising a personal narrative by adding dialogue
  • Revising a personal narrative by adding description
  • Revising a personal narrative by adding protagonist’s inner thoughts
  • Editing a personal narrative
  • Publishing a personal narrative
  • Sharing our personal narratives with the class

Here were 13 separate topics, some of which would certainly require more than one day. In particular, I wanted to give the kids two school weeks to draft and revise and a week to edit and publish.

Step 3: Table it

My lists were unwieldy! My head was spinning! I had to organize my thoughts. The final step in my month-long planning was to create a table.

Day Reading Minilesson Writing Minilesson Book Club Texts Social Studies
1 SPECIAL EXPERIENCE SPECIAL EXPERIENCE
2 Gathering questions about summarizing (S.L.1) Reflect on September’s goals and set new goals for October
3 Summarizing by noting story elements (R.L.2) What is a personal narrative? (W.3, W.4, W.5)
4 Summarizing by noting story elements (R.L.2) Gathering ideas for personal narratives by noting important people and places in your life (W.3, W.4, W.5)
5 Summarizing by using noting main idea and pertinent details on a web

(R.L.2)

Gathering ideas for personal narratives by noting times you got into trouble (W.3, W.4, W.5)
6 Summarizing by using a gist statement (R.L.2) Gathering ideas for personal narratives by noting big changes or big firsts (W.3, W.4, W.5)
7 Project Presentations Choosing an idea and focusing on a small moment to develop (W.3, W.4, W.5)
8 Project Presentations Choosing an idea and focusing on a small moment to develop (W.3, W.4, W.5)
9 Summarizing by illustrating (R.L.2) What is drafting? (W.3, W.4, W.5)
10 Summarizing by sequencing (R.L.2) Drafting personal narrative (W.3, W.4, W.5)
11 Summarizing by eliminating unimportant events from a list of plot points (R.L.2) Drafting personal narrative (W.3, W.4, W.5)
12 Summarizing by determining main idea of each paragraph (R.L.2) Drafting personal narrative (W.3, W.4, W.5)
13 Applying summarizing strategies to current events articles (R.I.6) What is revising? (W.3, W.4, W.5)
14 Applying summarizing strategies to current events articles (R.I.6) Revising by adding action (W.3, W.4, W.5)
15 Revising by adding description (W.3, W.4, W.5) Revising by adding dialogue (W.3, W.4, W.5)
16  Revising by adding protagonist’s inner thoughts (W.3, W.4, W.5) What is editing and publishing? (W.6)
17 Editing and publishing narratives (W.6) Editing and publishing narratives (W.6)
18 Editing and publishing narratives (W.6) Editing and publishing narratives (W.6)
19 Publishing Party (S.L.1, W.6) Publishing Party (S.L.1, W.6)
20 BUFFER DAY BUFFER DAY
21 BUFFER DAY BUFFER DAY
22 BUFFER DAY BUFFER DAY

I also left space in this table for choosing the texts that I am going to use for book clubs and our Social Studies lessons, but I will fill in these blanks in another post.

Each of the strategies I have chosen align to a Common Core standard as noted parenthetically in each box of the grid. Those last few days I used for double writing, giving the kids more time to revise, edit, and publish their compositions. As I disclaimed in my previous post on long-range planning, I am not one to plan using the curriculum provided to me by my district other than as a resource. I see myself as an artist as much as a scientist, and not at all a line cook following the recipe that an executive chef designed. My district allows for this, though this allowance is fraught with hesitation. However, I’m very confident in my mastery of the content and I can defend my decisions with quantitative and qualitative data. But this is my process. It might not work for you or your district, but hopefully you have found a process that fits you best.

In future posts, I will detail how I structure each daily lesson, how I choose my materials, how I incorporate Social Studies, and then these “Special Experience” days.

If you were to boil your unit planning down to a few steps, what would they be?

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Cara Jeanne is a veteran teacher in Baltimore, Maryland. She teaches 5th grade Language Arts and Social Studies at the same elementary school she attended as a child. She is pursuing her phD in Instructional Leadership for Changing Populations at Notre Dame of Maryland University, where she also received her Masters degree and a certificate in Equity and Cultural Proficiency. Cara completed her undergraduate work at St. Mary’s College of Maryland where she studied Psychology and English. Cara was a finalist for Baltimore County Teacher of the Year and is honored to serve on the Equity Team and Faculty Council at her school.

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