How To Plan for Integrated Units

By Char Shryock

There are only so many minutes in a day.  Deciding how to fill those minutes is the ongoing work of instructional planning.  Integrating math, science, social studies and literacy is one way that I was able to create authentic learning activities for students while working within the time boundaries of a school day.   

Planning for an integrated lessons starts with finding the common thread that will run through the learning.  One starting point is to start with a science question that connects to the grade level science standards.  From this question, you can find a variety of texts for students to work with, both informational and literary.   Reading multiple texts on the same topic help students to build vocabulary and make connections to prior knowledge.  The texts also become the context for math tasks that are based on your grade level standards.  An excellent resource for finding text sets that may connect to science standards are the Expert Packs for grades k-12 located on the achievethecore.org website.  You can find them at http://bit.ly/ExpertPacksLiteracy.  Additional paired texts can be found at Readworks.org, which requires a free login.  Finally, Ohio teachers and students can find a wide range of texts to use on the InfOhio.org website.   Here are the Ohio Learning Standards that relate to evidence, one of the common threads that runs across of our state standards for math, science, ELA and social studies.  

Another entry point into integrated lesson planning is to come into the lessons through a piece of literary text. Choose a story that is engaging to students, and also has connections to a science, social studies or math concept.  One of my favorite stories to start with is Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty.  In this story, a little girl struggles with how to best create an invention and figures out how to learn from each new revision of her machine.  This is a great jumping off point for group discussions, writing activities, finding related literary or informational text, science inquiry or connecting authentic math problems.   

Finally, starting with a skill or a theme can be the center of an integrated unit. One possible skill might be making comparisons.  A central theme might be systems or energy. Literacy activities will then center around reading, writing, and discussing a variety of texts that relate to the skill or theme.  Inquiry science fits in well with this type of integration.  Students work together to come up with their own ideas to investigate focusing on developing the skill or developing the theme.  Math activities then can build on that science inquiry task.   Inquiry is also central to Ohio’s Learning Standards for Social Studies.  Within these standards, there would be many opportunities to focus on a skill or broader theme that could then be connected back to the ELA and math standards.  

It is helpful to have a framework to build integrated lessons around.  My colleague Lauren-Monwar Jones and I spent time talking through how we see connections across content areas and developed some tools that we hope will be helpful to other teachers as they look at the world through a lens of integration. Click here to access our  “Seeing Connections” Resource Page.   Here are some additional tools for building integrated lessons.

  • Apples To Apples Model: In the children’s game Apple to Apples, a topic card is placed in the middle of the table and all game players must choose an object card in their hand and come up with an explanation for how it is like the topic.   In Apple To Apples Unit planning, start with a learning standard or skill and then use your teacher eyes to see different content areas might connect to it.
  • Finding Common Theme Model : The real world context for English and math skill application can often be found in science and social studies.
  • Mentor Texts Model: Start with a set of mentor texts that act as models for students writing, and collaborative discussions.
  • Planning around literature or info text: A piece of literature or informational text can be the starting point for seeing connections to other content areas.
  • Building Collaborative Connections: What is it that you or your students are passionate about? How can you help to make connections between that area of interest and what the focus of your unit might be?
  • ODE Eye of Integration: When using our teacher eyes, we need to see connections not only to our content, but to the “metacurriculum” – those skills that go across content like writing with evidence, the ability to compare and contrast, using technology to collaborate on ideas.
  • Blank Connections Placemat: This is a tool to help you organize your brainstorming as a team.