“Cultivating” the Unit Plan – depth vs. width

This picture above/below (that is somehow cut off and I can’t figure out why…ha!) captures what I’m exploring as an educator right now.  How do we simplify our own lives and our student’s lives?  Lara Casey (author of Cultivate what Matters) has created a resource called powersheets that help you to plainly set goals and stay connected to what matters.   A friend gifted it to me and I have LOVED using it!  I highly recommend this resource.


It has made me reflect on my life as an educator.  We are constantly pulled in different directions, whether it is a standard we need to meet, a parent’s request :), a professional development conference, a colleague/grade level, or our own drive to create.


Then we take a step back and start to think about what we can accomplish in the time allotted (oh the time monster!) and how we can “boil down” the most salient teaching points for our students.  How do we help them to become better writers, readers, or citizens of the world?  🙂

This is where the unit plan has been so crucial.  I’m sure many of us have different versions of a unit plan.  Over the years I’ve tried different ones, but my tried and true is to use the TCRWP (Teacher’s College) model and make it my own.  I’ve focused on coming at this from a writing angle, but you could easily use it for reading too.  Test it out with one of your upcoming units and let me know how it goes! 🙂 .

Quick Tips for Developing the Unit Plan

  1. Pick out a unit that you typically do at this time of year.
  2. Collect your resources for developing the teaching points.  There are tons of great ones.  I use TCRWP’s Units of Study, Jennifer Serravallo’s Writing Strategies as my go-to books.  I listed a few more below.  What resources do you like to use? 
  3. Click here for a simple google doc to get you started (or one you’ve created) to input your teaching points.  If you need more information on how to develop your teaching points for each mini-lesson, check out more information below from Dana Murphy as a resource. *You just need to make a copy of it to make it your own.  🙂 
  4. Then, you want to develop your detailed unit plan.  This is also in the same google doc above if you scroll down in the document.  Include your connection, teaching point, mentor texts, teaching, active engagement, link, independent practice, and share here.  Adjust the above to make it work for your purposes.  Here’s a tiny snapshot of what it could look like.

5.  Refine and tweak as you go.  *I come back to this one throughout the unit, adjusting where things go based on how my students respond.  My tweak might be that I create a small group or scrap a lesson, or spend 2 days on one lesson, based on my conferring or thoughts I have during teaching.

6. As you move through the unit don’t forget to leave traces of your teaching and the student’s work in the room, so that you can refer to it throughout your unit.  This could be your version of the anchor chart.  There are lots of ways to do this, but here’s one I learned from Mollie Cura, literacy consultant.

Record your teaching points as you go through the unit.  This is a great way to help your students refer back to the previous lessons you have done. BTW, this picture on the right is a chart created by my teacher bestie, Cait!  🙂

Helpful Tip:  Take pictures of your anchor charts for the following year so you have a record.  You may not do it exactly the same, but having a reference is so helpful!


There are lots of resources out there, including the Units of Study book,Writing Strategies bookRozlyn Linder (Big Book of Details) and lots of other great authors to pull from (Ralph FletcherKatie Wood Ray, and more!).

Developing the Unit’s Teaching Points

Here’s a great template for developing teaching points (adapted from Dana Murphy):

Writers __________________ by ___________________ so that _________________.
(skill)                            (strategy)                          (purpose)

Some examples of teaching points in various genres:

  • Writers can develop a character’s inside story (skill) by using dialogue (strategy) to show what the character is thinking (purpose).
  • Writer can add details (skill) by zooming in a moment and describing all the sensory details (strategy) so that the writing creates a vivid picture in a reader’s mind (purpose).
  • Writers can link one part of their writing to another (skill) by using transition words (strategy) so that the reader can understand how the author has moved to a new topic or section (purpose).

If you’re looking for SIMPLE tips on how to pick out your teaching points, check out the picture from Stacey Shubitz (Two Writing Teachers).  She is a literacy specialist and former fourth and fifth grade teacher.  She has written the books Craft Moves and Day by Day.  If the picture is a little bit fuzzy, click the link below.


What unit are you interested in developing/refining?  How do you want to “cultivate” or simplify your unit to meet the needs of your students?  

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