How to Deconstruct Standards

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Don’t trust the textbook! Instead, deconstruct standards to figure out what your students must learn and do. First, list nouns to determine content. Second, analyze verbs to find what students must do. After that, create an assessment and work backward to develop a fresh, inviting unit of study.

Deconstruct standards to find out what your students must learn and be able to do.

Ms. Sneed Learns to Deconstruct a Standard

The last time we looked in on our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed was struggling with her science book. Unfortunately, it didn’t address the standards. Furthermore, the chapter was text-heavy, and the experiments were ho-hum.

Her mentor, Mrs. Brown, helped her develop a standards-based unit. Afterward, Ms. Sneed shared her success with her colleagues. “Wow, I’d like to try that,” said Mr. Frank.

Deconstruct Standards’ Intent

At their next meeting, the fourth grade team decided to deconstruct the entire standard on plants and animals.

Mrs. Brown led their exploration. “Today we’ll break down words in this life science standard to determine its intent. In the end, what must students know and be able to do? Let’s take a look.”

Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that serve various functions in growth, survival, behavior, and reproduction.

Before continuing, Mrs. Brown distributed blank organizers to the teachers.

Free Deconstructing Standards Template from Enjoy Teaching with Brenda Kovich

“To find intended content, analyze the nouns,” coached Mrs. Brown.

“The first thing that pops out are the big topics: plants and animals,” Mr. Frank offered.

“Right. What subtopics do you see?”

In a flurry of discussion, the team came up with this list.

  • internal structures
  • external structures
  • growth functions
  • survival functions
  • behavior functions
  • reproduction functions

“Okay, great!” Mrs. Brown exclaimed. “But what will you specifically need to explore for plants and for animals?”

This time, the work required more thought. The team discussed structures and functions. Finally, they were happy with their list.


  • external structures – roots, stems, leaves, flowers/cones -> seeds
  • internal structures – xylem, phloem, cell wall, chloroplast, flower parts, seed parts
  • growth functions – germination, photosynthesis
  • survival functions – adaptations
  • behavior functions – phototropism
  • reproduction functions – pollination, seed dispersal


  • internal and external structures – cells -> tissue -> organs -> systems
  • growth functions – diet, respiration
  • survival functions – adaptations
  • behavior functions – instincts
  • reproduction functions – eggs, live birth

“Oh boy, that’s a lot of content.” Mrs. Price shuddered.

“Yes,” responded Ms. Sneed, “but I already created the unit on plants. Now we just need to tackle animals.”


“When you deconstruct standards,” Mrs. Brown continued, “you also look at the verbs. This standard asks students to ‘construct an argument.’ What activities does this advocate? Let’s brainstorm some possibilities.”

“In my thinking, students construct arguments when they make generalizations. I’d love to create inquiry activities that make kids think,” said Ms. Sneed.

Mr. Frank spoke up. “Maybe they could research a plant or animal. We could guide them to look for structures and functions.”

“Maybe they could even write an argumentative essay. You know, make a claim and add evidence.”

As they spoke, Mrs. Brown made a list:

  • inquiry followed by generalizations
  • research on a specific organism
  • claims supported by evidence
  • argumentative essay

“Great ideas!” said the mentor. “Now it’s time to set them into motion.”

Deconstructing Standards Sample

Create a Standards-Based Unit

“Let’s make a list of things to do at our next meeting,” said Ms. Sneed. “If we work backward, the next step will be creating an assessment. Then we’ll need to determine prerequisite skills and develop activities. I can’t wait to see the great animals unit we’ll create together!”

Enjoy Teaching

Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.

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