Do you want to integrate your teaching around a central theme? Then you want a unit study. You don’t have to buy one; we’ll tell you how to make your own!
What Is a Unit Study?
In a typical education plan, every subject marches to its own drummer. There is little overlap. You might be reading fantasy fiction in language arts, studying amphibians in science, and delving into the Middle Ages in history. You might say there are walls between each subject because none of the topics are related.
A unit study breaks down those walls. It’s built around a central theme, and that theme is connected to different subjects. It may incorporate all the subjects you teach or just a few of them.
For example, say you do a three-week unit study on the Middle Ages. You are already studying it for history. In this study, the books you cover in language arts are set in the Middle Ages. Your science could focus on the inventions of that time, such as gunpowder, windmills, and mechanical clocks. You could draw in math by using themed word problems or a study of geometry (like the geometry of a windmill).
Reasons to Do a Unit Study
There are several fantastic reasons to do a unit study:
Unit Studies Keep Learning Fresh
The year is no longer a 180-day march of the same old, same old. With unit studies, there is always something new around the bend.
Unit Studies Make the Hated Subjects Fun
You may have an anti-math student who is suddenly engaged in a math problem involving calculating the rate of a catapult. Because unit studies create connections between subjects, students are likely to find new interest in a subject they hate because it is connected to something they love.
Unit Studies Create Sparks
Making connections between subjects can spark joy! Imagine that a child reads in a story about how the servants in a medieval castle ate a meal of black rye bread. Then he researches castle kitchens in history and figures out how to double the recipe for math (hello fractions!).
Putting it all together, he writes a presentation on the topic (and maybe bakes some bread as a visual aid). Learning has never been so fun!
How to Create a Unit Study
Follow these basic steps to create a unit study.
Step 1: Pick a Theme
This can be anything: a holiday, a time period, an animal, a historical figure…you name it! Your theme could springboard off a topic from history, science, literature, or the arts.
Step 2: Choose the Length of Your Study
A unit study is typically short, from 1 week to a month. You can pick larger themes (like the example of the Middle Ages) and examine mini themes per week: Week 1 Castles, Week 2 Knights, Week 3 Music, etc.
Step 3: Choose the Subjects You Want to Incorporate
Unit studies can be as simple as literature and history combos. They can also span all the subjects. Pick the ones you want to draw together for the theme.
Step 4: Select Resources
Unit studies don’t have to cost a lot of money. You can find plenty of free content online or from the library. You can also adapt what you already have with a little creativity. Your math problems can feature names, places, and issues related to your unit study. Your story starters for writing could adapt to your theme.
Step 5: Choose Some Fun Activities
Select a few activities that cross the subjects. What about a math and science activity where you create a mini catapult with popsicle sticks, a rubber band, and an Easter egg half? You then use air-dry clay to make the boulders and measure them with string to talk about the circumference.
Step 6: Consider Field Trips
This may or may not be possible with your schedule, but with a little searching, you might find a local spot that enhances your unit study. Consider a science museum exhibit, a local museum, or a play. Even a park day to gather leaves or look for critters could work well with certain unit studies.
Can’t really go anywhere? Try a virtual field trip instead!
Step 7: Plan the Schedule
What will you do when? Give all your activities and assignments a place on the calendar.
Step 8: Make It Memorable
Collect photos, drawings, writing samples from the unit study. These are fantastic memories!
Step 9: End It with Fun
A special meal, party, field trip, or presentation are all great ways to end a unit study.
Example of a Unit Study
Whether you are planning a unit study for homeschool or for the classroom, your imagination is your only limitation. Here are some examples of subject ideas for a unit study on astronomy.
Astronomy in Science
This one is easy because astronomy is science! Learn the names of the planets in our solar system, constellations in the night sky, the temperature of stars, how a telescope works, etc.
Astronomy in Art
Draw a to-scale model of the solar system to mount on the wall. Arrange glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling in actual constellation shapes.
Astronomy in Math
Learn about scientific notation to measure large distances.
Astronomy in Music
Listen to Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Research the music placed on the Voyager for extra-terrestrials to find.
Astronomy in History
Learn about the history of astronomy. How has our knowledge of space changed over time?
Astronomy in Writing
Write a biography on a famous astronomer: Kepler, Galileo, Copernicus, Caroline Herschel, and Henrietta Swan Leavitt to name a few.
Astronomy in Drama
Turn the biography into a living wax museum.
Astronomy in Literature
Read biographies of astronauts or astronomers. Read nonfiction books about the universe.
Astronomy Field Trips
Visit a planetarium or space museum. Look at the night sky through a telescope. Use these free constellation cards to help!
How to Ideas for Unit Studies
Planning a unit study for homeschool or the classroom requires just a little creativity and advance planning. With both those pieces in place, you will ignite your students’ love of learning one topic at a time.