Three Things You Need to Do Before Teaching a New Unit

Jumping into a new unit is fun and exciting for both you and your students. Follow these three tips to make the most of your new unit!

Vocab Check – With Your Kid Glasses On 

One of the biggest hurdles in a new unit is vocabulary. Some of that is to be expected, but there are some sneaky aspects that aren’t always thought through. I have a couple of tips to stay ahead of vocab and to be ready for those unexpected road bumps. When reading through something new for the first time, read it to yourself before reading it to the class. While you’re reading, put on your “kid hat.” Make important notes and annotations as you go to indicate where there could be possible hiccups for your class. Now, this doesn’t mean you need to create an entirely different vocab list or lesson plan, but make sure to make a mental bank of some of these for later when reading through with your students. 

Along with making note of new words that arise in the text, think about similar words that might also arise during the discussion. For example, there might be a set vocabulary word list that comes along with an ELA text about government, such as, executive branch, legislative branch, and Supreme Court. But as you begin discussing the concept of government, you may begin using words like justice, protest, and hearing. Think about words that may seem more common to you, but might be new to your students or new in this context. Be sure to also record any descriptive words you might use during the discussion that helps to provide meaning to new concepts or vocabulary.

A great way to reinforce any of the new words that students are struggling with is by using a visual aid. It could be a graph, sketch, or video — anything that helps them make connections and better understand the words going forward. One exercise you can use to include more visuals is to print off Google Images and paste them onto a “concept map” in your classroom (or copy/paste images onto a virtual concept map). As you come across new vocabulary in your text and in your class discussions and explanations, have students analyze the concept map for a graphic they think matches the word they are learning about.

Big Ideas – Broken into Smaller Bites 

Now we all know that background knowledge is GOLD. So when preparing for a new unit, feel free to do a little pre-teaching! Now, I know this can sound like a lot of extra work with maybe not so much payout, but hear me out. I hear from a lot of teachers that students struggle to find the main idea and key details from a text. If this is you, you’re not alone.

After reading through a text, I will analyze what the big ideas are. These big ideas are common threads that every key detail in the text can be categorized into. Consider these the “buckets.” 

Let’s look at an example from an animal unit. Some of the “buckets” of this unit might be: diet, adaptations, and habitat. These are topics that are central to the whole unit. Having an understanding of these big ideas will help the students throughout the whole unit as they filter through details and create connections between those details and these main buckets. These buckets serve as scaffolds to build background knowledge. Students get less hung up on some of the new ideas because they have a basic foundation created for them.

Two Subjects – One Unit 

This one can take a little bit of planning to get it right, but is time well spent. Oftentimes with Benchmark Advance or other programs that embed cross-curricular content in ELA, the units can touch on subjects that haven’t been thoroughly discussed in class yet. Sometimes a unit is on a concept that doesn’t really come up until later in the year in science or social studies.

When you come across situations like this, take advantage of it and run with it! For example, in third grade unit 8 of Benchmark, the unit is all about weather and climate. When I get to this unit, I pull up the NGSS and see what my science focus should be in order to hit as many science standards as possible. I rely on the Benchmark texts to get me started and then I bring in our science textbook (blegh) or Mystery Science (yay!) to make it a well-rounded science unit, too.

A great tool to use to help you catch these cross-curricular moments is to use my “Planned for Me” resources. The resource comes with pre-filled planning templates, some of my personal suggestions, extension ideas, and anchor charts for each unit. 

Another great resource is this video I created on transforming a boring unit! If you’re worried about keeping students engaged, this video has some great tips!

Which strategy is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

Hi! I’m Toluca from Markers and Minions, where I help teachers feel more effective and confident with high-quality resources and an awesome teacher community!

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