5 Simple Steps to Creating a Literature-Based Unit Study

Writing a unit study can be as easy as pie!

Writing my own unit studies was never something I seriously considered doing. I was completely satisfied with the prepared resources I had purchased and assumed that it would never be necessary.

However, when my children and I grew tired of the last unused unit study we had, I was faced with the option of forging ahead through something none of us wanted to do, or creating my own unit. The idea was rather daunting to me, but out of desperation, I decided to give it a go. Surprisingly, I discovered that not only was it quite easy, but I loved doing it. 

I approach everything with a no-nonsense attitude. I have ten children at home and don’t have time for any unnecessary triflings, so I write my unit studies the same way- with a clear, concise plan unencumbered by extraneous details.

Today I am writing about literature-based unit studies because I find that writing a unit with a specific read-aloud in mind makes for an effortless transition into authoring thematic units on your own.

5 Steps to Creating Your Own Unit Study

1. Choose a book that both you and your children will enjoy.

Interesting books

There is no point in opting for a title that neither you nor your children have an interest in, despite how popular it may be. If a good bit of time is going to be spent exploring a particular book, it had better hold everyone’s attention!

2. Decide how long you would like to spend on this particular unit and how many activities per day will be appropriate for your family.

Choose the length of your unit study.

Every family is different. While some may enthusiastically dive into 4-5 activities per day, others may be content with only 1-2. You know what your children can handle. If you want a successful unit study, don’t overdo it.

When deciding the length of time for each unit, I strongly suggest to let it work around the length of your chosen book. A 2-week unit study simply wouldn’t cut it for a 700 page book. I tend to tailor the time spent on a unit around how many chapters a book has. For example, if there are 23 chapters, I’ll more than likely make it a 5-week unit study since I usually read one chapter aloud per day, unless they are particularly small.

3. Do the math and begin browsing for ideas to explore.

How long

If you’ve decided to spend three weeks on a particular book and are aiming for three activities per day, simple math will tell you that for 15 days x 3 activities per day, you will need to come up with 45 ideas to explore. For a two-week study with two activities per day, you’ll need 20. This may seem like a lot, but there’s a rather basic way to approach this.

If, like me, you are planning to read aloud one chapter per day, simply browse each chapter for the number of activities you plan to do. It is not necessary to read through each chapter thoroughly. Skim through and watch for any words or phrases that stand out to you. For example, if you are looking for two ideas per day, you may find “wolves” and “tree sap” seem to jump out at you in the first chapter. Never mind if they seem unrelated; the literature will tie them together. Jot down those two words and move on the next chapter, and so on, and so on…

4. Get creative and turn those ideas into lessons/activities.

Choosing unit study activities

Once you’ve gone through the entire book and have a basic idea of what you’d like to explore, it’s time to create your lesson plan. Remember that unit studies are meant to be cross-curricular, so keep that in mind as you’re brainstorming. There are so many ways you could approach each idea; the possibilities are almost limitless. Going back to the “wolves” idea, just off the top of my head, these are the activities I can think of right here on the spot:

  • researching wolves and writing a report
  • watching a documentary about wolves
  • visiting a wildlife sanctuary
  • making wolf masks out of papier mache or simple paper plates
  • researching what parts of your country, if any, are home to wolves and locating on a map where they are
  • calculating how far from your state or city wolves can be found in the wild; how long would it take to get there if you were traveling at 60 mph?

I could do the same thing with “tree sap,” but I don’t want to bore you. And don’t get overwhelmed by ideas. Pick one! Which one is your favorite, or  which one do you think your kids will enjoy the most? Go with that one.

5. Gather your materials, and you’re off!

On your mark. Get set. Go!

Once you have everything planned out, head to the library for any supplementary books that would be useful. Make a list of any art supplies needed and get them ahead of time. Once you have what you need, you’re ready to begin!

Watching your children’s faces light up doing something that you’ve created just for them can be an exhilarating experience. Don’t doubt yourself or your own innate creativity. You might just be astounded by what you come up with!




Author: Shelly Sangrey

I'm Shelly, a Christ-following, homeschooling Mom of eleven children ( okay, not ALL children. My oldest is 23.) I met my husband right after graduation, and we've been together ever since. Though my life can be hectic at times... okay, ALL the time, I wouldn't change it for anything.

44 thoughts on “5 Simple Steps to Creating a Literature-Based Unit Study”

        1. It was very intimidationg for me, too. We’ve done so many units created by truly brilliant people, so I doubted my ability to come up with great ideas myself. Once I was more or less forced into it, though, 🙂 I found that my misgivings were unfounded. We just need to believe in ourselves. And I happen to know that you have an awesome imagination, so I know you’ll do well if you decide to do this!

          Liked by 1 person

  1. You’re a brave woman! I’ve loved literature based approach to history over the years, but have kind of “wimped out” and used SonLight curriculum because they provide a schedule and lists of wonderful books.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great list, Shelly! As a veteran of writing literature studies for my middle school students when I was teaching in Principle Approach schools (the teacher is the “living textbook” and we write all our own studies), you’ve built a good foundation of practical preparation. I still mentor a 13 year old homeschooler being groomed for a world class music career. Her mom and I just mapped out her four year literature and composition study plan for high school. I’ll be blogging about that process once we’re off the ground with it in September. Right now we’re testing some creative methods with The Invention of Hugo Cabret incorporating a lot of art with our focus on theme and drawing out biblical principles we discover. We’re taking bunny trails to the side studies that make sense with the story. Having a blast with it and love that I still get walk in my passion even after my own children are long flown from the nest taking the fruit of their own teaching and learning years into their adult lives and callings.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I had to come up with unit studies all the time in my classroom, so it’s something I’m used to, but I think it’s great how you set out all the steps here! So glad you linked up with us at #FridayFrivolity this week, Shelly!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve done much more comprehensive unit studies, but I figured this is the easiest way for people who have never done them before. Thanks for hosting #FridayFrivolity!


  4. To save $, I’ve often written study questions and come up with a few activities for the subject of literature, too. Not sure if they’d count as an entire unit study, but it’s worked for us. 🙂 Thank for the tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You did such a great job breaking this into manageable steps! Now, I’m thinking about what books I want to try it out with first! 🙂 Thanks for sharing this post at Lifelong Learners Link-up Party at DesperateHomeschoolers.com!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Stopping by from Homeschool Nook Linkup and don’t know how I missed this post when it originally published. These are fantastic tips for planning unit studies! I don’t create my own unit studies very often, but when I do, it’s because my kids want to dive into something that someone else hasn’t tackled and made available. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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