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  • Pam Koutrakos

Shaking Things Up: Rethinking Our Final Units

Over the last several weeks, teachers have continued to step up. We’ve compiled, curated, collaborated, and created. We have Zoomed, Met, laughed, and perhaps even cried. We have tried to create some sense of normalcy while also accepting the fact that none of this is normal. It is exhausting! And although I remain an optimist, as the news and calendar keep reminding us, we are not yet at the finish line.

Sunshine, warmer temps, and “spring fever” (with an unprecedented twist) make getting to that finish line even more challenging. This does not only apply to students. Teachers are feeling it, too! As a result, in my recent conversations with colleagues, we have been rethinking that “last” unit. Here are three tips to help you find the energy for this last stretch:


When focus and stamina are particularly challenging, a five to six-week unit could feel unsurmountable. Instead, try reframing your last unit and reimagining it as a series of interconnected mini-units. For example, third-grade teachers I partner with are about to start the last unit of the year. It is an integrated traditional literature unit. We decided to break it up into smaller chunks. After a week of immersion, readers are embarking on a mini-inquiry into fairy tales. This is followed by subsequent weeklong inquiries into fables, then myths, and finally, legends and tall tales. In writing, students will be engaging in a series of playful, low-stakes, process-rich experiences. Writers will be exploring writing adapted tales. In the first week, they will be encouraged to reimagine tales in a modern-day setting. Then, students will be asked to try telling tales from the perspective of another character. Finally, students will be invited to try out writing prequels and sequels of beloved tales. Throughout each experience, students are welcome to write in their notebooks, on devices, in booklets, or on comic strip storyboards. The unit goals are tied to planning, drafting, and revisiting- not publishing.


In recent weeks, many of us have gotten over our fears and have begun recording, uploading, and sharing virtual instruction. These read alouds and lessons have helped us move away from assigning and back into teaching. What a celebration! For those interested, we may also contemplate other methods that foster connection. If permitted and where available, we may consider small group and one-on-one instruction. This could also mean “breakout” groups, time for partner feedback, club discussions, and students teaching students.

Please be assured that I am not recommending adding more in. Instead, ponder switching out go-to instructional strategies. In a typical 5-6 week unit, it could look like this: In week 1-2 of the unit, the teacher provides whole-class instruction (recorded and/or live). In weeks 3-4, the teacher cuts back on the whole-class recorded lessons and begins facilitating small groups and amping up the amount of one-to-one feedback. In weeks 5-6, students take over: providing instruction and feedback to one another.

By providing connective and personalized experiences, we help students feel seen, heard, and valued. By changing up how we instruct, support, and step back, we bring gradual release to life in a distance learning environment.


In some recent conversations with colleagues, we have decided to embrace the joy and playfulness of trying something completely new! We are imagining the units we have always dreamed of trying, units that students can’t help but get lost in. Here are just a few of the ideas being tried out by teachers in some of our partner schools:

  • Nature-Based Writing: Extend Earth Day and capitalize on the beauty of nature! Teachers, students, and classes are studying trees, flowers, plants, insects, and birds. Writers are observing, exploring, reading about, drawing, labeling, and writing about what they see happening outside.

  • Comic Strips, Comic Books, and Graphic Novels: No explanation needed.

  • Author/Illustrator Studies combined with Fanfiction: Take a deep dive into exploring, reading, and appreciating the work of a favorite author and/or illustrator… and then time to write some fanfiction using setting, characters, and/or the style of the selected author(s) and illustrator(s).

  • Online Tutorials: Think how-to procedural reading and writing for big kids. Students read and view online tutorial videos, read widely on a topic of interest, and then create their own tutorial videos.

  • Storytelling & Performing: Add a performance-inviting twist to any fiction or narrative reading unit. Shake up personal narratives, memoirs, or straight-up fantasy reading and writing.

  • Passion Projects: Facilitate multi-genre reading and writing of topics self-selected by each student.

  • Choose Your Own Adventure: Here, each student chooses the genre they most want to read and write and go for it. Teachers teach into and support goal-setting, creativity, perseverance, reflection, and celebration.

We would love to hear your thoughts! How are you reimagining and reinventing your home stretch? What are your tips for keeping students engaged and motivated through the finish line? Share ideas and artifacts, tagging @drgravitygllc. If you would like a partner to think through how some of these ideas could look in action - for your setting, grade, and/or units - feel free to drop by our (free) office hours and talk it over with one of our consultants. Good luck, have fun, and stay well.

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