Overview: Guest contributor Sara Dennis shares how to take any curriculum and create your homeschool lesson plans from it, so that you know you’ll get through it in the time you need to. Good stuff!
Are you attempting to figure out how to make homeschool lesson plans using a curriculum that doesn’t do the planning for you? Some curriculum options will provide you with a lesson plan schedule, but many do not.
This can be challenging! The trick is to break down the curriculum into smaller chunks and deal with it piece by piece. Once you get started, you’ll see that it’s very doable.
How to Make Homeschool Lesson Plans Step-by-Step
NOTE: These instructions are written for a high school curriculum, but they can be used for any curriculum out there — at any grade level.
First, grab your favorite warm beverage.
Or you can snag a cool drink — and maybe a snack of some sort. Chips! Popcorn! Chocolate from your secret stash! Whatever you like — just have some sustenance handy, because it always makes this type of work easier.
1) Decide on semesters, trimesters, or quarters
Before making your homeschool lesson plans, you must determine how many days you will homeschool the subject and how you wish to divide the year.
My personal preference is to break my school year down into two semesters of eighteen weeks, with four quarters of nine weeks. This gives me a framework for the year. Essentially, we school five days a week for thirty-six weeks or 180 days.
However, this isn’t the only method to divide the school year. Many families prefer to use three trimesters of twelve weeks or even a series of six 6-week units. Or you might prefer something else altogether.
Just be sure to double-check your state homeschool law to make sure you are following what it says about how many days you must have in the school year. 180 days is a common amount but is not a universal requirement.
I’ve found it’s best to plan breaks and vacations at the end of a quarter or semester when possible. This way, the kids and I can get into a rhythm without worrying about constant interruptions.
2) Break down the curriculum into smaller chunks
Once you’ve decided how to divide your school year, you’ll begin breaking down your curriculum into smaller chunks to fit.
I will use the semester or quarter system as an example simply because that’s what my own family uses. The process is the same for other types of yearly schedules.
So, let’s say I have a high school science curriculum that includes sixteen chapters, and I wish to complete the curriculum over one school year.
My first goal is to divide the curriculum into semesters and then quarters. Thankfully, sixteen chapters divides easily into four quarters. I will need to cover eight chapters each semester or four chapters each quarter to finish the curriculum by the end of the year.
If there are no chapters, then you can divide the total number of lessons or the total number of pages, instead.
3) Plan the first quarter
At this point, I’m not going to worry about anything except the first four chapters. Just plan one chunk at a time.
I have four chapters to complete in the school year’s first quarter — which is nine weeks, or 45 days. This means that we’ll want to take about eleven days for each chapter (45 days divided by 4 chapters equals 11.25 days per chapter) — or about two weeks.
If you plan exactly two weeks for each chapter, you’ll end up with an extra week. You can use this week for an extracurricular project, field trips, or spare study time. You can also add the week to a chapter that’s longer or more difficult than the other chapters. My high school students often needed a bit of extra time.
4) Plan the first chapter
Now you’ll create the detailed lesson plan for the first chapter. Let’s figure we’re going to cover the chapter over eleven days.
Working backwards means that day 11 will be the chapter test. Then day 10 will be needed for studying and reviewing for the test. Now you know that you have nine days to cover the material in the chapter.
Next, how many pages long is the chapter? Is this a lab science? Will you need to add time for experiments, lab reports, and other assignments?
Hypothetically, let’s say there are two labs per chapter, each needing a lab report, and the chapter is 49 pages long.
Then you can plan to spend two of the nine days completing the labs and lab reports (one experiment and report per day). Your teen can spend the other seven days working through the material. Divide the pages up roughly equally, although it’s a good idea to look through the chapter to see where natural breaks occur and plan around those.
The chapter may end up looking something like this:
- Day 1: Read pages 1-7, and answer questions.
- Day 2: Read pages 8-14, and answer questions.
- Day 3: Complete lab #1 and lab report.
- Day 4: Read pages 15-21, and answer questions.
- Day 5: Read pages 22-28, and answer questions.
- Day 6: Read pages 29-35, and answer questions.
- Day 7: Complete lab #2 and lab report.
- Day 8: Read pages 36-42, and answer questions.
- Day 9: Read pages 43-49, and answer questions.
- Day 10: Study for the test
- Day 11: Test 1
- Day 12: First day of new chapter
Use the same process to plan the remaining three chapters for the quarter. Once you get the hang of it, it goes pretty fast!
Sometimes, if you have time in the year to do so, it’s helpful to plan a buffer day or two between each chapter, especially for harder subjects. Then if your teen gets bogged down with a particular lesson or needs to retake a test, there will be time to review without getting behind schedule. If they have no problem with the chapter, then they can be rewarded with a free day or two — or they can jump straight into the next chapter.
Once you’ve planned the first quarter, use the same process to continue planning for the remainder of the school year — although that doesn’t have to happen all at once. Planning out the entire year in detail at the front end can become cumbersome, not to mention it usually leads to re-planning when there are delays or difficulties. Planning one quarter (or chunk) at a time can be less stressful — just be sure to get back to planning before the next quarter starts!
More advice for homeschool lesson planning
You will use the same technique to plan every subject your teen studies. First, figure out the structure of your school year and then divide the high school curriculum so that it fits into the year as neatly as possible.
Sometimes it can’t be divided equally, especially if you have an odd number of chapters to cover during the school year. When I have an extra chapter, I add the additional chapter to the first quarter or first semester, because we often run into problems over the school year. I’d rather have more “give” room at the end of the year than struggle to complete the material by summer.
Also, most curricula begin with a review of previously learned information. The first chapter is usually relatively easy, and we can move through it more quickly than we can work through later chapters in the subject.
Don’t worry if you have a curriculum without specific lessons. Divide the curriculum in half and then into quarters as best as you can. This gives you benchmarks to let you know if you’re moving quickly or too slowly. Planning with the knowledge of how much time you have and dividing the work accordingly into daily amounts is much easier than working by guess and by golly and never really knowing where you stand.
When planning your next year’s homeschool, the first step is to determine how your school year will look. Will you plan by the semester, trimester, quarter, or even six-week units? Once you’ve figured that out, divide the curriculum into smaller bites, so you know how much material you need to cover in each time period.
Then, look only at the material you’ll cover during the first time chunk. Figure out how quickly you need to progress and work backwards when helpful.
Plan out all the content, making sure to give your kid time to study and take tests, complete lab reports or other assignments, and do additional projects.
You’ll have a well-run homeschool, thanks to your homeschool lesson plans!