It’s time for my favorite part: the content. Because what social studies teacher doesn’t love nerding out about history and economics with their students?! It’s my favorite and I’m still fired up about most topics 5 years in. In fact, I think the depth of my understanding of both subjects has deepened, matured, and allowed me to challenge my students even more over time. It’s a beautiful thing.
Anyways, my goal today is to help you map out your content in an easy to follow unit plan. Be sure to check out the process for unit planning I shared in Part Two, as well as the skills implementation I walked you through in Part Three.
Step One: Start with the Standards
Because it’s kind of your job, right? We’ve got to teach what the state dictates. In California, we’ve got some oooooold content standards and zero standardized tests for social studies (at the secondary level) so I do have quite a bit of freedom. And yet I use the content standards as a guideline to ensure my students are learning the same material as other students throughout the state (plus some bonus fun stuff I throw in there for good measure). So read through the state standards. Map out how long each unit should be and what overarching topics you’ll cover in each unit. It’s important to do this early on in the semester to ensure you can cover everything. Then we can zero in on a specific unit.
Step Two: Go Beyond the Textbook
As I said the standards are a good place to start and your textbook is likely aligned with the state standards (if it’s not too outdated…). Now within the unit you’re covering, list out all of the content you need to cover according to the standards AND all the content you learned in college or through research or professional development that you’d love to add in. It’s all important so list it out in chronological order (because that’s what historians do). For example, in my World War I unit, I’m going to include on my list: MAIN causes of the war, assassination of Franz Ferdinand (which I spend a ton of time on because the students find the story fascinating), Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to Serbia, the Russian Revolution, etc. So now you have all the things you really want to cover. I love adding in videos, fun facts, crazy stories, and weird moments to spice up my lessons.
Step Three: Essential Questions
Oh my gosh this step is so important! Essential questions are the big, interesting, often open ended historical questions that make learning targeted and interesting. I like to create an essential question for the unit and then make daily essential questions that act as guideposts for students to figure out what they need to learn and why it matters. This is one of my big overarching EQs for my WWI unit: “Is Germany to blame for the start of WWI?” The Allied Powers certainly thought so yet I challenge my students to create their own arguments and opinions- this becomes the prompt for our DBQ essay at the end of the semester. On the day to day, students read the EQ at the start of class and we often answer the question by the end of class.
Yep, just like we did with skills we must also backwards plan our content. It starts with EQs. What do you really want your students to learn? What’s the end result of this unit? What will students know or understand- and how will they demonstrate their knowledge? All of this goes into the framing of your unit plan. Start with the end result: the summative assessment. In fact it helps to make that assessment ahead of time so you can emphasize what’s important to students throughout the unit. Then work backwards- what’s the last piece of content (probably chronologically) that they need to know before the assessment? On your unit plan work backwards in this manner using the list you created in Step Two and the Essential Questions you made in Step Three. Make sure you’re spending more time on topics that are a bigger deal for the assessment.
With these steps, you’ll be able to create a cohesive unit plan that allows you and your students to understand what’s being learned and where the unit is heading.
Best of luck to you friend as you do the hard work now to save yourself stress later. See you next week with Part Five: Putting Skills & Content Together!