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Tool: Standards-based planning

Purpose of this tool: This tool will help you and your colleagues to plan for standards-based instruction.

How to use this tool: You and your colleagues can use this tool to assist each other in developing standards-based instructional units. You can adapt it for use in developing lessons and longer-term curriculum as well. Follow the steps for planning together. Use the guiding questions and Standards-based planning worksheet to help you organize this work. After using this tool to plan for instruction, you can use the Analyzing student work tools to assess and revise the plans.

Planning standards-based instruction

Standards-based instruction requires significant changes in how teachers plan for and assess their instruction and their students’ learning. High-quality learning standards shift the emphasis away from students reproducing procedures and recalling discrete facts to students understanding underlying concepts through engaging in project-based tasks. Standards-based instruction:

Preparing for collaborative planning

Before meeting together, you and your colleagues should determine who will bring his or her plans to the group. All participants should obtain copies of the relevant Michigan Curriculum Content Standards and local learning standards. The presenting teacher(s) should: 1) make and bring copies of a draft of the Unit Plan template; 2) collect and bring relevant materials, such as assignments, rubrics, lesson plans, curricular materials, etc. that you plan to use in the unit; 3) collect and bring any relevant departmental or school curricular guides, common exams, etc. and 4) be prepared to describe the unit s/he wants to plan.


First, the presenting teacher distributes drafts of the Unit Plan template and describes the instructional unit s/he wants to plan, the teacher’s rationale for the unit and where the unit fits into the larger curriculum. S/he can also distribute copies of any materials s/he feels are particularly relevant.

Second, using the standards documents and the materials distributed by the presenting teacher, the group generates ideas for the instructional unit using the Unit Plan template. Use the following questions as a guide for generating and assessing ideas for planning:

  • What content strand or grade level content expectation(s) does the unit address?
  • What are the key concepts, content and processes that students will learn through the unit?
  • What kinds of difficulties do you anticipate students will have in learning these concepts, processes and content? How will you address these in the unit?
  • What final, or culminating, assessment will you use to assess student learning?  
  • What are the major lessons in the unit that will enable students to develop their understanding of the key concepts, content and processes?
  • How can you sequence these lessons so that students build on and integrate the knowledge and skills they develop from one lesson to the next?
  • How will the unit move students towards independent learning?
  • In what ways will you assess students’ progress during the unit?
  • How will the unit engage students with special needs?
  • How will the unit engage English language learners?
  • What do you see that might result in some students disengaging from learning over the course of the unit?  How will you address this?

Get the Standards-based planning worksheet.

Useful websites

Atlas Learning Communities

Coalition for Essential Schools

Annenberg Institute for School Reform

The Education Trust