I was introduced to unit planning templates about two years ago at a workshop by ACTFL trainer Laura Terrill, and was simultaneously entranced and intimidated by all those @#*&^ boxes to fill out. Wow!
Then I spent a whole summer working those boxes, and saw their magic.
The way I see it, a good unit planning template keeps you honest. It ensures that you're really using backward planning (by making you pick your summative assessments early on in the process, before you write all your activities), that your vocabulary and grammar chunks have a communicative purpose connected to your Can-Dos, and that you're actually balancing the 5 Cs and the 3 modes and all that jazz. It's the way to make sure you're well-prepared and that you're going to achieve your goals by the end of the unit.
At the same time, not every template suits every teacher. Some of us love to do the deep thinking to fill out dozens of boxes. Others of us, not so much...or not at all. I have a great colleague who insisted that she could not use a template because it was stressing her out to face a big blank document. Then I asked her how to explain her process for creating a thematic unit. As she talked me through it ("I have some amazing authentic resources on my theme...I figure out my assessments for the end of the unit...I make a list of 'nice to know"'and 'have to know' vocabulary..."), I realized that she was describing verbally her "mental" template. Even if you think you hate templates, you still need some method for planning your unit.
Here are 3 templates to consider:
The ACTFL Template: Ensuring a Balance
If you love lots of boxes and an intellectual challenge, this is a great template! One of the strongest features of the ACTFL template is that it forces you to list your grammar structures and vocabulary according to language function. No cutting and pasting your laundry list from the textbook - you actually have to justify every word by seeing if it matches the selected language function. Even better, you can start with the function and then brainstorm essential structures and vocabulary to accomplish it.
My only critique of this template is that not everyone gets excited by the intellectual challenge of filling in all these boxes. See above colleague who does great thematic planning but gets physically ill when she looks at this template.
Download the ACTFL unit planning template from this page or look at it here.
Helena Curtain's Template: Your Unit, Start to Finish
Helena Curtain's template shares many features of the ACTFL template, but is still its own beast. Unlike Terrill and Clementi, she includes a scenario (which I think of as the "story" of your unit) and "enduring understandings" (which I struggle to understand but resemble essential questions...kind of). This template has space for the writer to list all the amazing resources s/he uses by type, which helps to share it with colleagues near and far. I also feel that it also focuses a bit more on the trajectory of the unit: start, middle, and end.
My one critique of this template, as compared to ACTFL's, is that it holds you less accountable for justifying the vocabulary and grammar you want to include in terms of your unit objectives. You (but you would never do this, right?) could just paste it all into various columns without saying why it is needed to accomplish your goals. Since I'm still weaning myself off the textbook's laundry list, I have to be careful of this pitfall.
Look at Helena's template here. Bonus: there's color commentary from my department head about HOW to fill it out!
Greg Duncan's Template: The Anti-Template Template
If you hate templates, but have somehow read all the way down to here, this is your reward! Greg Duncan sympathizes with those of you who don't enjoy the intellectual exercise of filling in all.those.boxes. He's boiled things down to the basics of backward planning, aka Understanding by Design.
My critique of this template is that you might not have all the details you need to plan a full unit, and you might find that your unit lacks something because there aren't as many checks and balances built into the template. But if you are anti-template like my aforementioned colleague, this could be your happy place!
See Greg's template here.
Dear readers, do you use a template to plan your units? What are its strengths and weaknesses?