Community Engagement Through Understanding by Design

The last few years I have been teaching opinion writing through curriculum provided performance tasks that walk students through a couple of sources explaining the pros and cons regarding plastic, disposable water bottles. We have always read through the sources, learning note taking strategies, to come to the ultimate goal of writing to a pre-written prompt of whether or not to continue having water bottle vending machines in school. My students have gone through the process, learning that water bottles have a negative effect on the environment, but that they are also convenient and help people to drink more water. The culminating task asks them to create a meager attempt at persuading an undefined reader, at a made up school, that they should pay for a water filtration system to help reduce pollution. They then turn it in, get a grade, and forget about it altogether.

So this quarter, when we were asked to think of a standard or topic that we have been teaching… that has not always been a home run… I immediately thought of our opinion writing unit. Through UbD, I have been able to not only transform this unit, but also integrated technology along with social justice ideas that students are excited to be a part of.

Stage 1 asks for you to write to the goals, understandings, essential questions, knowledge and skills that the students will gain during the unit. I chose to focus on opinion writing along with the social justice thinking that students have the ability to make a change. Because why have a student write a persuasive, opinion based, piece of writing on something they are not passionate about?

Establish Goals

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.7 – Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.4 – Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.1 – Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.

ISTE 2 – DIGITAL CITIZEN – Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.

ISTE 3 – KNOWLEDGE CONSTRUCTOR – Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.

ISTE 7 – GLOBAL COLLABORATOR – Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally.


Students will understand that they can bring about positive change

Students will understand that opinion writing can help persuade people to care about their cause

Students will understand that they can be good digital citizens while collaborating globally through positive interactions on Twitter

Essential Questions

How can we bring about positive change?

What are ways that we can be positive digital citizens using Twitter?

How can we be global collaborators while working to influence change?

How can you represent the solution to your problem/answer to your question?

Students will know…

they can influence positive change

positively interaction with others through social media leads to digital citizenship

Students will be able to…

use safe researching practices

create posts that entertain, persuade, or inform others using the Twitter platform

further the thinking of authors and commenters on social media

find a platform that best represents their solution/ goal

use appropriate language, safe sharing methods, and respectful practices online

how to write an opinion article

Stage 2 focuses on how students will be able to demonstrate their new skills and knowledge. For each performance task and other evidence I have also created a rubric to help guide evaluation – click on the hyperlink for the google doc version of the rubric!

Performance Tasks

Students will write an opinion article stating the problem or question that they began with, their two resources with important information that fueled their research, and their solution or goal/planĀ (rubric)

Students will participate actively in the digital citizen learning experience (rubric)

Other Evidence

Students will create a project that shares information about their topic and has some sort of solution or goal/plan ready to be put into place. Students will use a platform that helps match their thinking to their solution or goal/plan. Students will include at least 2 resources that they have used to help further their thinking on their topic. Students will create a presentation of some sort that includes some format of visual to represent their solution or goal/plan (rubric)

Students will self-assess their ability to engage in positive and ethical behavior using a social interaction and networking model (rubric)

During the last phase of Ubd, you get into the day to day learning plan. In this section it is important that you hit all 7 pieces of an effective learning plan. Below you will find my general learning day guide as a broad overview of the unit plan.

Working through the UbD process has really helped me to understand the “why” of my teaching practices. Although it can be easy to fall into the trap of pushing through curriculum for the sake of finishing, or focusing on a unit for the fun of it, UbD speaks to the importance of organizing your teaching and planning to focus on the outcome first. By understanding what I wanted my students to be able to accomplish at the end, I was able to plan a unit that is designed to get them to that point.


ISTE Standards for Students. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Wiggins, G., & Mctighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design, Expanded 2Nd Edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *