5 Ways to Punch Up Your Unit’s Content and Skills

by Eliza Rothstein, Rubicon International

You have the basics down: Skills are the verbs. Content is the noun. Now you are ready punch up these unit sections so that you and your students get the most out of your curriculum mapping process.

Here are five great ways to take your Content and Skills to the next level:

1. Get Friendly with Formatting

In addition to amping up the aesthetic appeal of your Content and Skills, formatting tools will help you better organize your thoughts while writing these sections. Take advantage of rich text editors to bold, underline, italicize, add color, and change the size of your font.  We suggest using these tools to sub-divide your Content and Skills into smaller sections like “Key Ideas,” “Concepts,” and “Vocabulary.”   Nesting curricular content under sub-headers and color-coding similar topics will transform your Content and Skills sections into easy-to-read resources for you to use as you complete your unit planner.

If you’re an Atlas user, these rich text editing tools are available in each free text box in your unit planner. Additionally, the Atlas team can add a hover-over icon to any unit planner section with prompts and helpful hints for teachers as they write their curricula. If your school is taking a streamlined approach to writing Content and Skills, the Atlas team can add hard-coded text into the Content and Skills sections so that teachers have a format ready to use when they begin to edit. Finally, consider adding links to helpful resources for your teachers to use while editing. The Atlas Style Guide and Bloom’s Taxonomy Wheel are some of our favorites.

Here is an example of a subdivided Content Section that includes a mouse-over information bubble to help teachers brainstorm:

Content Image

2. Look for Hints in Standards and Assessments

Standards have great language for you to borrow when you write your Content and Skills. Look through those standards to pick out nouns (for content) and verbs (for skills).  Doing so will make your curriculum drafting process run smoothly and ensure that your Content and Skills reinforce the standards you target.

Conversely, assessments are a great way to give your Content and Skills section a check. Are you testing students on the content you want them to know? Do your assessments challenge students to use the skills you want them to learn? Just like you borrowed words from standards to write your Content and Skills, you can borrow words from your Content and Skills to write your assessments. Similarly, if you are working from a common assessment, you can borrow nouns and verbs from that assessment to shape your Content and Skills. In either case, you might notice that the way you assess your students is disconnected from the skills you want them to learn. In this instance, take time to reevaluate your unit priorities and adjust one or more sections.

Consider the following example from an 8th grade English unit:

Content and Skills

This teacher used language from his Content and Skills (highlighted in yellow and purple, respectively) to inform his assessment on character development and theme. However, he made an interesting decision when he picked an oral presentation as his assessment method. This assessment tests public speaking skills, presentation skills, organizational skills, and graphic ability. These skills, highlighted in red, are skills in addition to those listed in his Skills section (analytical ability, reading comprehension, literary interpretation, proper use of literary terms, etc.).

Remember, assessments should reinforce the Content and Skills we teach. After cross-referencing his assessment with his Content and Skills section, this teacher might decide to change his assessment method to one that better demonstrates his students’ analytical abilities. Perhaps he moves the oral presentation to another unit. If not, he might like to revise his Skills category to reflect his goal of teaching students to become proficient oral presenters.

3. Eliminate Non-Essentials

Remember, content is what we want our students to know, and skills are what we want our students to be able to do. With laundry lists of each, students often leave a unit with, at best, a shallow understanding of the topics covered. There are a few ways to avoid this trap.

First, take a look at your unit title. If you find yourself with too much content, chances are you might have a unit title that lacks focus. Instead of teaching a unit on “Philosophy of Race,” teach it on “Philosophy of Race: The Case Against Biological Realism.” By qualifying the scope of your unit, you give yourself parameters in which to stay when writing your Content and Skills.

Second, solidify your unit goals. Make sure that each skill and piece of content is directly linked to an Enduring Understanding or Essential Question. This might mean moving away from specifics (what you’ll focus on in your day-to-day lesson planning) and focusing on general concepts that you want your students to remember for years to come.

Finally, recall that your unit is part of a larger, connected course. Before you delete material from a unit, think about fitting it into a Content or Skills section in a more applicable unit. Remember, the end goal is to plan curricula that works well for your students.

4. Dig Deeper

If you are confident in your Content and Skills material, think about how you can make these sections more robust. Is your Content directly or implicitly covered in the unit? Are your Skills new abilities that your students will learn in this unit, or do you plan to reinforce skills that your students should already know?

Working at this level of Content and Skills creation presents an opportunity to look at some of the standards other teachers are targeting to see how you might be able to shore up the skills your students are learning elsewhere. Collaborate with other teachers to see what interdisciplinary connections you can make. The more your students can practice skills and explore content through various lenses, the more masterful they will become.

Below is a comparative unit report that highlights the Skills sections of two high school units–a “Layout and Design Structure” art unit, and a “Right Triangles” geometry unit. Take a moment to look at the Skills taught in each course. Is there any overlap? Opportunity for collaboration? Need for reinforcement?

It looks like Susie’s design unit relies on her students’ ability to use skills taught in Chris’ unit on right triangles. In her Skills section, Susie might like to note which mathematical skills she plans to reinforce. She could also take a look at when Chris is teaching his unit, and shift her unit so that it occurs simultaneously or shortly after. Susie might decide to leave a note on Chris’ unit, suggesting that the two of them get together to plan a collaborative assignment.

Here is an example of a unit from a teacher that has incorporated interdisciplinary connections in content and skills. (Check out how she uses those text editing tools to organize the material and make the connections pop even more!)

By taking a closer look at your Content and Skills section, you can create opportunities for collaboration across grades and disciplines in order to strengthen student learning.

5. Question for Quality Assurance

At the end of your unit planning process, ask yourself these questions to give your Content and Skills one final test:

  • Do my Content and Skills act as a link between my targeted standards and assessments?
  • Are the nouns and verbs I used grade-level appropriate?
  • Are my Content and Skills clear and concise?
  • If another teacher read these Content and Skills, would they have a clear idea of what I plan to cover in this unit?
  • Do my Content and Skills cover the key ideas and experiences necessary for my students to engage with the Essential Questions and Essential Understandings?
  • Does the material in my Content and Skills fall within the scope of my unit?

Capturing your Content and Skills in creative ways? Curious about crafting your curriculum in Atlas? Email us at pd@rubicon.com!

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