Pyramid Planning, Unit Organizer Routine, and Big Ideas


Teachers will learn how to focus on the big ideas to create unit plans using a Pyramid Planning tool and the Unit Organizer Routine


  • Teachers will be able to plan units and decide what all students will learn, what most students will learn, and what a few students will learn
  • Teachers will actively discuss how to convey Big Ideas of a unit to a group of diverse learners
  • Teachers will learn how to effectively use Pyramid Planning template
  • Teacher will learn how to effectively use Unit Organizer Routine template


One of the most important aspects of teaching is planning. This is especially important when working with students with disabilities and diverse groups of learners. Specifically in core subjects, such as Social Studies, the population of learning abilities is especially diverse. The gap between the abilities of advanced learners and lower level learners is more significant in these subjects. You must consider the abilities, preferences, learning styles, and tendencies of all students. Co planning and co teaching is an effective way to accurately meet the needs of all learners in the classroom. The Pyramid Planning technique helps make co planning and co teaching Understanding the Pyramid Planning technique will teach educators that all of the material or concepts in each unit are not meant to be learned by each learner. Some material is not appropriate for all learners. Also, it will help them better decide what material must be learned by all students and what material can be considered enrichment material. This allows teachers to put a premium focus on the big ideas. Also, it allows students to maximize their potential and both educators in the co teaching process to go in depth with the big ideas. Learning the Pyramid Planning technique relieves the pressure of teaching everything to everyone and allows teachers to be more effective in their teaching.

Learning the Unit Organizer Routine is very beneficial for both educators and students. For educators, it maps out the unit allowing them to focus on the big ideas of the unit. It helps assure them what big ideas they should be focusing on and what information should be conveyed to the students. For students, it helps them focus on what material they should learn throughout the unit. It keeps them focused on the big ideas of the unit and occasionally redirects their attention to what they should be learning. Also, it helps them connect the new big ideas of the unit to big ideas and information from previous units. Using the Unit Organizer Routine is valuable because it keeps educators and students focused on what the big ideas and purpose of the unit are. These keeps students from being focused on minor details and educators from going off on tangents and overlooking the big ideas of the unit.


Whole Group Discussion: To begin the PD, I will ask teachers to define what a big idea is in regards to a unit. I expect teachers to state that a big idea is the overall theme or idea that all of the details connect to. It is the general concept or idea that students should leave a unit knowing. It can often be summed up in a sentence or an "I can..." statement. The big ideas of a unit are the basis of a unit and the activities associated with those units. As we know, our job as teachers is to make sure all of our students understand the big ideas. However, with a diverse group of learners in our classrooms, it may be difficult to teach all learners the same thing. This is where pyramid planning comes into play.Pyramid planning is a technique used when two teachers are co planning and co teaching. As we know, co teaching is when we have two teachers in one classroom, often doing various activities in the classroom based on the same material. Co teaching allows students of various abilities to grasp the big ideas in a general ed classroom environment. Pyramid planning assures that all students learn the big ideas while all learners maximize their potential.

I will pass out maps and fact sheets to all of the teachers. One third of the teachers will receive this map:
One third of the teachers will receive the map along with a fact sheet that explains which countries compose the African political regions. The last third of teachers will receive the map and a fact sheet that explains which countries compose the African political regions and also the common traditions and practices of the cultures in the regions. This sheets will be passed out randomly to teachers. On chart paper, I will write the GlCE Use maps to locate the major regions of Africa (northern Africa, western Africa, central Africa,eastern Africa, southern Africa). At their tables, teachers will discuss whether or not they can feel secure with this GLCE based on the information they received. Although some teachers have more information than others, they all have enough information to identify the political regions of Africa on a map. This is a snapshot of how Pyramid Planning works. Put into the frame of co teaching, one teacher may teaches the political regions of Africa, while another teacher informs students the traditions and practices of the region. In Pyramid planning, you must plan for all students to have access to the material while not all students will grasp all of the material based on ability or interest level. The important thing to remember when pyramid planning is that all students should have access to the material.

Small group activity: On the chart paper, I will post the pyramid planning template.
As a whole group, we will decide what information all students need to know, what some need to know, and what a few need to know based on the information they have on their maps and fact sheets. We will fill the pyramid template out to correspond to that information.
Each table will be given a pyramid planning template. Each table will pick a social studies topic of their choice. As a group, they will use the pyramid planning template to decide what all students need to know about that topic, what some need to know, and what a few need to know. Afterward, groups will share their plans with the rest of the groups.

Small group discussion: Another technique that helps students of different abilities focus on the big ideas of a unit is the unit organizer routine. Using the unit organizer routine, A teacher outlines the big ideas of the unit. The teacher then gives students a copy of a graphic organizer that helps outline and organize these big ideas. As the unit progresses, students fill out the details and key concepts that support those big ideas. Here is a brief article that discusses what the unit organizer routine is and how it works unit organizer. Read the article and list three key points from the article that stand out to you. Then at your tables, discuss your key points and how you could imagine using the unit organizer routine in your classroom.

Each group will get a copy of this unit organizer routine template
Each group will then use the information from the Pyramid Planning segment of the PD to complete the unit organizer routine template. I expect both organizers to have similar information. We will then discuss the similarities and differences between both graphic organizers and techniques. I expect teachers to make the connection that both techniques are focused on the big ideas of the unit. The emphasis is that students learn the big ideas most importantly and learn the details to support those accordingly.


"Planning Pyramid: A framework for planning for diverse student needs during content area instruction" by Jeanne Shay Schumm, Sharon Vaughn, and Alexandra G. Leavell. Teachers will read the article and describe a unit they have taught or will teach and how they could incorporate the planning pyramid into that unit.