How to Easily Create an Integrated Unit Lesson Plan
As teachers are expected to cover more and more standards, time always becomes an issue. For example, a lot of people complain that cursive writing isn’t stressed as much as it was in the past, but there isn’t time to teach everything. New standards, such as technology, were added – but nothing was taken away. How are teachers supposed to fit everything in?
In order to successfully cover all of the language arts standards and also teach the social studies standards with meaningful depth, teachers need to create integrate units. I had only 20 minutes a day to teach social studies to fourth and fifth grades – unless I used the social studies content to teach reading or writing standards. Then I could use my reading and writing blocks to also cover social studies. This is definitely a better solution than teaching social studies (or science) with extremely limited time – if it is taught at all.
Integrating standards from different subject areas isn’t really difficult, but it does take time and planning. Some standards complement each other easily, while other standards need to be carefully planned in order to work together. Math and science tend to be natural complements of each other, as well as social studies and language arts. However, any of the subjects can be integrated within a unit.
Planning an Integrated Unit Lesson Plan
My first step is to analyze the standards. I start with the social studies standards for the topic (geography, Native Americans, etc.), because there aren’t as many standards as in ELA. Also, at least in Florida, the standards tend to be specific – and that often helps me select the ELA standards. To make this process easier, I use the standards checklists I made for data planning. (They are available for both Florida Standards and Common Core Standards in my TPT store.)
For example, my U.S. geography standards for 5th grade include:
- Interpret current and historical information using a variety of geographic tools.
- Use geographic knowledge and skills when discussing current events.
- Construct maps, charts, and graphs to display geographic information.
- Identify major United States physical features on a map of North America.
- Locate and identify states, capitals, and United States Territories on a map.
There are other standards, but I selected only the ones that I felt could be easily integrated. The others I can cover using a textbook or at another time.
Now that I have identified my social studies standards, I need to figure out which ELA standards could be easily integrated. I noticed that two of the standards can be tied into current events, so I can focus on reading informational texts that include geographic information. The other standards focus on map skills and creating maps, so I can integrate those into a research project – that allows me to hit some of my writing standards.
Determining the Final Outcomes
I don’t want to plan the individual lessons until I know exactly what I want students to be able to do at the end of the unit.
In fifth grade, the state writing test is on creating texted-based essays from paired passages. Therefore, that is the final outcome I have for reading informational texts: Students will be able to select main ideas from multiple texts to write an evidence-based essay.
For the research, I need students to practice identifying the 50 U.S. states and capitals, as well as physical features. The final outcome for that is: Students will research specific locations in the United States to plan and map a trip that goes through all U.S. regions.
Planning the Lessons
Now you need to determine what skills students need to learn in order to meet the final outcomes, as well as any information or vocabulary that needs to be taught. This section will take time, but it will also help you determine what resources you need.
Personally, I start by making a list of the skills, information, and vocabulary. Once I make that list, I think about how those would best be taught – what order makes the most sense.
For example, before students can write an evidence-based essay, they need to be able to pick out main ideas from a text. Before students can create a map, they need to learn how to break down the research into manageable chunks. I also need to teach them how to cite their sources and create a bibliography.
Again, I look through the standards to match ELA skills to my unit focus. A piece of advice: don’t try to cover too many skills. It is really easy to do, because honestly you could cover most informational text skills in one unit. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Geography is taught at the beginning of the school year, so I am going to focus on main idea. We may mention other reading skills, but my goal for the students to is successfully “identify two or more main ideas and of a text and explain how they are supported by key details.”
Gathering Your Resources
Once you have determined the individual lessons needed,
develop the lessons. The lessons can be planned at once or in chunks. I personally prefer chunking lessons on one weekend, but other people prefer to split it up. Teachers can use whatever lesson plan is required by their school. Try to plan out lessons for at least two weeks – that gives you time to gather resources. I found it was difficult to find texts that paired well together, so I often had to write my own. By giving myself two weeks, I wasn’t stressing the night before the lesson!
If you are new to integrating, I recommend reading about Understanding by Design. UBD uses a system that helps teachers plan units that are focused on specific standards to reach a final student outcome. Here is a video by one of its creators, and I have a blog post about using it to create a unit that also includes a free unit template.
Integrated Units – Ready to go!
If you would rather buy units and save your evenings (and weekends) for yourself, I have integrated bundles for U.S. history and language arts. U.S. Geography is available now. Future bundles are coming soon, including Native Americans and Colonial America. These bundles will allow teachers to cover U.S. history standards through 1860, while also teaching the informational text and writing standards. Each bundle is organized the same way and will include 5 resources.
Teachers can use these bundles for their primary instruction of the social studies topics, as well as close reading and reading comprehension of informational texts, text-based writing practice (test prep), writing skills (narratives, informative, opinion/persuasive, research), formative assessment, summative assessment, and social studies review/practice. If teachers have students present their research projects, this bundle would also meet many speaking and listening standards.
Answers keys are included in the resources. This unit was designed to be used with 4th, 5th, and 6th grades.