I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Unit Study

The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Unit Study-lots of links and videos and HOW TOs

I have no doubt that when the final page of their homeschool is turned and they launch out into adulthood, my children will have wonderful memories of our time together. Most likely, they'll not remember the math drills or language exercises, the spelling lists or vocab words. Even though those things will be cemented in their brains and used often in their "everyday," those will probably not be the memories they will cherish.


They will remember the unit studies.
The enchantment.
All the DOING that we did.

(This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for full details.)

While I recognize there are many wonderful ready-made unit study curriculums like Five In A Row, KONOS, or Galloping the Globe, I have learned over the years that I'm more of a DIY kinda homeschool mom. I much prefer to cull resources myself in order to create a tailor-made education for my kids.

That being said, I'm just one momma with a finite amount of time and energy in my day. I can't be inventing the wheel for every subject and for every topic. So, I've developed a quick, just-add-water-and-stir system for developing units and here it is in five easy steps. Feel free to copy my pattern to create unique units for your homeschool.

5 Easy Steps to Creating a Unit Study

Pick a topic

Because we are eclectic homeschoolers and use all different methods of learning, we don't necessarily do unit studies for every area of study. We typically save them for content-rich subjects like history, science, and geography/cultures. Choosing history units is pretty routine...we just skip to the next era in the historical timeline and camp there until we've exhausted that time period. 

Selecting science and geography/cultures, on the other hand, is more delight-directed. The selection process for those units, happens more like this>>>

Consult a spine

Once the topic has been chosen, it's time to whittle it down into logical subtopics. Again, for history, this just follows the natural linear timeline of the major people, places, and things in that era of history. For other content-rich subjects, the subtopics can often be organized in any order that I choose.

Since I'm not a knower-of-all-things, I consult a spine book to help me figure out which subtopics need to be addressed within the unit. A spine is just an encyclopedic or textbook-type book that paints a really broad picture of the topic.

For example, last summer, I created a human anatomy unit that we are currently working our way through. When planning the unit, I looked through the Table of Contents pages of Human Body and wrote down the subtitles for each major section of the book. 

The subtitles were as follows:
  • dermal system
  • skeletal system
  • muscular system
  • nervous system
  • endocrine system
  • cardiovascular system
  • lymphatic system
  • respiratory system
  • digestive system
  • urinary system
  • reproductive system
At that point, I could have written down sub-subtopics under each of the subtopics, but I chose not to do so. 

When consulting a spine book, I don't necessarily read it. I just take note of the major sections and subsections within the broader topic of study to help me have a general direction to my unit. 

Make a library list

After organizing the subtopics, I start my book search. I scan our personal library shelves, consult our public library's online catalog, and the state's interlibrary loan system for books that relate to the subtopics.

Since I'm kind of a self-proclaimed book snob, I don't just want to use any old books in my unit plans. I want only the best. I want LIVING literature...non-fiction books that captivate, biographies that inspire, fiction books clothed in beauty, virtue, and truth. I want language-rich reading. 

For history, that means I usually consult my TruthQuest guides, a lengthy list of exceptional history series books that I've compiled, or a few authors that I love, which include but are not limited to the following:
  • David Adler
  • Jean Fritz
  • Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire
  • Holling C. Holling
For science, that means I start with books from the following:
I choose from these, find others, and begin plugging the titles into my tentative plans for each subtopic. 

Plan hands-on learning activities

Next, I begin to brainstorm three or four different "extras" that I can add to a unit to make it more meaningful and memorable...an authentic time-period recipe, a science model, a field trip to an applicable museum, or the like. I plan what I am able to plan (the activities I currently know about at the start of the unit), but leave room for rabbit-trail learning like impromptu YouTube videos I come across, creative writing prompts that pop into my head only after reading a historical biography, or invitations to talk to an expert who suddenly comes into our lives mid-unit. 

It's always helpful to have an arsenal of project/activity suggestion books and resources to consult for inspiration. Here are my favorite GO TOs.

(Most of the books I've linked to come in a set. For the sake of this post, I've only linked to ONE in each series. But, be sure to check out the rest.)

For history:
And of course, these days, Pinterest is always a must. I usually start a Pinterest board specific to the unit topic to curate all the great pin-worthy ideas in one spot. 

Schedule it into the year 

Once, I've gathered all my ideas, it's time to write it down somewhere so I don't forget it. Here's a quick peek at how I schedule each unit into my homeschool planner.

Big-ol'-list of Unit Study Extras

Before launching into unit studies, create a mental list of GO TO activities that your kids like to do and that would work with almost any unit. Start with that list every time you plan a new unit. Select three or four "extras" that would work well to enhance THAT particular unit. Here's a sample list of activities to help get you started. 

  • do a science project
  • write a story using a creative writing prompt
  • make a diorama
  • take a field trip
  • make an authentic/period recipe
  • host a party
  • make a craft
  • make a costume
  • make an authentic/period game
  • recreate a famous piece of art
  • reconstruct a famous piece of architecture
  • play a board game 
  • create your own board game
  • watch a movie
  • sing a song
  • listen to an audio sample 
  • read a famous document
  • listen to a famous speech
  • draw a map
  • create a word/vocab list
  • make a stop-motion video
  • create an audio recording 
  • make a notebook
  • write a poem
  • interview an expert
  • make a model
  • create a timeline
  • write/perform a skit
  • see a play
  • write a commercial
  • write a report
  • make a collage
  • create a mobile
  • create a chart
  • write a diary entry
  • make a scrapbook
  • read a current event/article

Unit Study Primers

Still not sure what unit studies are or if they are right for you and your homeschool? Here is a collection of wonderful online resources and videos that might give you some more direction. 

Unit Studies for Homeschool G+ Hangout with iHomeschool Network

10 Days of Diving Into Unit Studies by Tina's Dynamic Homeschool Plus- Boom! Consider this unit study boot camp. This ten-post series is jammed with info. I've linked to DAY 1, but to get the full overview of the entire series, scroll to the bottom of DAY 10>>>

Unit Study 101 by Susan Evans.org- This five-post series is a fast crash course in unit studies for newbies.

How to Create Your Own Unit Study by I Have a Future and a Hope

13 Benefits of Unit Studies by Homeschool Your Boys- If you're still on the fence about whether a unit study approach is right for you, this one's a quick glimpse of why you should take the leap.

5 Advantages of Creating Your Own Homeschool Unit Study by Tina's Dynamic Homeschool Plus

How to Create a Unit Study by Starts at Eight- I especially like her list of GO TO internet resources for creating youtube playlists.

Are You a Unit Study Mom? Podcast by Ed Snapshots- In this podcast, you'll hear an interview of one of my favorite homeschool mom bloggers, Heather Woodie, from Blog, She Wrote.

Getting Started with Unit Studies G+ Hangout with Lauren Hill

DIY Unit Study Tips

My "five-easy-steps" work best for me when creating unit studies, but maybe that's not your style. That's OK. Never let anyone else's drum determine your beat. There's not ONE WAY, there are many. Here's a look at a few others.

5 Days of Building a Preschool Unit Study by Everyday Graces- This is unit-studies-made-simple for the littlest of learners.

How-to Homeschool High School with Unit Studies by Homeschool Share- Learn how you can assign credit for a high school transcript with a unit study approach.

How I Teach Science in a Unit Study by The Homeschool Scientist- Gently incorporate science into your history or geography lessons so that you can kill two birds with one stone. 

How to Plan a Simple Unit Study by Mama's Learning Corner- Unit studies in three easy steps! (I love the list of suggested activities that she includes in this one.) Once you've got the basic steps down, be sure to check out More Resources to Plan a Simple Unit Study

Creating a Themed Literature Unit for Middle School by The Sunny Patch- Check out these simple tips to help you have a great literary adventure with your middle schooler.

Diving Into Homeschool Unit Studies: The DOs and DON'Ts by Tina's Dynamic Homeschool Plus

Grab-n-Go Unit Studies

Why spin your wheels if you don't have to? There are so many FREE unit study plans online. If you're pressed for time or just need a little inspiration to springboard your own ideas, start with some of these.

50 Free History Unit Studies by Tina's Dynamic Homeschool Plus

Toddler to Teen 100 Free Unit Study Resources by Tina's Dynamic Homeschool Plus- These free unit studies are organized alphabetically so that you can find what you're looking for in seconds. 

The Ultimate Guide to Free Unit Studies by Great Peace Academy- This one is full of links to free unit studies, unit study planners, and homeschool blogs that feature the unit study approach. 

31 Music Unit Studies and More Resources to Teach in Homeschool by Great Peace Academy

Unit Studies from The Unlikely Homeschool- Here's a collection of some of my favorite unit studies from over the years.

Homeschool Share- This site is jam-packed with free unit studies complete with printables, book titles, activities, vocabulary words, field trip suggestions, and so much more. Did I mention that it is all free?!

Miscellaneous Unit Study Resources

Simple Unit Study Free Planner Plus a Video! by Momma's Learning Corner- Be sure to download this fantastic free unit study planner printable to keep all your ideas in one organized file.

FREE Unit Study Planner by Homegrown Hearts Academy

Notebooking Pages- Create custom notebooking pages or download ready-made ones to add Charlotte Mason-style notebooking and copywork to your unit study. (From now until December 31, 2016, use coupon code discount5 at checkout to receive $5 off a $10 purchase. This sale excludes membership purchases.)

A Journey Through Learning- Download ready-made lapbooks to add to your unit study.

72 Creative Ways for Students to Show What They Know by Minds in Bloom- This is a rockin' list of why-didn't-I-think-of-that ideas for letting kids showcase what they have learned!

Huge List of FREE History Videos for Kids by Homeschool Giveaways & Freebies

The Best Educational YouTube Channels for Homeschoolers by Blog, She Wrote

Netflix Homeschool Guide by The Happy Youngsters

School House Rock- History/Government YouTube Playlist
School House Rock- Science YouTube Playlist

Don't forget to check out my Unit Study Pinterest board for more ideas for creating unit studies.

Follow The Unlikely's board Unit Study on Pinterest.


  1. Ive been trying to navigate the world of unit studies over the past couple of weeks in preparation for next year, and this post was perfect! I've never done a unit study for my kids before, so thanks so much for the wealth of info you provided!

    1. You're most welcome. Once you get into a good planning rhythm, unit studies are a lot less daunting.

  2. Great article! Quiet comprehensive with inspiration!!

  3. Thank you so much! This article gives me the confidence to try something new next year! :)

  4. I had a question in regards to the Delight Directed Learning you do for science. I love the approach you take to choose that years topics and how you plan them into your calendar. When teaching multiple grade levels, how do you make sure that each of your children have covered all of the major topics they should learn over the elementary level? For example, for my K this year I'm interested in doing astronomy/space, etc. Next year I'll choose different topics or my K and 1st grade and the following year and so one. Once my 5th child starts K my oldest will be in 6th grade. Do you suggest keeping track of all units covered and then repeating them, ex starting with space again once my youngest is in K and my oldest would be starting middle school topics? Hopefully this makes sense. I've considered the Apologia curriculum since I can go through K-6 with all my kids in the same book, but I like your delight directed planning approach also. Any suggestions or advice? Thanks!

    1. Doing a 4 or 6 year rotation is one way of doing it and is similar to how I organize our history units. But remember, at the elementary level, science should just be a sampling. You don't have to worry about covering all the topics because there's no way you CAN cover all the topics. High School courses will have to be a bit more calculated. But even then, you will not be able to cover all the topics. The goal is not to teach your kids everything there is to know about science. But instead, the goal is to ignite a passion in them to WANT to learn everything there is to know about science. If you can do that, they will continue to read and learn with or without you.

      There is no particular scope-and-sequence for learning science at the elementary level. In high school, it is helpful to learn certain sections of science in tandem with certain sections of math. But, science, as a general rule, is a content-rich subject...not a linear one. You can learn topics in any order that you choose.

  5. So with the TruthQuest as your guide, did you start your kids in American History and then move to the World History like it suggested? Or did you start at Creation and move on through the eras and consult the guide for books to use? I've never heard of TruthQuest until I saw it on your blog. It seems to be what I've been looking for, but it's a bit hard for me to grasp which sections are for the teaching parent and for the student just looking at the samples. I'm sure the layout makes more sense once you have the book in hand.

    Thanks for your science advice! When I was teaching in the public school "life long learners" was the buzz word that year...it's true that's what we want to stir up!

  6. Also, did you start out TruthQuest with your K's or do you start in 1st like it suggests?

    1. I started in 1st and with American History.
      If you've not read them yet, these posts might be helpful...


  7. Great list of activities. I love unit studies. I have made a list of unit studies for each subject apart from science. What type of activities would work for a unit study on houses? All recommendations welcome. Next week we are going to be doing a house themed unit study in history and geography as well. I have come up with a few activities already like:

    Factfile on the house in the English lesson
    Presentation and discussion on things you may find in a house in a English lesson too
    Research on the history of houses for history
    Drawing of a house in art
    Guess the number of houses in maths
    House rules in religious education

    1. How about studying the different types of architecture styles in houses in your area. Most architecture fads can be traced back to other things in history.