Planning the IB PYP Unit ……with the Kids!

It never fails to amaze me, when given the opportunity to take the lead, how much our students rise to the challenge. With the enhancements to the IB PYP having recently been unveiled, I felt that this would be a great time to address co-planning the unit…..with your students as your co-planners!

Encouraging greater student agency in your classroom is more than simply listening to the student voice. In my previous post  about implementing student agency, I mentioned the difference between passive learning and active learning. Allowing the children to actively contribute to the planning of their own learning, absolutely promotes meaningful student involvement.

The unit of inquiry has been planned  in a variety of ways over the years:

  • teachers develop a skeleton plan and complete it as they are informed by the childrens’ inquiries and progressing knowledge.
  • teachers may collaboratively develop the unit with their team, before knowing the students’ prior knowledge.
  • teachers can follow on from a previous year’s plans, amending it to suit their reflection and new classes’ needs
  • semi-collaborating with the students to unpack the unit and follow the direction of their inquiries. ( choosing profile, lines of inquiry, concepts etc.)
  • fully collaborating with the students to plan the learning and construct the unit together, democratically

You probably recognise your own planning as a mix and match of the above. However, with the enhancements to the PYP bringing a greater emphasis to student voice, so too is the concept of rounding up their ideas and suggestions for curriculum design, placing more of an emphasis on the children’s participation at the planning level.

Here is a brief run down of how I have planned our unit of inquiry with my class. My GRADE FOUR team! 🙂 All 23 of them! The entire process took about 4-5 hours over the course of a week. I then took the material and typed it into our planner, creating a working document that we used together throughout the unit, just like I would have done if planning with my colleagues This also works well with kiddos preparing for the Exhibition. I have written each part of the process below, like the boxes in the IB PYP planner are titled and included a link to my exemplar.

1. Brainstorming Our Understanding of the Theme: Box 1 – What Is Our Purpose?


To begin with, I gave each group of 4-6 kids chart paper and together they brainstormed the theme and its definition. The official IB definition for How The World Works was put on our Smart Board for all to see and , prior to setting the children loose, I explained to them that this was going to be a science unit focusing on the interactions within the natural world They knew what our central idea was roughly going to be – looking at adaptations of living things. 

We then shared each group’s thinking with the rest of the class and reflected upon similarities and connections. I held off on addressing assessment until we had a better understanding of the core of the unit.

2. Making Connections 

The groups were then asked to look more closely at their charts and make connections between their first thoughts, adding to them as they wished. I demonstrated how to link their thoughts with lines. They could also question others’ thinking at this point too. Within the planner, I typed this in box 1, under an additional title of my own, Continuing Themes, meaning themes or ideas that continued.

Making connections.

3. Building Our Central Idea

I put the charts on the wall around the room, creating a gallery walk. The children reflected upon the other groups’ thoughts and connections. We chatted about the similarities and how they fit with the theme and what our unit was going to be about.

Each group then took their collection of ideas and collaboratively wrote a central idea in one sentence. We shared each sentence and I wrote it on the board for all to see. At that point, we dissected the parts that we liked the best from each group’s central idea and came up with our final central idea for our unit. I want to add that even though I felt that we should add more to the central idea, I was outvoted! This was challenging for me(!!) but empowering for the class. 🙂 

4. Deciding Upon the Key Concepts & Lines of Inquiry: Box 2- What Do We Want to Learn?

Identifying key concepts and lines of inquiry,

The next task was to decide upon the key concepts that we were going to focus on throughout our unit. Looking closely at the connections we made in our first chart, the groups then selected 3 key concepts. Before we created a chart for this, we had to decide as a whole class, which three concepts would best fit with our unit. ( At this point, I didn’t worry too much about overlapping concepts we had covered already in our previous 2 units. I was more concerned with the children learning the process of planning.)

Once we had our 3 concepts, a second chart was prepared, split into the 3 key concepts of our upcoming unit. From there, the children wrote their inquiries. Again, we shared our ideas, compared and contrasted and came up with 3-4 lines of inquiry. Additional questions that the children felt just HAD to be included were slotted into the driving questions/provocations section of the planner in box 2 “What do we want to learn.?”

Finally, I showed the children examples of previous planners and how I would look at the knowledge and skills that I wanted them to learn throughout our unit. We chatted about how it was a very science based unit and they knew without a doubt that they wanted experiments! 🙂 The children are surprisingly aware of what skills and curricular content they need to develop. And so, they jotted down a few ideas of HOW they could learn and WHAT they would have to practice. You can see examples of tools ( videos, books, visitors) and content knowledge ( maths skills, research skills, reading etc) that they added. It was during this stage that we planned our summative assessment ideas. As the teacher, of course, I elaborated upon this within the planner.

5.Putting It All Together

                                                     The highlighted text is the students’ input.


I took all of the material that we had created together, typed it into the planner, with the additional heading of Continued themes/ ideas, and highlighted the children’s input. I then shared it with them, printed a master copy and it was hung in a common area for all to see and refer to as the unit progressed.  This was a working document and was added to and reflected upon frequently throughout the unit. You can download my example planner here for a closer look and use it as you wish. This complete unit of inquiry is available in my store. You can take a preview right here, to see if it may fit a similar unit within your programme of inquiry.

A Complete Science Unit of Inquiry – Adaptations of Living Things

Honestly, my biggest challenge was to relinquish absolute control! I decided that I would give the children an idea as to what content standards had to be covered and then included as much of their ideas as possible. Was it easy? Yes and no. Haha! Was it rewarding? 100%!

Please do let me know what ideas you have that have worked well when co-planning your unit of inquiry with your students. I was really impressed with the immediate and on-going engagement of the children. And I am ALWAYS open to learning from my peers. Keep up to date with IB PYP resources here in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. And let’s keep in touch. My social media accounts are linked below.


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