Planning and Pacing in Virginia Studies

Alyssa here, from Alyssa Teaches! I've received a lot of questions recently about pacing for the Virginia Studies curriculum. While creating and following a pacing guide can seem like a lot of work, or even a bit stressful, I promise it's worth it! In this blog post, I'm sharing some tips for pacing your Virginia Studies content for the school year.

Get Organized

Before you start to plan out the year, grab everything you'll need:

  • a copy of the Virginia Studies SOLs and the curriculum framework
  • your county's social studies standards (if applicable)
  • blank calendars (monthly, quarterly, semester, and/or year)
  • timelines, pacing guides, or curriculum maps provided by your county (if applicable)
  • optional: pacing guides for other subjects you teach

It's helpful to start by marking holidays, teacher workdays, and special events on the calendar so you know what days you can and can't teach VS content.

I also like to add the Virginia Studies SOL test date to the calendar (or the testing window if I don't have the date yet). I want to be sure to leave enough time for SOL test review between the last unit and the test date. 

Review the Standards

If you're new to teaching Virginia Studies, it's helpful to skim through the curriculum framework so you have an idea of what you'll be covering during the year.

Since the standards progress in chronological order, it makes sense to teach them in the order they're written. I definitely don't recommend waiting to teach Virginia's geography since you'll come back to it so many times throughout the year!

I generally treat each standard as its own unit (although I separate VS.2 into Virginia's geography and Virginia's native peoples). 

This makes 10 units:
  • VS.2a-c: Virginia's Geography
  • VS2.d-g: Virginia's Native Peoples
  • VS.3: Jamestown
  • VS.4: the Virginia Colony
  • VS.5: the American Revolution
  • VS.6: the New Nation
  • VS.7: the Civil War
  • VS.8: Reconstruction
  • VS.9: 20th Century and Beyond
  • VS.10: Virginia's Government, Geography, and Economics

If your county has any additional standards you need to cover, you'll want to check how those will fit in with the rest of the content.

And don't forget that you'll want to embed critical thinking skills (VS.1) throughout the year.

Start with the Big Picture

My recommendation is to start by penciling in when you'll teach each Virginia Studies standard/unit during the year. To do that, it's helpful to have a general idea of how long it takes to teach each one.

Many counties provide a general timeline of the number of days/weeks you can expect to need to teach each standard. I start by taking that timeline and putting the units into a year-at-a-glance calendar so I know what will be taught during each quarter. 

Click here to grab a free, editable calendar that breaks down the units by quarter. Keep in mind that this includes suggested timeframes. You could easily shorten or extend each unit!

Tip: If you want to use an overarching theme for the year (such as relationships, change over time, environment, etc.), I definitely recommend planning that before you start pacing out your units.

Plan a Quarter at a Time

There are so many ways to do this, but I like to pace a quarter at a time. You can certainly do more, but you just never know when a blizzard will hit and throw off your beautifully planned calendar!

I like to keep it pretty basic. For example, I'll just pencil in the day I expect to start teaching a unit and the day it will end. I also like to add a "flex day" in between units when possible in case it takes us a little longer to get through a standard. If I know what assessments I want to use, I might add those, too.

sample quarterly pacing guide for Virginia Studies SOLs

Tip: I've always paced out all four core subjects in the quarterly calendar at the same time. This is helpful a) so you can avoid giving assessments in multiple subjects on the same day and b) so you can look for areas in other subjects where you might integrate VS content. This free SOL-at-a-glance list is nice to have nearby when you do this.

K-6 SOL-at-a-Glance Chart Freebie from Alyssa Teaches

Here are a few things to think about as you start looking at pacing:
  • How much time do I have to teach Virginia Studies?
  • If I'm short on time, how can I incorporate VS into other subject areas?

Pacing/Planning a Unit

Now that you have a rough pacing guide for the year and the quarter, you can look at pacing and planning for each standard or unit. This is the fun part! I pace out only one unit at a time just so I can stay flexible. 

Here are some questions you might consider when it comes to looking at the timeline for the unit:
  • What types of lessons and activities do I want to use? How long will we need?
  • How will I assess (and/or pre-assess) student learning? How much time will assessments take?
  • Will this unit involve a research project? Will I be collaborating with specialists?
  • How will we use technology during the unit? Will this require extra time?
  • What gaps or misconceptions do my students have that I'll need to address? Is there anything I'll need to teach in addition to the standards?
  • Does this unit contain content that's of high interest to my students? Can I take more time to teach this standard?

The pacing for each unit will of course be different depending on the content and skills you're teaching! You can read more about unit planning here.

Here's an example unit outline for a 2-week unit:
  • Day 1: introduce the unit
  • Days 2-4: teach
  • Day 5: assess; teach
  • Days 6-8: teach
  • Day 9: review*
  • Day 10: assess
*Reviewing in school is always something I've done, since I knew not all students were able to study the material outside of school, but you may want to do that differently, especially if you're short on time.

Once you plan out the individual lessons for each day, you can go back and add them to your pacing guide if you like.

Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Feeling trapped by your pacing guide. A pacing guide is meant to give you a road map so you stay on track to cover all the content. It's okay to take a little longer on a unit or to go a little faster!
  2. Being inflexible. Pacing guides were made to be changed. Use a pencil, sticky notes, or a Google doc you can easily edit. I promise there will be situations when you need more time to teach a unit and other times when you fly through it.
  3. Thinking you can only teach Virginia Studies during your social studies block. Language arts, math, and even science are great places to introduce, reteach, or extend VS content. Learn more here.
  4. Keeping your pacing guide to yourself. Share your curriculum map with your specialists! Other staff can help support Virginia Studies content, but only if they have an idea of what you're teaching when.
  5. Feeling like you have to rush to teach all the content. You probably won't have time to do deep dives into every single part of every standard. But can you do it here and there? Absolutely. It's okay to do a primary source analysis activity that takes a few days and then speed up the next lesson. 

What About After the SOL Test?

You'll likely have some time after the SOL test or final performance assessment. This is a great time to reteach or revisit standards that you maybe couldn't spend much time on initially. You might do special projects like researching important Virginians or teaching your students about local history. I also know some teachers who do a little pre-teaching of the next grade's curriculum just to give students some exposure.

To sum up, a pacing guide is your friend, not your enemy. As long as you stay flexible, it's a great tool to keep you on track to teach all the content in the Virginia Studies curriculum. Planning out your year, your quarter, and then each unit is one way you can pace out the SOLs. Let us know what other tips you have when it comes to Virginia Studies planning and pacing!

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tips for creating a virginia studies pacing guide

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