Create Your Own Literature-Based Unit Study

February 8, 2022
Written by:
Jamie Gaddy

Has your homeschool motivation dropped to zero? Do something – even if you’re just reading and doing unit studies. Unit studies are often so much fun, your students may actually enjoy learning through summer. Literature-based unit studies are among the best types of unit studies because they allow your student to get lost in a great piece of literature while exploring it from various directions.

What’s a Unit Study?

A unit study is when you explore one topic through various subjects areas. For instance, if you’re studying ocean animals, you may have your student read several books about them and write a “compare and contrast essay” comparing two different ocean animals (language arts). For science, students could do an experiment to further understand how fish breathe underwater and later, you could have them explore some of the first ocean animals discovered as well as who made some of those discoveries (history). Simply put, a unit study is a great way to explore a topic in-depth because you’re coming at it from multiple “angles.”

Benefits of Unit Studies in the Summer

Unit studies allow for relaxed learning to take place in a focused manner, so they’re an ideal way to do summer homeschooling. But what are some other benefits to this method of homeschooling?

  • Students all learn together. From the youngest to the oldest, you’ll have all of your students learning the same topic at the same time but in different ways. This type of learning really lends itself to great after-dinner discussions since everyone can chime in on the topic at hand. Since it’s the summer, maybe you can also invite friends over to learn along with your students.  
  • It’s less costly. Rather than buying separate history, science, Bible, language arts, etc. programs for all students, you can just buy one program for all to share. Depending on the program you choose, you may not even need to buy a copy for everyone. As long as you have one “master copy” from which you can read, you will be equipped to teach.
  • Students develop mastery of a subject. The last thing you’ll hear your students tell you this summer is that they’re “bored!” On the contrary, your students will develop a level of mastery that many adults don’t have. Also, if you let your students’ interests guide you in which topics to study, you’ll have their attention for sure.

How to Create Literature-Based Unit Studies

Now that you know what unit studies are and some of the benefits to using them, it’s time to put one together! This summer, consider using literature-based unit studies – especially if this is your first time dappling in unit studies. How do you create a literature-based unit study?

  1. Start by choosing a book you and your students will love. No one wants to spend weeks talking about a boring book. Choose a good piece of literature your students do (or will) enjoy and take off from there.
  2. Determine how long the unit study will take. Many times, unit studies last two to three weeks. Will that be enough time to cover the book you’ve chosen? Will that be too much time for your book? An easy strategy is to take the number of pages and divide them by 10 (for two weeks, not including weekends) or 15 (for three weeks) and see how many pages you’ll need to cover each day. If you feel you can cover the set number of pages plus some activities each day, then you’re on the right track.
  3. Jot down and research various activities related to your book. You might be surprised at the ideas and activities that pop into your head when you actively think about it! If you get stuck, Google is very helpful. Just type in the name of the novel you’re studying and “activities” and see what results you have. For instance, if you’re doing Wonder, you might type in “Wonder lesson plans” or “Wonder activities for kids.” Sometimes it helps to categorize your activities by subject. Think of “language arts activities” and “history activities,” etc. as you brainstorm ideas. Don’t forget to ask your students for any ideas they might have!
  4. Decide how many activities you can realistically complete each day as well as how much time you want to devote. Families are all different. What might take one family a whole week to complete, another family could easily do in half a day. Think about your family and what you can conceivably accomplish every day.  
  5. Collect your materials and get started! After you’ve figured out how long you want your study to last, how much time you can devote each day, and which activities you’re going to do, you’re ready to dive right into it!  

Recommended Reading

Once you’ve read through the steps of putting together a literature-based unit study, you’re all ready to tackle one – except for one thing: you still need the literature. The following make great sources of literature for an extensive study:

  • Anne of Green Gables – Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert – two unmarried siblings – live on Green Gables in the quiet town of Avonlea. Since Matthew is getting up in years (at age 60), the two decide to adopt an orphan boy to help him with chores around the land. What they receive instead is a surprise to all involved!  
  • Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm – Ten-year-old Rebecca leaves her beloved Sunnybrook Farm to reside with some of her aunts. The tension between Rebecca and her aunts creates the major conflict in the story, especially her relationship with her Aunt Miranda.
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Tom lives with his half-brother, Sid, and his Aunt Polly in Missouri. One weekend, after playing hooky from school on a Friday and getting dirty in a fight, Tom is made to whitewash the fence on Saturday.
  • The Secret Garden – Following the mysterious death of her parents, Mary Lennox is sent to live with her uncle. While there, Mary learns to grow and care for things and people outside of herself. During her adventurous journeys outside, Mary comes to discover a garden that is off limits to everyone. What becomes of this discovery may shock you!
  • Black Beauty – Told from the point of view of a horse (Black Beauty), this classic recounts the horse’s life from the beginning – as a carefree colt – to his days of pulling cabs in London. Near the end, the horse retires from these duties and spends his days in the country. This novel is perfect for any horse lovers in your family!  

Even More Reading

If your family just can’t get enough reading, maybe they’ll enjoy participating in some of the summer reading challenges available! Your students can do these books independently and they don’t have to necessarily tie into your literature-based unit studies. Nevertheless, your students are sure to enjoy them.

  • Teen Summer Reading and Movie Challenge – In this challenge, teens are encouraged to see how many books they can read (from a given list) and then watch the corresponding movies with a friend. Most of the books have movie versions available on Netflix. Some of the titles included are The Phantom of the Opera, Schindler’s List, The Outsiders, The Hunger Games, Gone With the Wind, and Holes.
  • Kids Summer Reading Challenge – Similar to the challenge for teens, kids will read as many books as they can (again, from a given list) and then watch the movie versions with a friend. Titles include favorites such as Black Beauty, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Heidi.

Just because school is over for the year doesn’t mean the reading stops! In fact, it definitely shouldn’t stop if you want your students to avoid the summer slide. To encourage them to keep reading, try your hand at building a literature-based unit study and working through it together as a family.

Jamie Gaddy

Jamie Gaddy, B.S., M.Ed., Ed.D. has been a college education professor for over 17 years. Education has been a part of her life in both the classroom and as a principal. Six children later found her dissatisfied with traditional school and homeschool became the better fit. She is also a pastor’s wife, editor, and entrepreneur who now homeschools four of her six children in Georgia. Jamie loves to share about her homeschool experience to help other homeschoolers find success. Connect with her at [email protected].