Planning a Large Unit Study

Planning a Large Unit Study

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In this final installment of my unit study series, I’m going to share with you how to design a unit study that is fairly in-depth.  For those of you new to this series, you can catch up by reading…

In this post, I’ll walk you through how I plan for a large unit study, in particular Slavery and the Civil War.  This study lasted about ten weeks!

Slavery & Civil War Planning

How do I go about putting together a thorough study on such a large topic? 

For the most part, the same way I put together a small unit.  I always begin with the same basic steps:

1. I gather all the resources I currently have in the house – resource books, files, e-books, and living literature.

2. If I don’t have much, I browse the internet for free units and lessons plans.  If I’m still lacking, I search my local library’s database.

3. I go through all the resources looking for main topics that need to be covered in the unit.

4. Once the main topics are listed, I go back through the resources and start jotting down activities and/or literature that will cover each topic.

5. My list is usually way too large, so I whittle it down to the best ideas and start making a list of supplies I might need – including any library books that need to be checked out.

6. I don’t worry about covering every single subject within one unit study. Why? Partly because I already use separate math and language arts curricula, so it’s not imperative that I incorporate all subjects.  And partly because the end-of-unit projects will cover a large selection of academic areas.

7. I don’t schedule activities until right before I’m ready to use the unit.  Even then, I only schedule one week at a time in case we go over, take a rabbit trail or need to make other adjustments.

8. Once we dive into the unit, I start brainstorming a list of potential end-of-unit project choices.  I might also start accumulating questions for a “final exam.”

Slavery & Civil War Unit

Now, let’s take a more practical look using my example of Slavery and the Civil War. 

I have taken numbers 1-8 above and made specific planning notes below.

1. I own: The Underground Railroad for Kids, The Last Safe House: A Story of the Underground Railroad and Civil War Days: Discover the Past with Exciting Projects, Games, Activities, and Recipes.

2. I have plenty of in-house resources, but decide to do an internet search anyway and come across a few good websites: Lesson Plan: the Civil War, Slavery in the United States, and Civil War in Children’s Literature.

3. The main topics I decide to incorporate after going through my resources include:

  • What is slavery?
  • When did slavery begin?  How did it begin in America?
  • What was it like to be a slave in America?
  • Who played major roles in the abolition movement?
  • What were major events of the abolition movement?
  • What was the Underground Railroad and who were some major figures in helping slaves escape to freedom?
  • What was the Civil War?
  • For what reasons did the Civil War take place?
  • What were several major battles and who were several major figures of the war?
  • What was the war like in Kentucky (a divided state)?
  • What is the Emancipation Proclamation?
  • What was life in America like directly after the war?
  • How did life change for former slaves after the war?
  • What struggles did former slaves still face after the war and for many years to come?
  • Where is slavery still taking place in today’s world?

4. Under each of the above topics in my notebook, I write down activities, assignments, books, online games and/or field trips that will adequately cover the topic.  Sometimes, I simply assign my children a book to read and consider the topic covered.  Sometimes, we go on a field trip and consider a few of the topics covered.  Sometimes, we do a few hands-on activities and a writing assignment – you get the idea.

5. Large lists of the library books we read can be found at Slavery and Civil War Book Treasures and Slavery and Civil War Resources.

6. Nothing to say here, aren’t you thankful?

7. One week at a time, I go down the list of topics with their activities and schedule what I think we can handle per day.  This often needs adjustment, so I write in pencil!

8. At the end of the unit, I give my children a list of projects from which to choose (so I have some say, while giving them choices at the same time.)  In this instance, they had to choose three of the four projects below.  I gave them one week to complete the projects, starting on Monday and presenting them on Friday.

  • Choose one famous slave.  Learn all you can about that slave and be prepared to tell us about the slave in first person.  Don’t forget to create an authentic costume.
  • Choose one Civil War battle.  Create a model of the battle front and tell everything you can about the battle as you reenact it with the model.
  • Choose one famous Civil War figure.  Prepare a file folder biography about that person.  Be sure to include pictures or illustrations when applicable.
  • Either read or recite the Gettysburg Address.

There you have it.  A large unit study takes just a tad more time to organize than a small unit, but your time will be well-worth the effort!


Our Journey Westward Unit Studies

Over the years, we’ve enjoyed many unit studies in our homeschool.  You can find an index of all those studies by clicking the image below.

Links to all Cindy West's unit studies over the years - history, science, geography, government. Includes living literature and project-based learning ideas.



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