Understanding By Design Stage One: Identify the Desired Results

*Though your curriculum mapping work can and will be a bit cyclical, if you want specific directions, here they are. You do not need to work in this order, but it seems to be the most logical flow of categories. If you get stuck on a category, it is ok for you to skip it and come back to it later.
Complete the UBD components in this order:
  1. Build unit calendar
  2. Match standards to units
  3. Big Ideas
  4. Essential Questions
  5. Enduring Understandings - The students will understand that . . .
  6. Skills: 2 parts - the students will know & the students will be able to
  7. Vocabulary
  8. Assessments - link these back to specific standards
  9. Activities
The easiest way to take in this webpage is to read it, scrolling down, without dealing with any attachments first. The short explanations and examples might just answer your question.


If you are a paper person, print the simple version of the unit template here.

Our handouts from October 14:

Defining Terms in UBD

Big Ideas

Example: Rights and Due Process

"By definition, big ideas are important and enduring. Big ideas are transferrable beyond the scope of a particular unit (adaptation, allegory, the American Dream, significant figures). Big ideas are the building material of understandings. They can be thought of as the meaningful patterns that enable one to connect the dots of otherwise fragmented knowledge.

"Such ideas go beyond discrete facts or skills to focus on larger concepts, principles, or processes. These are applicable to new situtations within or beyond the subject. For example: students study the enactment of the Magna Carta as a specific historical event because of its significance to a larger idea, the rule of law, whereby written laws specify the limits of a goverments'spower and the rights of individuals, such as due process. The big idea transcends its roots in 13th century England and is a cornerstone of modern democratic societies.

Macro-concepts / Big Ideas (broad & interdisciplinary)








from Curriculum Mapping (2007) by Kathy Tuchman Glass

A big idea can also be described as a "linchpin" idea. The linchpin is the pin that keeps the wheel in place on an axel. Thus, the linchpin idea is one that isessential for understanding, without which the student cannot go anywhere. For instance, without grasping the distinction between the letter and the spirit of the law, students cannot understand the American constitutional and legal systems - even if they are highly knowledgable and articulate about the facts of history. Without a focus on linchpin ideas with lasting value, students may be left with easily forgotten fragments of knowledge." (Taken from UBD, 2005)

Concepts / Big Ideas from Specific Content Areas

Social Studies
Scale and structure
Scientific method
Caste System
Geography / climate
Government systems
Immigration / migration
Statistics / probability
Visual Arts
Language Arts
Cause and effect
Literal / figurative
Point of view

from Curriculum Mapping (2007) by Kathy Tuchman Glass

Essential Questions

Example: What rights should people be given by their government?
Does the government have the right to determine laws that govern human behavior?

An essential question is something that lies at the heart of a subject or a curriculum (as opposed to being trivial or leading directly to a pre-determined answer) and promotes inquiry and uncoverage of a subject. Essential questions do not yield a single straigtforward answer but produce different plausable responses, about which thoughtful and knowledgable people may disagree. An essential question can be either overarching or topical (unit-specific).
Topical Essential Question
Overarching Essential Question
Life Science
How can we prove that cells make up living things? If we are all made of cells, why don't we look alike?
How do scientists prove things?
What ideas can we express through dance?
How can motion convey emotion?
In what ways do artists express what they think and feel?
In what ways does the medium influence the message? What can the artist do that the non-artist cannot?
Physical Education
How do we hit with greatest power without losing control?
How important is follow-through for distance and speed?
What kind of practice "makes perfect"?
What feedback will enhance performance most?
Early Childhood
How can I be a friend to others?
When is it my turn to share?
What does belonging to a group feel like?
Why is it important to share my ideas, thoughts, feelings, time, and energy with a group?
How do the people and environment around me influence who I am?
World Language
How does the form of a word relate to its meaning?
How are language and culture related?
Why and how do we simplify algebraic expressions?
Why and when is it important to come to agreement on procedural rules (in math, sports, games, language)?
What important rules and conventions are required to make algebra "work?"

Enduring Understandings

Example: Students will understand that: written laws specify the limits of a government's power and articulate the rights of individuals, such as due process.

Enduring understandings are specific inferences, based on big ideas, that have lasting value beyond the classroom. These should be written as full sentence statements. Start with the stem: "students will understand that . . . " As you think about potential enduring understandings, ask yourself what students should understand and be able to do several years after your course- after they have forgotten all the details. These understandings are generally abstract in nature and are often not obvious. Students must come to understand or be helped to understandthis idea, as a result of work. (Taken from UBD, 2005)

How do we know understanding when we see it?

Here you'll find several helpful files that will help you wrap your mind around (via examples and practice) Enduring Understandings.

You can also read the original text. Text from Chapter 4"The Six Facets of Understanding" from Understanding by Design, 1998.

UBD materials say use a mixture of topical and overarching understandings as you set up your units.

Topical Understandings

Overarching Understandings

Vertical height, not the angle and distance of descent, determines the eventual "splashdown" speed of a falling spacecraft.
Gravity is not a physical thing but a term describing the constant rate of acceleration of all falling objects, as found through experiment.
A baseball card's worth depends on who wants it, not just its condition or the number of similar ones available.
In a free market economy, price is a function of supply and demand.
Creating space and exploiting its creation is the key to winning soccer. OR
The defense in soccer needs to prevent the offensive players from getting open in the middle of the field.
Increased scoring opportunities in certain sports result from creating space on offense in order to spread the defense and get players "open."
The parallel postulate is a crucial foundation to Euclidean geometry, despite its awkwardness and theorem-like nature.
Postulates are logically prior in any axiomatic system but developed after the fact to justify key theorems. They are neither true nor self- evident, yet they are not arbitrary.
Watergate was a major constitutional crisis, not a third rate burglary or more election shenanigans between political parties.
A president is not above the laws.
Democracy requires a courageous, not just a free, press.
Holden Caulfield is an alienated antihero, not an average kid on an "excellent adventure."
The modern novel overturns many traditional story elements and norms to tell a more authentic and engaging narrative.
If we want a clean classroom, we need to do our part to keep it clean.
We all belong to this world and need to respect it and others.
We can use the commutative, associative, and distributive properties to turn complex and unfamiliar expressions into simpler, more familiar ones in order to solve problems.
Mathematics is a language, and over the centuries mathematicians have come to agree on certain conventions, or ways of doing things, so that we can communicate our intentions clearly and efficiently.

In mathematics, we accept certain truths as necessary to permit us to solve problems with logical certainty (i.e. the properties of real numbers). Other rules are conventions that we assume for the sake of effective communication.

Skill Aquisition

UbD separates skills into items that students will know and others that students will be able to do.

Think about what students will know as what they will be able to tell or explain to you. Often this information is a direct transfer from language in the state standards.
What students will be able to do should be statements about what they can show you.

Students will know...

Students will be able to...

  • that not all sounds have a beat.
  • how steady beat looks and feels.
  • when sounds go up and down.
  • the sound of a minor third (sol-mi).
  • a limited repertoire of songs.
  • the difference between speaking, singing, whispering, and shouting.
  • differentiate between sounds that have a beat and those that do not.
  • demonstrate a steady beat (pulse) individually and in a group.
  • echo sol-mi tonal patterns within their singing range.
  • sing selected age-appropriate songs.
  • demonstrate vocal qualities: singing, speaking, whispering, and calling
  • express an opinion about the quality of a performance.