Principles of Backwards Design
by Richard Binkney, Ph.D.
Interdisciplinary Unit Sample Lesson Plan Form
“Begin with the end in mind.”
by Richard Binkney, Ph.D.
Preface to Unit Lesson Plan Form
―To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your
destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are
now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.‖ --Stephen Covey, 1996.
Principles of Backward Design
The backward design process of Wiggins & McTighe begins with the end in mind.
One starts with the end - the desired results (goals or standards) - and then derives the
curriculum from the evidence of learning (performances) called for by the standard and the
teaching needed to equip students to perform' (Wiggins and McTighe, 2000, page 8)
The design process involves teachers planning in 3 stages of backward design, each with a
Stage 1 - What is worthy and requiring of understanding? This is where you
identify what is valuable/worthy and requiring of understanding.
Stage 2 - What is evidence of understanding? This is what evidence determines
Stage 3 - What learning experiences and teaching promote understanding,
interest and excellence? This is what you do to plan learning experiences and
instruction for the students.
The simple explanation of backwards design includes:
What do I want my students to know and be able to do?
How will I know if my student sknow it and/or can do it?
What will need to be done to help my students learn the required knowledge?
What will I do when I have a student who doesn’t know it or can’t do it?
What are the advantages of using backwards design?
It provides clear expectations for students
It provides focused targets of performance
It provides focus on the evidence of learning
It makes student achievement relative to the standard/s
Interdisciplinary Unit Lesson Plan (This is Your Model)
I. Introduction & Unit Overview
A. Name of Student________________________ Date & Semester ______________
B. Title of Unit/Lesson/Activity and Grade level addressed
C. Subject/2 Interdisciplinary Content Areas
E. Abstract/Summary (brief overview of curricular concepts and unit goals)
F. Unit Design Status (first draft, revised draft, final copy, or adjusted after use)
II. Identify Desired Results (Stage One—Understanding by Design)
A. Align lesson with QCC, GPS, and national standards, if applicable – should
reflect grade level/content area/s. (You can type the standards into this text
section or you can choose to create a new standards section on the page and
import the standards you want from the LiveText standards database.)
B. Enduring Understandings – Learning Goals or Deep
--Visual Graph – Establishing Curricular Priorities
Worth being familiar with:
What do we want students to read,
view, research, and otherwise
Important to know and do:
Mastery required at this level.
Important knowledge (facts,
concepts, and principles) and
skills (processes, strategies,
What we want students
“to get inside of.”
There are 4 criteria, or filters, to use in selecting ideas and processes to teach for
understanding (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998)
1. To what extent does the idea, topic, or process represent a ―big idea‖ having
enduring value beyond the classroom?
2. To what extent does the idea, topic, or process reside at the heart of the
3. To what extent does the idea, topic, or process require uncoverage?
4. To what extent does the idea, topic, or process offer potential for engaging
Using the principles of backward design, teachers focus first on the learning goals
(understanding goals). These are the enduring understandings that they want their students
to have developed at the completion of the learning sequence. There is also a focus on a
number of essential, or guiding, questions. Enduring understandings go beyond facts and
skills to focus on larger concepts, principles or processes.
Enduring understandings are based on the higher order thinking skills (Bloom). According
to Wiggins and McTighe (1998), they involve the big ideas that give meaning and importance to facts.
It is the enduring understandings or deep learning that allow students to transfer knowledge from
one topic to another, from one class to another, from school to life. Identifying the enduring
understandings or deep learning allow us to provide the conceptual foundation for the basic skills
we must teach. They are general rather than specific. For example, if you teach money as part of a math
unit, your enduring understanding might be that value is a function of supply and demand or that cost is
based on how much demand there is for a product in relationship to how much of the product is available.
This is what you will want your students to really ―get‖ and keep throughout their lives. You will then
teach the appropriate money/math skills for your grade level standards in relation to this enduring
Enduring understandings or deep learning are not obvious to the students, at first.
We must guide them to ―uncover‖ or discover these enduring understandings through well-designed
learning experiences. Enduring understandings are framed/written in the English language –
“Students will understand that….” Notice that enduring understandings are not
understanding why, how, which, or how to. These infer the focus of the topic not what should be
understood as a result of the learning experience/s you provided the students. This is done by asking
essential questions and helping your students learn to ask other appropriate essential questions.
Because there is typically more content than can reasonably be addressed within the
available instructional time, teachers must make choices. You must move in the thinking process
from considering what is “worth being familiar with” to what is “important to know and do,”
then to the “enduring understanding/s.”
Enduring understanding/s focus on intellectual priorities, anchor the unit, and establish a
rationale for it. The term “enduring” refers to the big ideas, or the important understanding,
that we want students to ―get inside of‖ and retain after they’ve forgotten many of the details.
Most often, enduring understandings are
Broad by nature
Thus, enduring understandings provide a larger purpose for learning the targeted content:
They implicitly answer the question, Why is this topic worth studying? Consider to what extent
a topic is an enduring and transferable big idea, having value beyond the classroom?
Enduring understandings often are called core processes at the heart of the discipline; they can
be abstract and often are misunderstood.
Enduring Understandings are what students will understand as a result of successfully
completing the unit of study. Enduring understandings are also known as learning goals.
Enduring Understandings are the concepts students understand 5, 10, 15, 20, or more
years after the concepts are learned. They are the “big picture” concepts that students
will never forget and will always understand. Enduring Understandings are necessary, because
content and methods change, but the foundations of the subject will always remain the same.
Teaching which focuses on understandings will waste little of students’ time. Students
will not be forced to memorize and recall information that they will simply forget one to two
weeks after it was learned.
Knowledge that is worth being familiar with:
*General eating patterns and menus from the past.
*Different conditions requiring dietary restrictions (high blood pressure, diabetes,
Knowledge and skills that are important to know and do:
*Types of food in each of the food groups and their nutritional values.
*The USDA food pyramid guidelines.
*Interpret nutritional information on food labels.
Understandings that are enduring:
*A balanced diet contributes to physical and mental health.
*Dietary requirements differ for individuals, depending on variables such as age, activity
level, weight, and overall health.
Knowledge that is worth being familiar with:
*The history of standardized testing in the USA; how standardized testing has evolved
over the years.
*Different purposes and uses of standardized tests.
Knowledge and skills that are important to know and do:
*The concepts of validity and reliability.
*Distinctions between norm- and criterion-referenced evaluation.
Understandings that are enduring:
*How to evaluate classroom assessments to determine if they are valid and reliable.
*How to develop valid and reliable assessments for……specific tests……
Other examples of enduring understandings include:
Are ‘all men are created equal’?
What does it mean to live a healthy life?
What does it mean to be independent?
Wildlife has intrinsic value
Human activity impacts acquatic life
Mathematics is the study of patterns and relationships
Conflict and change are part of the human experience
Enduring Understandings: Bad to Best
Bad – Students will understand rocks.
Better – Students will know how to classify rocks.
Best -- Students will understand that rocks are classified according to properties that you
can observe and/or test.
Bad – Students will understand weather. (it does not tell us what they should understand
Better – Students will understand weather instruments. (It narrows the focus, but it still
does not state what insights we want students to leave with.)
Best – Students will understand that weather instruments give us data to use in
forecasting the weather. (This summarizes intended insight, helps students and
teachers realize what types of learning activities are needed to support the
C. Essential Question/s
(What questions will students be able to answer after instruction?)
An Enduring Understanding is a big idea that resides at the heart of a discipline and has
lasting value outside the classroom.
An Essential Question is a question that can be answered when the enduring
understanding is achieved.
Are big, open-ended or topic-related
Examine how (process) and why (cause and effect)
Consider various levels in Bloom’s Taxonomy
Use language appropriate to students
Sequence so they lead naturally from one to another
Can be used as organizers for the unit, making the ―content‖ answer the questions
Can be shared with other teachers
D. Key Knowledge and Key Skills
(Processes, e.g., researching, organizing…include process skills but be specific.)
(Skills – Correlate with Bloom’s Taxonomy and/or Facets of Understanding)
*The students will know that….
*The students will do….
*The students will be able to ….do…demonstrate as a result of this lesson.
(use of learn and understand are too general – use words like compare, contrast,
E. Unit Content Map --
A 10-Day Interdisciplinary Thematic Chart weaving 2 content areas together graphically –
with technology samples (3), cultural diversity samples (3), differentiated instruction (for 1
III. Determine Acceptable Evidence (stage two – Understanding by
A. Evidences of Learning (formative and summative—such as observations, work
samples, summarizers, quiz, test) – What performances will be expected from students in
order to effectively answer the Essential Questions? What criteria will be applied to the
performance task/s? Determine the acceptable evidence to answer these questions.
B. Student self assessment and reflection
C. Performance Task – GRASPS -- grasp your students’ attention –when using
GRASP- related activities, students are more engaged in a lesson.
GRASPS are also known as Performanced Based Learning
GOAL – provide a statement of the task. Establish the goal, problem, challenge,
or obstacle in the task.
ROLE – define the role of the students in the task. State the job of the
students for the task.
AUDIENCE – identify the target audience within the context of the
scenario. Example audiences might include a client or committee.
SITUATION – set the context of the scenario. Explain the situation.
PRODUCT – clarify what the students will create and why they will
STANDARDS & CRITERIA (INDICATORS) –Develop a RUBRIC for
assessing the task/s assigned --provide students with a clear picture
of success. Identify specific standards for success. Issue rubrics to
the students or develop them with the students.
GRASPS IDEAS and vocabulary words
G -- design, teach, explain, inform, create, persuade, defend, critique,
R -- advertiser, illustrator, coach, candidate, chef, engineer, eyewitness,
newscaster, editor, news show host, politician
A – board members, neighbors, pen pals, travel agent, jury, celebrity, historical
figure, community, school board, government
S – the context of the situation – create a real life scenario
P – advertisement, game, script. Debate, rap, banner, cartoon, scrapbook,
proposal, brochure, slide show, puppet show
S – what success looks like: Scoring guide, rubric, and examples
IV. Plan Learning Experiences and Instruction (Stage 3 –
Understanding by Design)
A. Instructional Sequence Chart
Show scope and sequence of key unit understandings and/or essential questions for your two declared
content areas over 10 instructional days. Includes opportunities for students to acquire new
knowledge, perform higher level thinking and content authentically through performance or product.
B. Consider the WHERETO elements
Key learning events needed to achieve unit goals --
Learning activities -- What learning experiences and instruction
will enable students to achieve the desired results? How will the
W – Help the student know Where are we going? WHY? What
is expected? Help the teachers know Where the students
are coming from (prior knowledge or interests)
H – How will we HOOK and HOLD all of the students interest?
(Check for prior knowledge – how will you determine prior knowledge?
Make connections between prior knowledge and experience with what is
presented. Find out what students’ ideas are on this topic. Review what was
learned in prior lessons -- How will you get the students’ attention, focus
them on the essential question/s, and motivate them to learn? What will you
say to student to explain the purpose of the lesson? Of what value will this
lesson be for them personally?
E -- How will we EQUIP students; help them to EXPLORE the
issues, and EXPERIENCE the key ideas (demonstrate how
communication/involvement with parents & community and how
technology will be built into the unit)
R -- How will we provide opportunities for students to
RETHINK, REHEARSE, REVISE, and REFINE their
understanding and work?
E -- How will students self-EVALUATE and REFLECT on
their learning, their work, and its implications?
T – How will we TAILOR learning to varied or different needs,
interests, and styles of diverse learners? (differentiated
instruction – shows ways that needs of all learners will be tailored by
modifying content, process or product. Shows integration of multiple
O – Be Organized to maximize initial and sustained
engagement as well as effective learning. How will we
ORGANIZE and sequence the learning? Managing the
Learning Environment – shows behavior management/modification. Shows
how issues such as distribution of materials, group work, room
arrangement, time management, and transitions will be handled in the unit.
C. Lesson Plan Format –
10 Daily Instructional Plans – for 2 middle grades content areas
Day 1 – (1 full lesson plan for first day of instruction for each of the 10 days in 2 contents)
a. Title/Grade Level/Subject/Topic
b. Standards Correlation: QCC/GPS and National Standards where applicable
c. Essential Question/s
d. Key Knowledge – the students will know that….
e. Key Skills – the students will be able to….
f. Materials and Resources
Plan your learning experiences & instruction-- What do you need to get ready for
(make a vertical list –organization – include quantities and purchases needed)
(charts, video, books, software, articles, tapes, overhead, handouts, models, etc.,
to accent instruction)
g. Introduction – activating hook/check for prior knowledge – Pre-test
h. Step-by-Step Procedures
Teaching strategies to organize the lesson and deliver
Tailor/differentiate instruction/learning styles and multiple
On-going evaluating/checking for understanding and student
reflection -- Post-test
*Describe with clear directions teaching strategies to organize the lesson and deliver
What information will be communicated to the students and how, e.g., direct
instruction, modeling, inquiry, laboratory experience, etc?
*Tailor-differentiate instruction/learning styles and multiple intelligences.
What special needs modifications will you make, e.g., special education, ESL,
cultural diversity? How will students’ personal learning styles be addressed, e.g.,
Gardner’s multiple intelligences?
How will students be actively engaged in processing knowledge, e.g.,
collaborative groups, individual learning, journals, worksheets, etc.?
*On-going evaluating/checking for understanding and student reflection
How will you assess students’ content and skills learning, e.g., journal writing,
group assessment, self-assessment?
How will you check for understanding, e.g., formative, summative?
*Consider how can the student apply what was learned today in his/her experience?
How can the value of this lesson be made relevant in their lives?
How can interest be extended?
What is a good follow-up activity to reinforce the concepts learned today?
Provide relevant homework, class work, parent-involvement activity, research
assignment for student enrichment.
(Conclude, share results, discuss, ask and answer questions, evaluate lesson,
assess student learning?)
*How will you evaluate this lesson?
*How will assess student learning?
*How will you actively involve students at the end of the lesson or class to reflect
on and reinforce the main learning for this lesson?
*Can students’ answer the essential question/s and ―ticket-out-of-the door?‖
*How will students apply and extend the learning?
*What will students see/experience/learn in the next lesson?
j. Teacher Reflection (related specifically to that instructional day)
Personal reflection: What do you think you accomplished, if anything? What went
right? What went wrong? What would you do differently next time? Were there any surprises
– any unexpected results – any lessons learned? This is the place for you to give a personal
reflection, review, or analysis of this day’s events and happenings. In particular, address what
you did that worked as you expected – what you might change for the next time, so that the
lesson will go/be better. (Personal reflection at the end of each instructional day.)
repeat lessons for--
Day 2 – (1 full lesson plan for the 2nd day of the 10 days) – 2 content areas
Day 3 – (1 full lesson plan for the 3rd day of the 10 days) ) – 2 content areas
Day 4 – (1 full lesson plan for the 4th day of the 10 days) ) – 2 content areas
Day 5 – (1 full lesson plan for the 5th day of the 10 days) ) – 2 content areas
Day 6 – (1 full lesson plan for the 6th day of the 10 days) ) – 2 content areas
Day 7 – (1 full lesson plan for the 7th day of the 10 days) ) – 2 content areas
Day 8 – (1 full lesson plan for the 8th day of the 10 days) ) – 2 content areas
Day 9 – (1 full lesson plan for the 9th day of the 10 days) ) – 2 content areas
Day 10 – (1 full lesson plan for the 10th day of the 10 days) ) – 2 content areas
V. Unit Materials – Resources (referenced in APA format)
VI. Reflections on the Unit Planning Process/Implementation
Personal Reflections on the unit planning process/implementation indicates
reflective thinking about what was learned in the process and areas for growth.
This section of the unit itself should contain a personal reflection on the process of
developing/implementing the ENTIRE unit. Before the lesson – you considered what
possible problem areas/s you anticipated in this lesson. After the implementation of the
lessons in the entire unit, it is time for you to answer these questions:
Have I shown that my 2 content area unit understands the needs of diverse
student populations; responds appropriately to diverse groups; provides
culturally-responsive lessons, and shows an appreciation/value of diversity?
1. Does my unit show understanding of and respect for the characteristics,
cognitive and social development stages, emotional and psychological
needs, and learning styles of diverse and special needs learners?
2. Does my unit show an understanding of how students differ in their
approaches to learning both as diverse learners and special needs
3. Does my unit provide opportunities for students to have instructional
experiences that are adapted to diverse learners and special needs
4. Does my unit show that I believe all students can learn at high levels, can
use and value technology; and, does my unit persist in helping all students
achieve success and respect human diversity?
5. Does my unit show an appreciation of individual differences within each
area of development and respect the diverse talents of all
6. Does my unit show recognition of the power of language, value the many
ways in which people seek to communicate, and appreciate the cultural
dimensions of communication with diverse learners and special needs
7. Does my unit make a contribution toward increasing the awareness
regarding the need for and the intrinsic value of diversity?
8. Does my unit demonstrate the ability to plan, adapt, facilitate, and assess
learning experiences to meet the diverse, unique needs of all middle level
9. How effective was the lesson? How do you know that? Why?
10. How did the student learner/s influence the instruction?
11. How do you know the students’ GOT IT?
12. How will you assist those who did not “get it?”
13. How might you extend the lesson, dig deeper, or go beyond?
14. Discuss fulfilled and unfulfilled expectations. Any surprises?
15. In retrospect, how would you modify this lesson the next time you
(This section goes into LiveText only – under the artifact in a separate category.)
VII. Enter How You Addressed the Standards as a
Separate Teacher Reflection into LiveText
Specifically and methodically, your Reflections in LiveText should first address
exactly what you did (and how you did it) to answer the standards for the artifact.
The structured matrix on page 1 of LiveText provides Essential Understandings and
Guiding Questions that direct the reflection process.
Steps In Conceptual Essential Guiding Questions
Select & TO Reflection demonstrates What evidence am I reflecting on?
Describe KNOW candidate’s ability to
self-assess one’s Have I met the curriculum
knowledge of the standard?
selection process. Who?
Analyze TO Reflection demonstrates Why did I do this?
DO candidate’s ability to Where does it fit in?
meet the standard. How did I do this?
Why did I use these particular
What was the effectiveness?
What was the impact?
Appraise TO Reflection demonstrates How did this relate to my goals?
& BE candidate’s accurate self- What was the value of the activity?
Transform analysis regarding
one’s own strengths, What would I do differently?
weaknesses, and the Why?
student performance? How would this change be better?
What have you learned?
How does this contribute to my
becoming a Transforming Practitioner?
What strategies for continued
growth do I have in this area?
As a Transforming Practitioner, you must answer these questions in LiveText addressing the standards:
1. What does this artifact demonstrate that I know? (TO KNOW)
2. What does this artifact demonstrate that I can do? (TO DO)
3. How have I been transformed as a result of this artifact? (TO BE)
4. How does this artifact/reflection show that you have met this standard? (REFLECTION)
Please note that the two unit LiveText interdisciplinary unit which you create for Understanding—Subject
Matter will be repeated in the Practicing section and the Engagement section of LiveText. However, you
will create original Reflections in all of the above areas noted. The questions specifically addressed on the
last 2 pages focus your answers on what you did in your unit to specifically answer these standards:
-------ARTIFACT -------- STANDARD------
Understanding INTASC 1
Practicing INTASC 7
Engagement INTASC 4
Materials and Images on ‘Backwards By Design’ are adapted from:
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: