Have you ever taken more than one week to get to all the week’s lessons in a Benchmark Advance unit? Of course you have! There’s just SO MUCH. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard overwhelmed teachers wonder how we’re supposed to fit it all in. I can remember feeling that way at first, too! Personally, I taught using Benchmark for about a year before I decided I needed a way to stick to a five-day week. After a lot of trial and error, I developed a simple way to plan each and every BA unit, mapping out exactly what to teach on which days. The solution: reusable planning templates.
Your TRS has all the skills, strategies, and lessons listed already, so why use new templates? Well, as you plan this way, you’re extracting the skills out of your TRS and putting them here. While you’re doing that, you’re making decisions for your class, analyzing, and processing the unit as a whole. Planning this way helps me keep a focus on the end goals of the unit so I don’t get lost in the middle.
Sign up for your Five Days of Benchmark Freebies to get your very own templates for designing your Benchmark Advance Lesson Plans (they are Day 5’s freebie!), or download them here from TpT, and then follow along to plan your units.
How Do These Templates Differ From the TRS Suggested Pacing?
Before we dive in, I want to point out a few key differences between the TRS and my templates.
First, in the TRS, they suggest that you wait until day three to teach your spelling lesson. Personally, I prefer to bump that up to day one. That way, my students are practicing recognizing and using spelling patterns all week long. Similarly, the TRS wants you to teach the language/grammar skill on day four, which is also the first day of drafting. I bump that grammar lesson up to day one and explicitly teach it, along with spelling, so they have all week to practice.
The Three Reads Method
The other major difference is the way I approach the week’s texts. I like to approach every new text with my “three-reads” method. The first read is always me reading to the students. The second read is the kids reading to themselves or with a partner, annotating as they go. Their annotations are unique to them and help them connect to the text. The third read is a close reading lesson, where we read and annotate together while practicing a reading strategy.
The First Read
On day one, we read our new text for enjoyment. I like to read the whole text aloud, using all my fun teacher tricks like silly voices and big gestures to keep the kids engaged. Most importantly, I model fluent reading with expression.
Benchmark’s suggested pacing almost always wants us to break up the text, reading half on day one to practice one skill, then the rest the next day with a part two of the prior day’s lesson. Instead, I use this as an opportunity to infuse some fun into the text. I find that I get much more buy-in from the students when we read it all together.
Day one, we read the text, then close it up and move on. That means we don’t start our close reading lessons until the next day. Yes, that means I have to get creative to squeeze the rest of the lessons into the other four days of the week, but I think it’s worth it! (And remember, I don’t teach every single lesson; I prioritize during this planning process).
The only exception to this is during week one when the week’s text is very short. On day one, we have time for me to read the text AND for the students to read and annotate themselves. Otherwise, in week’s two and three, we wait until day two for the students to read it themselves.
The Second Read
On day two, the students read the text for enjoyment and understanding. They can read on their own or with a partner. I encourage them to mark all over their texts. They write questions in the margins, put happy faces next to parts they like, put question marks near sections that are confusing to them, and so on.
I also have them circle words that are unfamiliar to them, and we briefly review those words before the next day’s reading. We usually use the context clues strategy to figure out the meanings. I like to tackle new vocabulary right away so that the text instantly becomes more accessible to the students.
This practice of having my students read and annotate for the second read of the text gives them a chance to connect with the text without the added pressure of close reading. They aren’t reading to practice a strategy yet.
The Third Read
The third read is when we read a portion of the text during a close reading lesson. Learn about how I simplify these close reading lessons and make them more organized and enjoyable for the students here.
Benchmark Advance Lesson Plans: Unit Overview
The first template you’ll use to plan your unit is the Unit Overview sheet. I start by writing my essential question at the top—this is the focus you’ll keep coming back to throughout the whole unit.
I love this template because it gives you a snapshot view of everything you’ll be teaching during the three-week unit. As you start to fill it out, watch for lessons and topics that repeat.
I begin by filling in the close reading lessons for week one. You can find these listed under the short reads in your TRS. If lessons are repeated, I just write it once. For example, in week one, both of our texts have lessons that focus on key details and main idea, so I’ll only write that one time.
Watch for Spiraling
Next, I move on to week two, paying special attention to the lessons that repeat. In the unit pictured above, cause and effect is repeated from week one. This is important to note because it means that the curriculum is spiraling! If my students really seem to struggle with this during week one, it’s okay to move on before they master it since it’s coming back! I go back to my week one list and draw a spiral symbol so I know I don’t have to stress over mastery right away.
Now for week three’s close reading lessons. In this unit, sequencing comes back in, so I make a note of it on my week one plan.
After I’ve mapped out all of the close reading lessons and extracted the main skills, I move on to the spelling, language, and writing type focus for each week.
You might notice that each week’s vocabulary focus is the same in this unit: “use context clues.” The goal here is to teach students’ skills to make meaning out of unfamiliar words. Every child has different words they struggle with, but if we give them tools and strategies to uncover the meaning, they can feel empowered to tackle new vocabulary.
Now that you have a snapshot of all three weeks, you can move on to planning out each day’s lessons!
Benchmark Advance Lesson Plans: Weekly Planning Template
After completing the unit overview, you should have a really good idea of all the pieces you’ll be teaching. Now it’s time to plug these into your week using the weekly planner template. There’s a place for you to fill in the titles of your texts for the week. In the top left corner, there’s a bank to fill in your spelling words and language focus for the week.
Remember that on day one, I like to read our first text all the way through with students. If it’s a short text, I’ll have them annotate during a second read. I then go into the explicit phonics and language instruction. We end the block by analyzing the writing prompt so we know what our end goal is.
A quick note: I like to introduce a new unit topic using an anchor chart that goes over the big conceptual ideas and vocabulary. This way, the topic of “government” (or whatever it is) is introduced as a concept before we start reading texts about it. I do this on the Thursday or Friday before the unit actually begins. Otherwise, it would take me all of day one to do the introduction!
For day two, we do a quick context clues lesson based on unfamiliar words from yesterday’s reading before starting our first close reading lesson. From there, I fill in the rest of the close reading lessons.
Day three, we finish the first text and intro the second text. I see that I can teach both cause and effect and graphic features, placing an emphasis on cause and effect. With this in mind, I prioritize that one because I know I can weave in the graphic features skill in other places. I also know that my students need more practice with cause and effect.
Day four, with the second text now, you’ll teach key details and main idea again, but you’ll also want to fit in some of your other close reading skills like sequencing and analyzing text connections. You can start to see places where it all fits together, and you can combine some skills into mini-lessons.
After mapping out all of the close reading lessons, it’s time to circle back around to writing. Here’s how I break up the writing component each day:
Day 1, we analyze the prompt.
Then, on day 2, we find text evidence, using what we extracted during the key details lesson.
Next, on day 3, we begin planning our drafts.
Day 4 is officially drafting day. I suggest starting it early, though, as that’s a lot to fit into one day!
Finally, day 5 is for revising and editing.
Here’s a tip to make this process easier to grade: Decide on one revision skill and one editing skill. Ask students to choose one sentence, write it on a piece of paper, and then apply the revision skill. Then choose another sentence, write it on a separate piece of paper, and then apply the editing skill. This saves me so much time and also helps the kids focus on a single thing rather than all the things.
For the following weeks, you can rinse and repeat! At the end of your planning session using these templates, you’ll have a solid roadmap to tackle each Benchmark Advance unit with confidence and success!
Come join me in the Benchmark Advance Planning, Organization, and Tips Facebook Group for more tips, tricks, resources, and planning sessions! Check the “Videos” tab in the group for past live planning sessions.
Questions or ideas to share? Please leave a comment on this blog post!