Don't be surprised if your principal asks you to develop a curriculum plan for the entire school year. Although long-range planning is a lengthy and complex process, it's an education trend that's here to stay. Fortunately, teachers at the same grade level often do the long-range planning together. If not, plan with one other teacher at your grade level. If that isn't feasible, try to work with a teacher from another grade level.
But even if your school doesn't require long-range plans or take a team approach to them, you should still go through your grade-level curriculum and list the skills and concepts that you plan to teach each month of the year. This process will familiarize you with what you are required to teach and give you the whole picture so the rhythm of the year isn't a mystery to you. Here's a step-by-step overview of the planning process:
Step 1: Choose a Format and Collect Your Materials.
To create long-range plans, begin by asking your principal how he or she would like to see your long-range plans formatted and whether there is an example you could see. See Sample Long Range Plans (PDF) from New Teacher's Complete Sourcebook: Grades K–4 by Bonnie P. Murray. When you sit down to determine your overall plan for the year, have a copy of your state and district standards, objectives, and benchmarks close by so you can determine an appropriate sequence for teaching all identified skills and concepts. You will also need to have teacher's guides and other grade-level materials on hand for easy reference.
Step 2: Mark Your Calendar
Start with a blank calendar. Make note of your school schedule, including holidays, celebrations, school breaks, grading period dates, testing times, and school-wide activities. Mark off a few extra days around these times, as they will most likely impact your instructional day. Also, set aside time for periodic skill review, assessment, and for practicing test-taking skills. At this point, you'll have a clear picture of the actual time you have available for instruction. Isn't it amazing how short a school year actually is?
Step 3: Focus on Content
Begin sifting through your science, social studies, and health curriculums to determine what time of year would be best to study specific content. Write the objectives in the appropriate spaces on the calendar. For example, don't schedule your unit on plants from January through March since April or May is a better time for observing plant changes in many climates. Planning to study light and shadows in February may work well since your lessons can be related to Groundhog Day. Many teachers study cultures in November and December — it's a good time to look at traditions of people around the world.
Look through the materials that your school and grade level have available for studying content areas. Check their readability to determine whether your students will be successful with the materials at the time you have planned to use them. Adjust topics on your calendar as necessary.
Step 4: Integrate Language Arts and Math
Once your content has been determined for the year, you can begin integrating literacy and mathematics objectives. Continue perusing the student materials available (e.g., literature sets, Big Books, textbooks, supplementary materials), and search for the basic skills that might be pulled out of the materials for teaching them in context.
For example, say you have decided to teach a life science unit to third graders at the beginning of the year. You have planned to have them observe the life cycle of frogs as part of the unit. Your school has a class set of Frog and Toad Are Friends available, and it is easy enough to use when your students start school in the fall. You read one of the books and find that there are a few contractions in it. Since contractions are in your third-grade curriculum, you decide to teach that skill at the beginning of the year by having your students locate non-contractions in the book (cannot, I will, you would) and change them to contractions to make them flow better (can't, I'll, you'd). You might also focus on sorting in math time (using buttons), since one of the Frog and Toad stories is about a lost button that the characters try to find or replace.
Step 5: Step Back and Evaluate
Now take a look at your completed calendar. It is probably a little messy! Before you transfer your plans to the final planning pages, you may need to do some adjusting. For example, if December looks a little full, move some of the objectives to other times of the year. Remember that your students will be very busy around the winter holidays. Trying to cram too much instruction into a short amount of time will result in shallow learning of skills and concepts. Once you have made all the necessary adjustments, transfer the information on the calendar to your planning pages. Creating tables in your word-processing program will make this step much easier.
As you get ready to create your lesson plans each week, review your long-range plan. The plans will help you stay on target throughout the year so you don't get stuck on one topic. Remember that your long-range plan is not set in stone — adjust it for "teachable moments" and remediation if necessary. Next year's planning will be much easier if you make notes about how the timing worked during your first year of teaching.
This article was adapted from the New Teacher's Complete Sourcebook: Grades K–4 by Bonnie P. Murray, © 2002, published by Scholastic.