Unit Planning

Organizing and aligning instructional plans to support student learning.

On this page:

The importance of planning

Learning requires building new skills and understanding on prior knowledge and abilities. The order and way students experience new information will have a large impact on how successful they are at learning. A clear and succinct plan will play a large role in this success. There are two levels of plans that guide course building:

  • Scope and Sequence: The big-picture organization that covers the entire semester. The scope consists of the topics, concepts and skills that will be taught throughout the course. The sequence is the order in which these will be taught.
  • Unit Plans: The groupings of sequential lessons (by theme, topic, step in a process, skill, essential question, etc.) that are components of the course.

Your scope and sequence is a course map that identifies what concepts and skills students will learn and when. It helps instructors identify overarching topics and themes, as well as how the learning outcomes connect to each. Developing a scope and sequence can ensure how the learning outcomes are covered and achieved, and inform the appropriate amount of time it will take students to reach these outcomes.

Unit plans comprise what will be taught, how, for what purpose, and for how long. They are purposeful, clear, and well-paced plans including aligned teaching approaches and active learning strategies.

The benefit of planning is twofold.

  • First, it helps you create a high-quality plan that guides instruction, but also helps students understand what will be covered, why it will be covered, and how they will practice the knowledge, concepts and skills to meet the unit’s objectives, and in turn, the course’s learning outcomes.
  • Second, it ensures an aligned plan for instruction and learning that is inclusive of your students’ learning needs. Having an organized plan helps you consider all the course design elements you need to integrate for your students to have successful learning experiences.

Planning helps you increase the likelihood of your students obtaining the course learning outcomes.

Building a plan

Scope and sequence

To help you plan your scope and sequence, review your course planning sheet
from the design section. Your scope and sequence plan will organize and order your design plan. At this point you will begin grouping or outlining units centered around topics, skills, themes, objectives, or essential questions. First, identify the following components:

  1. Topic: The topics, themes or big ideas you will cover. These groupings will serve as beginning sketches of units that will be developed during unit planning. Decide if your units will be thematic, goals-based or project-based.
  2. Learning outcomes: Using the learning outcomes you designed from your course design template, determine which units will help students reach which learning outcomes of your course.
  3. Unit objectives: Unit objectives align with course learning outcomes and are smaller in scope. Think about what you want students to be able to do at the end of each unit (not the end of the course) and which outcomes they contribute to. 
  4. Assessments: Using the assessments from your course design template, begin mapping out where larger summative assessments may occur to ensure that all learning outcomes are accounted for and that your scope accounts for the time needed for assessments
  5. Sequence of activities: Using the activities from your course design template, map out re-occurring and unique activities, where they take place and how long. If aligned, these may overlap heavily with unit objectives.
  6. Key resources: Select a diverse array of authentic texts and content. Ensure that these materials are presented in a variety of formats. (e.g., visual, auditory).

When mapping components make sure to consider the following:

  • Purpose: Think about the value of what you are teaching instead of trusting the content or sequence of other resources, such as a textbook.
  • Instructional sequence: Organize your topics, themes or big ideas in a manner that is optimal for student learning, and ensure that topics are interconnected and build on each other. Scaffold instruction to best support learning processes. Decide how much time you will need to spend on each topic.

When you build your scope and sequence plan use the following template:

Unit plans

After broadly grouping units in the scope and sequence stage, and considering components in relation to each other, you will now build the individual unit plans. The topics, content and materials, learning outcomes, assessments, and activities should all support the outcomes of the unit. As you build you may iteratively adjust the scope and sequence plan, and this may in turn affect other units.

The unit plan, guided by the scope and sequence template, consists of the following components:

Establishing Objectives

  • Unit objectives: (See above).
  • Essential questions: The defining questions that a unit will help answer. Essential questions help guide students to thoughtfully inquire and think deeply about the subject. The essential questions can either be course specific or unit specific.
  • Unit introduction: How you want to introduce a unit to your students. This is an opportunity to spark student interest and share the authentic application of the unit. This may include posting the unit’s overview, objects, and essential questions followed by an instructor led introduction video.

Gathering Evidence

  • Assessments: Assessments measure student progress towards achieving learning outcomes. It is important to have a continuum of assessments that inform you and your students about their understandings and misunderstandings throughout the learning process. Consider diagnostic, formative and summative assessments.

Teaching and Learning

  • Activities: Activities contribute to learning concepts and skills and should clearly be connected to unit objectives. This includes choosing effective teaching methods, active learning strategies and how you will scaffold content to best support student learning.

When unit planning consider the following:

  • Expectations: Clear explanations for what students will do, why, and criteria for achievement. Make sure to describe your vision, focus, and objectives of the unit to your students. Take the time to answer questions and to address and support students’ needs. Students should clearly understand the purpose and relevancy of the unit, as well as what is expected of them.
  • Continuity and consistency: For students to be successful it is very important that there is continuity and consistency across units. This information should be clearly stated and documented in the syllabus, and if applicable, in UB Learns.
  • Share unit components: Share with your students what each unit will include. Provide your students with a brief overview of the unit objectives, teaching methods, materials, assessments, activities, evaluation tools, and reflection process.
  • Adjust as needed: Although changes to unit plans can cause confusion, in some instances, changes should be made. During lessons you may observe that students are struggling, or after a lesson you conclude that students performed poorly on a task. These are times when adjustments to instruction can be beneficial. If no changes can be made in the moment, consider how a lesson or unit could be revised in the future. Take time to jot down your observations and encourage students to give feedback.
  • Scaffolding: Additionally, consider the diverse learning needs of your students and how scaffolding the content will benefit learners. Providing students with multiple exposures to concepts helps them deepen their understanding. Revisit or review content by creating engaging activities or formative assessments into your unit plan. For example, if students are expected to be able to synthesize and summarize a case study, provide them with guided instruction, as well as opportunities for individual and small group practice. This will help students be able to practice the skills needed to independently summarize a case study in the future.

When you build a unit plan use the following template:

Building a unit in UB Learns

Consider how you will build the structure of your units in your LMS. We will discuss building individual lesson items on the subsequent pages. Follow the steps below to begin planning how you will build your units in UB Learns.

First, determine each unit’s structure. This can include navigation of course content as well as choosing between folders, modules or or a combination of both. Be sure to remain consistent in both the structure you choose and the naming of each component. Use your scope and sequence to determine the best organizational strategy. Here is a quick overview of the two organizational options.

  • Folders: Folders can be created on multiple levels for nuanced organization with main folders containing one or more subfolders. Although this is an option, we suggest not going beyond 2 levels deep. Folders can include:
    • Documents, files, tests, assignments, multimedia, videos, links to websites, course links, journals, discussions and additional folders.
  • Learning Modules: Learning modules provide simple and sequential navigation, as well as immersion into a lesson without distraction. Modules can include:
    • Table of contents, documents, files, tests, assignments, multimedia, videos, links to websites, course links, journals, discussions and folders.

Overall, you should consider including the following details in each unit:

  • Unit name: Topic and week. (Note: if you include specific dates, these will need to be updated each semester.)
  • Unit objectives: Share with students the purpose and application of the unit.
  • Content overview: Provide descriptions, activities, assessments, assignments, discussions, etc.
  • Directions and expectations: Explain clear and concise directions and expectations, including assignment objectives and due dates.

Review course exemplars for further ideas on how you can organize and structure your course.

Build your plans

  • Step 1: Determine your scope and sequence by using the Scope and Sequence template.
  • Step 2: Choose a unit from the scope and sequence. Use this Unit Plan template to begin to build out your unit plan.
  • Step 3: If applicable, build and name a folder or module in UB Learns.
  • Step 4: Review your course design template and scope and sequence template and continue filling out the unit plan throughout the following pages.

Next steps

Now that you have created your scope and sequence and outlined your unit, the next step is to learn how to scaffold content.