James Zarrillo defines an instructional unit as, “a set of related activities with a unifying element, something serving as a focus for the unit” (2011). The key to writing a high quality social studies unit is found in the principles of Backwards Design. The steps for Backwards Design are as follows,

  1. Determine the desired results
    1. Big Idea
    2. Essential Questions
    3. Standards (GLCE, CCSS)
    4. Objectives
  2. Develop an Assessment Plan
  3. Create learning experiences that achieve the unit’s desired results.

(Zarrillo, 2011)

Both unit plans described below incorporated the principles of Backwards Design. Each unit has a Big Idea, Essential Questions, Grade Level Content Expectations (GLCEs), Common Core State Standards (CCSS), unit objectives, a description of the final summative assessment, and a day-by-day scope and sequence. I have developed a lesson or two to fall under each unit plan. These unit plans can be used to develop more lesson plans, while still allowing for flexibility within the classroom.

The unit plans are listed below, as well as links to their respective Assessment Plans and Lesson Plans.

For more information on writing effective unit plans, visit The Fundamentals of Social Studies Teaching – Zarrillo, Chapter 2


Zarrillo, J. J. (2011). Teaching elementary social studies: Principles and applications (2-downloads) (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.