How to Plan a Great Unit Study

Horse Unit Study Materials

Unit studies are a fantastic way to structure your homeschool lessons through a single, broad theme. Although there are plenty of unit study guides for purchase, it’s not very difficult to create your own unit study which you can customize according to the particular interests and strengths of your children.

Here are the steps for crafting a unique unit study plan.

Civil Rights Unit Study

Step One:  Choose a topic

Many unit studies revolve around a science or history topic, but you can choose a topic from any academic area – math, language arts, music, or art, for example.

Example unit study topics

  • Ancient Greece
  • Famous Inventors
  • The Periodic Table of Elements
  • Rainforests
  • Dinosaurs
  • The Civil Rights Movement
If you need inspiration, ask your children what they would love to study. Getting their input makes for highly motivated learners.
Your topic needs to be broad enough to provide enough material for around four weeks of study. A unit study can last anywhere from two to six weeks, and as you gain experience in planning them, you will get a better feel for the how long it takes to cover a specific topic.

WW2 Unit Study

Step Two:  Select a Spine

Choose a single book to serve as the spine for your study. A curriculum spine is a book that provides the structure of your study – both the content and order in which you cover it. Choose a spine that is thorough and engaging enough to read aloud to your children. Diagrams, photos, and illustrations are a plus.

Based on the content and order in the spine, outline your course, writing down a list of what you want to cover. Of course, you can customize the content of your unit study, adding or taking away from the spine, but it’s wonderful to have a foundation upon which to build.

If you are planning a four week study, try to divide your unit into four large sections. Then divide each section into four or five days, depending on your homeschool schedule.

Step Three:  Locate Additional Resources

To complement your spine, you will need more books, magazines, videos, and websites. For a well-rounded unit study, select

  • 1-3 historical novels
  • 2-6 additional living books
  • 2-4 videos or websites
  • 1 book of hands-on project ideas or reproducible paper crafts (more on this in step 5)

Step Four:  Plan your Daily Lessons

With your weekly outline decided and additional resources selected, divide the material into daily assignments. Do your best to be realistic. You will probably find far more resources than you will have time to cover. So don’t plan too much for each day.

This step can take a lot of time as you wrestle with what to include and how best to teach it.

Remember that you can use your unit study topic for inspiration in other academic areas:

  • Geography – mapping the locations mentioned in your study
  • History – adding events and people to a timeline of history
  • Language Arts – vocabulary, copywork, and dictation taken from your spine or historical novels
  • Writing – written narrations done on notebooking pages; creative writing projects
  • Fine Arts – study an artist or composer related to your topic either by historical period or by subject matter

Salt Dough Map

Step Five:  Choose Hands-on Projects & Field Trips

If your children enjoy crafty activities and seem to learn through doing them, add a weekly project to your unit study plans.  Many homeschoolers like to schedule the hands-on project for Friday as a fun motivator to work hard through the week.  You might want to do it Monday morning to fight those after-weekend blahs.

These kinds of activities can be customized for almost any unit study theme:

  1. Salt dough map
  2. Diorama
  3. Paper craft
  4. Costumes and role play
  5. Cooking

Some families like to end a unit study with a big event – a banquet or open house where all they have learned is showcased. Other families like to take a field trip to experience firsthand what was learned in the unit study. If those things don’t work out for you, don’t feel that your unit study is inadequate. It is not necessary to add on a big to-do, especially if it causes you too much stress.

Step Six : Implement Your Plans

Remember to be flexible. Your children may want to explore some related tangents. Projects may take longer to complete than expected. So be easy on yourself if the unit study doesn’t go as you planned. The unit study plan is only a guide. As long as learning is taking place, your unit study is a success.

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Jimmie is the mother of one creative, twelve year old daughter. You can find out more at Jimmie's Collage where she blogs about their Charlotte Mason styled homeschool. Her second blog, The Notebooking Fairy, features free notebooking printables and how-tos.

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