Posted by: jockmackenzie | May 10, 2010

Year Plans ¹ – Grade 8 LA: Thoughts & A Request

Whenever I am unsure what picture to put with an entry, I go to my file of Robert Reed pictures. Robert is a friend and colleague (soon to retire) who takes fabulous photos. This one comes from a recent walk with his wife, Lynne, in Canmore, Alberta.

Robert’s comments accompanying these two photos were: Lynne and I took a stroll up near Three Sisters in Canmore. There was a ‘snowbridge’ over the creek with a puzzle-piece shaped hole in it. I took some photos from each side; the mountain is Lady Mcdonald.

And here’s the other side:

And now to today’s entry:

It’s May and not the normal time one might be considering a year plan, but writing your year plan over the summer holidays isn’t normal either. I am reminded of the catch phrase “Plan your work and work your plan” as I cruise from classroom to classroom . . . but also of “I must run and catch up with the others for I am their leader.”

A good year plan is hard to find. Believe me, I’ve asked. Many teachers are unwillingly to share and, sadly, I think one of the major reasons is that they aren’t happy enough with what they’re using. Another part of the reason is that a year plan isn’t static; a good one is ever-changing. To have a year plan in a shareable state is unlikely and teachers are too busy to make one that is worthy of publication.

For now, I would like to share some ‘thoughts’ about year plans (and I will stick to Grade 8 Language Arts as a starting place) and then I will ask for input. Of course, some thoughts will be general but specifics will come from Gr. 8 LA.

My thoughts:

– in Alberta, Canada, one must begin with the Program of Studies. I have read ours over and over and used my yellow highlighter liberally. There are 5 general outcomes that employ the six ‘language arts’: listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing, representing. If you are interested in Alberta Education’s document, click here. It’s an interesting document but it does not give teachers a definitive plan for what to do at each grade level – and this is both good and bad, liberating but somewhat problematic.

– my next step was always to use the year calendar provided by the school’s administration. I would tape it to the wall so I could see the entire year at a glance. Step One was to number the student contact days. Then I compared Semester One with Semester Two to check on length. I looked at reporting periods to know when it would be helpful to have units completed and tests given so I could report to parents.

– with the ‘really’ big picture in mind, I then went to month, to week, to day, to half days.

– with months, September, December and June were most important. September for getting started, June for ending well and knowing about December because the placement of the Christmas break (and especially the week leading up to the break) was important. I also noted major holidays in each month because I have always felt language arts lends itself to work related to Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s, Arbor Day (for those paying attention), etc.

– in a perfect world, with weeks, days and half days, it was important to note more when I would lose time. The half days with early dismissal for professional development or staff meetings used to create a problem until our Grade 8 team planned a sharing system. On half days when we only saw two of our four Core classes, we agreed to take turns. On the first occurrence, we would teach LA and Social Studies. On the second occurrence, we would teach Math and Science. This meant having to step outside our comfort zone – even though the other teacher would provide the lesson – but it kept us on track.

– when option classes got out of whack because of half days or missing class time because of unforeseeable interruptions, I used the Bill Heinsen method. Bill’s ‘Big Plan’ for his option classes was on one sheet of looseleaf paper. He numbered the classes he felt he could expect and put a major theme/topic beside each number. If his flow was ever discombobulated, he simply picked up at the place where he had left off.

– with my time lines in mind, I moved to units. I decided where to emphasize poetry, short stories, essays, etc. As evidenced by the plan I’ve shared in a previous blog entry (see Year Plan – Language Arts Grade 8 Part 1 and Part 2), you will also note that I endeavored to touch on each of the language arts (I refer to them as ‘strands’) in each month. I planned some project that emphasized speaking, another for listening, etc.

– and that took me from the wall calendar to the unit plans, and to sharing the plan, and to  . . . but I will save that for an upcoming entry.

For now, I will end with a request. Would you share either your thoughts or your year plan? If so, have your people call my people and we’ll keep on sharin’.


  1. Jock,
    your site is amazing…I am sitting here after moving all my stuff up from my grade 2 class to my new junior high classroom in preparation for teaching LA 7 and LA 8/9 next year and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed (no experience). There will also be some combined 7/8/9 classes – 4 a week of which 2 are taught by another teacher. This is one of the results of the smaller rural schools losing students and needing to combine classes. So when I saw your Lennigen vs. the Ants, I smiled – I remember that story from high school??? Anyway, it is a good one. Thank you. I will use it.
    I’m struggling to know what percentage of time should be spent on each area of LA curriculum so I can divide up what I should teach in my classes and what I can suggest for the other teacher to take on (she has 2 classes on Fridays) of triple grades. Novel study, the narrative???
    I would sure appreciate some feedback, comments suggestions- you seem to love this subject area- when you have time.

    thanks for your help,
    P.S. I’m new to blogging so I hope this is read.

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