Unit Planning: Where to Start?
Get ALEE - Free Trial

We’ve all been there. We decide (or are told) the next book we are going to read with our students and the first thing we think is: where do I start??

When it comes to planning a unit there are a number of things you will want to figure out before you start teaching your students. I am going to share some tips that help me plan units that are effective, strong, and engaging.

This probably goes without saying, but the FIRST thing you should always do is read the book in its entirety. In all my years of teaching, it never worked well when I tried to “read along with the students” because, as the teacher, it is important to always plan a unit around the major ideas, themes and topics within the book . Without knowing these ideas ahead of time, my students and I would invariably miss out on strong teaching opportunities. So before you do anything else, make sure you READ THE BOOK!

After reading the text, one of the next things you should consider is pacing. You’ll want to think about:

  1. How long will it take for us to finish the book? How much time do we have?
  2. What type of assessments will we have and when should they occur?
  3. How many pages should we read in a day? What pages will students read in class and which will they read on their own?

Pacing out your unit is a good way to ensure you and your students are able to have an enjoyable and meaningful reading experience. So grab a calendar and read on to see a few general tips I often use when planning:


If you have the ability to scope out your units on your own, for each unit you will want to determine the “sweet spot” when it comes to how long you have students read a book.. Too long and the students will start to lose interest, too short and students won’t have enough time to enjoy all that the book has to offer. In my practice I have found that 4-6 weeks is usually enough time for students to get the most out of book (of course the length of book should be taken into account when choosing a length of time within that range)


I am sure you have heard of the phrase “begin with the end in mind”. This idea is definitely important when planning a unit. If your school already has planned assessments, make sure to put these down on your calendar first so you can ensure you give your students enough time to read. If you have the opportunity to create your own, consider what type of assessments you want to have and when they might occur.

Page Assignments

Another big decision when planning out a unit is determining which pages will be read in class and which will be assigned for students to read on their own. In order for a unit to not drag on, students will invariably have to read some of the novel on their own, in and out of class. For the upper grades, this is an important skill to have as we prepare students for the rigor of high school and college.

When deciding which pages to read in class, I think about two things:

  1. Which pages best address the reading skills we are prioritizing for the unit?
  2. Which pages have important or exciting plot moments that will be fun for us to read as a class?

Deciding what pages to read together with your students is not something that should be taken lightly. Students don’t need us to guide them through every page in a book, and to be honest, we want to ensure they have plenty of opportunity to practice what they learning by reading and processing the text on their own. However, there are always going to be parts of a story that are just too good to not be experienced with others.

For example, imagine reading The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton and not being able to discuss the death of Bob the soc? Or reading the third Harry Potter book, Prisoner of Azkaban, and not being able to discuss the secret surrounding Ron’s rat “Scabbers”? Or what if, while reading The Hate U Give, you get to the part where Starr finally decides to testify in court, but then you don’t get to discuss with anyone the jury’s final decision on the case?

While figuring out which pages lend themselves to the various literacy skills we need to teach is essential, we can’t forget that another goal of any strong literacy curriculum should be ensuring we are helping our students to see the beauty that exists within literature. This only happens if we are intentional with our choices, especially when it comes to deciding what we get to read and discuss as a class.

With those considerations and the amount of time I have for each lesson in mind, I go and actually calendar out the page numbers to be read in class and the pages that will be assigned for homework (see sample calendar below). This helps me to know what pages I need to plan a lesson plan for and is a helpful resource for students and families when they, invariably, have to miss school.

As you can guess, the steps for planning out a unit definitely don’t end here. In our next blog, we will talk about how to use the novel you are teaching to scope out your focus for each of your individual lessons. Until then, happy planning!

The Promise of Education Starts With Teachers