What are the component parts of each unit?

Overview: This is a brief description of the unit. It explains the unit’s theme and provides a summary of what students will learn. It explains the structure, progression, and various components of the unit. It may offer some guidance regarding the selection of texts. The unit descriptions illuminate the connections between the skills identified in the standards and the content of the suggested works. 

Essential question: The “essential question” highlights the usefulness, the relevance, and the greater benefit of a unit. It is often the “so what?” question about material covered. It should be answerable, at least to some degree, by the end of the unit, but it should also have more than one possible answer. It should prompt intellectual exploration by generating other questions. Here’s an example from eighth grade: “How does learning history through literature differ from learning through informational text?” 

Focus standards: These standards are taken directly from the CCSS and have been identified as especially important for the unit. Other standards are covered in each unit as well, but the focus standards are the ones that the unit has been designed to address specifically. 

Suggested student objectives: These are the specific student outcomes for the unit. They describe the transferable ELA content and skills that students should possess when the unit is completed. The objectives are often components of more broadly-worded standards and sometimes address content and skills necessarily related to the standards. The lists are not exhaustive, and the objectives should not supplant the standards themselves. Rather, they are designed to help teachers “drill down” from the standards and augment as necessary, providing added focus and clarity for lesson planning purposes. 

Suggested works: These are substantial lists of suggested literary and informational texts. In most cases (particularly in the middle and high school grades), this list contains more texts than a unit could cover; it is meant to offer a range of options to teachers. Several permutations of the list could meet the goals of the unit. The suggested texts draw heavily from the “exemplar texts” listed in the CCSS. Exemplars are works the CCSS identified as meeting the levels of complexity and rigor described in the standards. These texts are identified with an (E) after the title of an exemplar text. An (EA) indicates a work by an author who has another work cited as an exemplar text. 

Art, music, and media: These sections list works of visual art, music, film, and other media that reflect the theme of the unit and that a teacher can use to extend students’ knowledge in these areas. Each unit includes at least one sample activity involving the works listed under this heading. In some cases, a prompt also has been provided. ELA teachers who choose to use this material may do so on their own, by team teaching with an art or music teacher, or perhaps by sharing the material with the art or music teacher, who could reinforce what students are learning during the ELA block in their classroom. The inclusion of these works in our curriculum is not intended to substitute for or infringe in any way upon instruction students should receive in separate art and music classes. 

Sample activities and assessments: These items have been written particularly for the unit, with specific standards and often with specific texts in mind. Each activity addresses at least one standard in the CCSS; the applicable standard(s) are cited in parentheses following the description of each activity. The suggested activities or assessments are not intended to be prescriptive, exhaustive, or sequential; they simply demonstrate how specific content can be used to help students learn the skills described in the standards. They are designed to generate evidence of student understanding and give teachers ideas for developing their own activities and assessments. Teachers should use, refine, and/or augment these activities, as desired, in order to ensure that they will have addressed all the standards intended for the unit and, in the aggregate, for the year. 

Reading foundations: To help kindergarten through second-grade students master the skills necessary to become strong readers, Great Minds offers a consolidated pacing guide of instructional goals for the teaching of the CCSS reading Foundational Skills. 

Additional resources: These are links to lesson plans, activities, related background information, author interviews, and other instructional materials for teachers from a variety of resources, including the National Endowment for the Humanities and ReadWriteThink. The standards that could be addressed by each additional resource are cited at the end of each description. 

Terminology: These are concepts and terms that students will encounter—often for the first time—over the course of the unit. The list is not comprehensive; it is meant to highlight terms that either are particular to the unit, are introduced there, or that play a large role in the work or content of the unit. These terms and concepts are usually implied by the standards, but not always made explicit in them. 

Interdisciplinary connections: This is a section included only in our curriculum for the elementary grades. Here we very broadly list the content areas the unit covers and then suggest opportunities for “making interdisciplinary connections” from the curriculum to other subjects, including history, civics, geography, and the arts. We hope this section will be particularly helpful for K-5 teachers, who typically teach all subjects. 

Sample Lesson Plan: One unit in each grade includes a supplementary document that outlines a possible sequence of lessons, using one or more suggested unit texts to meet focus standards. These sample lessons include guidance for differentiated instruction. 

Sample lesson plans can be found in the following units: Kindergarten Unit 3, Grade One Unit 3, Grade Two Unit 3, Grade Three Unit 3, Grade Four Unit 2, Grade Five Unit 1, Grade Six Unit 5, Grade Seven Unit 3, Grade Eight Unit 3, Grade Nine Unit 6, Grade Ten Unit 4, Grade Eleven Unit 1, Grade Twelve Unit 6. 

Standards Checklist: Each grade includes a standards checklist that indicates which standards are covered in which unit—providing teachers an overview of standards coverage for the entire school year.