Materials prepared by Shari Hofschire, Dr. Frances Thurber and Dr. Joanne Sowell.

According to Hurwitz and Day (2007), "a unit plan is a series of lessons organized around a single theme, topic, or mode. The unit plan should provide the teacher with a concise overview of the unit, including information about art works, art materials, and special preparations that need to be considered. The unit should be organized to emphasize sequences of learning activities." (p. 358)

Characteristics of an exemplary unit for elementary school often include the following qualities:
Content is valid ACROSS TIME and CULTURES
Content is developmentally appropriate for K-6 students
Content is BROAD IN APPROACH and encourages students to continue to explore


A thematic approach is a way of choosing an overarching or unifying idea revealing many aspects of related concepts, events, or situations. A theme is much broader than a topic, and use of themes in curriculum design allows students to make rich connections among a variety of disciplines. A topical approach is a way of organizing information regarding particular subject matter, and is narrower in focus. The following are all topical in approach rather than thematic:
Elements and principles of design
Art modes and media
Periods of western art history
Art from various culture or eras
Aesthetics topics
Landmark art works or individual artists
Functions of art
Reference: Hurwitz, A. & Day, M. (2007). Children and their art: Methods for the elementary school. Eighth Edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth. Pp. 356-358 and also discussed in the unpublished Prairie Visions Institute Participant Notebook, 1999.

Suggestions for themes

Goals and Outcomes of a unit of instruction clarify what students should know and be able to do as a result of having instruction and learning through the unit's content and activities. National arts education organizations have identified national standards for student learning in the arts that may be helpful in organizing your units of instruction.

Six content standards applicable to visual art education include:
1. Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes
2. Using knowledge of structures and functions
3. Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas
4. Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures
5. Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others
6. Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines.

As you develop your rationale for a unit, consider also the following:
How does this unit fit in to my school district's educational goals?
How will I be accountable for knowing what students achieve?

For suggestions on important questions to ask students in an art unit, see the following LINK to the Prairie Visions Inquiry into the Visual Arts matrix.
What important questions will I use from the PV concept chart to help my students approach "big ideas" from the arts as well as from core classroom curricula?
I wish to set up a "problem-based" unit for learning in and through the arts. What key questions do I find in my core-content materials that will point my students toward the "big ideas" I want them to explore?

The six artists' art works in the Nebraska Masterpieces series represent significant approaches to contemporary art that can be meaningful for children to study. When selecting works of art for units of instruction, consider the following questions:
What visual or performing art works suggest a meaningful theme? (Or) What works will I select illuminating a previously identified "big idea?"
Have I included historic and contemporary works created by women artists and by various cultures and ethnic groups?
How will this unit incorporate art(s) objects and performances in significant ways (other than mere illustration of non-arts concepts)?

One to several lessons may be created within a thematic unit of instruction depending on developmental levels of students, unit goals and outcomes, or depth and breadth of unit content and processes. Lessons provide detailed instructions for teachers to use in the presentation and assessment of content and skills development of students.

Teacher preparation includes planning for the following questions:
What subject matter will I include? What research do I need to complete?
What skills do I want my students to practice? What "learning cycles" or other active-learning modules will I create?
How will I sequence the lessons in this unit?
How does this unit figure into my yearly plan of goals?
How important is this unit? How will I bring the students' work before the school and community audience? Is this important?)
Teacher presentation requires decisions about how you will share information and supervise learning activities with students.
Am I a "guide on the side?"
What approaches will I use to teach this unit: individual reflective practice or collaborative activities? How much lecture or fact-giving do I need to present?
Small and large group discussion/activities
Student small or large group presentation
Individual tasks (students' art making, presentation, and other active or reflective activities)

is a " process for obtaining information that is used for making decisions about students, curricula and programs, and educational policy.Evaluation is a process of making a value judgment about the worth of a student's product or performance."
Reference: Nitko, A. J. (2001). Educational assessment of students. Third Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice-Hall. Pp. 4-9.
Formative Assessment-Teacher observes and checks for understanding during lesson activities
Summative Assessment-Students are able to successfully convey their knowledge of content and understanding of processes in the lessons
What strategies will I select: self-evaluation by students, my written or oral feedback and observations, etc?
What documentation will I collect? (Portfolios, "Teaching Wall" exhibits, logs/journals, checklists, demonstrations, performances, interviews, projects, etc.)
Which set of standards will inform my content and performance criteria for evaluation of my students' learning?

Interdisciplinary connections can occur in several ways. Ask yourself how each lesson might connect to other areas of your curriculum.
How will this unit involve the four visual art disciplines (making art, studying it, appreciating it, and making judgments about it)?
How will this unit contribute to an understanding of the performing arts disciplines (dance, theater, music, literature)?
How will this unit link to other core curricula (math, science, language arts, social studies, life skills, etc)?

Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences suggests the following eight ways to allow for student strengths and differences. Use following link to view details about his theory:
Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence
Logical/Mathematical Intelligence
Visual/Spatial Intelligence
Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence
Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence
Intra personal Intelligence
Interpersonal Intelligence
Naturalist Intelligence

Further differentiation can occur if you plan for diversity involving other student strengths or needs:
Have my plans for this unit been informed by the experiences and readiness of my students?
Have I designed activities effective for other significant learning-style preferences)?
Have I designed activities inclusive of special-needs learners?
Have I designed activities inclusive of learners coming from diverse cultural contexts?

John I. Goodlad (Editor), Roger Soder (Editor), Kenneth A. Sirotnik (Editor), The Moral Dimensions of Teaching, Jossey-Bass; New Ed edition (November 16, 1993).
Institute for Educational Inquiry

Units rich in content often teach far more than subject matter to students. Students can learn about themselves, their community, and the greater world during art instruction. One important issue to consider is how to help children become productive members of our democratic society. In order to approach this issue, ask yourself:
How have I explored the following key ethical principles with my students in this unit:
*Stewardship in our shool and learning community
*Nurturing pedagogy
*Enculturation of my students in a democratic society - the relationship between personal and social/societal concerns.
*Access to knowledge for all students